Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Stigma Management? the Links between Enacted Stigma and Teen Pregnancy Trends among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Students in British Columbia

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Stigma Management? the Links between Enacted Stigma and Teen Pregnancy Trends among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Students in British Columbia

Article excerpt

Abstract: Over the past decade, several large-scale school-based studies of adolescents in Canada and the U.S. have documented health disparities for lesbian, gay and bisexual teens compared to their heterosexual peers, such as higher rates of suicide attempts, homelessness, and substance use. Many of these disparities have been linked to "enacted stigma," or the higher rates of harassment, discrimination, and sexual or physical violence that sexual minority youth experience at home, at school, and in the community. An unexpected health disparity for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is their significantly higher risk of teen pregnancy involvement (between two and seven times the rate of their heterosexual peers), especially in light of declining trends in teen pregnancy across North America since the early 1990s. What is behind this higher risk? Is it getting better or worse? Using the province-wide cluster-stratified British Columbia Adolescent Health Surveys from 1992, 1998, and 2003, this paper explores the trends in pregnancy involvement, related sexual behaviours, and exposure to forms of enacted stigma that may help explain this particular health disparity for gay, lesbian and bisexual youth in Canada.

Introduction

Adolescence is a critical period in sexual development: from the physical changes of puberty (Patton & Viner, 2007), to the awakening of sexual attractions and awareness of sexual orientation (Rosario et al., 1996), to first romantic relationships, and decisions about initiating various sexual behaviours (Boyce, Doherty, Fortin, & MacKinnon, 2003; Maticka-Tyndale, 2001; Wellings et al., 2007) these milestones most often occur during the teen years. However, for a significant minority of teens, this critical time period may also include other experiences that can affect their sexual development and long-term sexual health. Sexual debut may be coerced, for example, a result of sexual abuse or sexual assault, or sexual violence may occur after a youth is already sexually active. Either experience can lead to a variety of negative sexual health issues (Saewyc, Magee, & Pettingell, 2004). Depending on the population, as many as one in three teens may experience sexual violence before reaching adulthood (Saewyc, Pettingell, & Magee, 2003; Saewyc et al., 2006; Tonkin, Murphy, Lee, Saewyc, & the McCreary Centre Society, 2005). Unprotected sexual behaviours may result in sexually transmitted infections (Maticka-Tyndale, 2001), which can affect future fertility, or even life expectancy. Similarly, unprotected sexual intercourse with opposite-sex partners can result in teen pregnancy, requiring subsequent decisions for abortion or birth (Statistics Canada, 2007), adoption or parenthood. Each year since 2000, around 1.5% of Canadian females between the ages of 15 and 19 years have given birth (Statistics Canada), suggesting nearly 10% of girls will give birth at some point during their teens; some provincial population-based surveys suggest a slightly smaller percent of adolescent boys are also involved in pregnancy and parenthood (Tonkin et al., 2005).

A sexual orientation that does not match the expectations or norms in a young person's social and familial environments may be stigmatized, creating issues around disclosure, acceptance or rejection, and personal safety that other adolescents may not need to negotiate as part of their sexual development (D'Augelli, Hershberger, & Pilkington, 1998). For lesbian, gay, bisexual, Two Spirit and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, all of the listed issues affecting sexual development may be particularly salient. Despite improvements in status for LGBTQ populations in Canada over the past several years (such as legal recognition for same-gender marriages), non-heterosexual identities are still stigmatized in many social settings, especially for adolescents (Saewyc, Skay, et al., 2006; Saewyc, Poon, et al., 2007). Disclosure of LGBTQ identity--even suspicion of LGBTQ identity without disclosure--can evoke a variety of negative reactions, such as exclusion, harassment, discrimination, and even violence (Reis & Saewyc, 1999; Saewyc, Singh, Reis & Flynn, 2000; Saewyc, Skay, et al. …

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