Abstract: Sexual Risk Behaviors Among Adolescents in Foster Care: The Impact of Sexual Orientation (Society for Social Work and Research 21st Annual Conference - Ensure Healthy Development for all Youth)

Sexual Risk Behaviors Among Adolescents in Foster Care: The Impact of Sexual Orientation

Saturday, January 14, 2017: 10:15 AM
Preservation Hall Studio 4 (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Svetlana Shpiegel, PhD, Assistant Professor, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ
Elizabeth Aparicio, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Hawai`i, Honolulu, HI
Claudette L. Grinnell-Davis, PhD, MSW, MS, MTS, Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska, Omaha, Omaha, NE
Dana Prince, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Background and Purpose: Youths in the foster care system often exhibit sexual risk behaviors, including early sexual debut, inadequate use of contraception and contact with multiple sexual partners. Nevertheless, it is not known whether youths` sexual orientation affects their sexual behaviors in some way. The goal of the present study is to examine the relationship between sexual orientation and sexual risk behaviors among these vulnerable youths.  

Methods: Data and Samples: This study was based on a cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from the Multi-Site Evaluation of Foster Youth Programs. The sample consisted of 1,106 youths residing in several counties in California[1]. The average age of the participants was 15.8 years. Measurement: Participants reported on their sexual orientation (i.e. heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or other), as well as key child welfare variables, such as placement type and stability, history of running away and prior victimization (e.g. physical, sexual, neglect). Participants also reported if they ever had sexual intercourse, and the age of sexual debut. Adolescents who were sexually active reported on lifetime number of sexual partners and use of condom during last sexual contact. Data Analysis: Bivariate analyses (chi-square tests, t-tests) were used to compare sexual minority and heterosexual youths on sexual risk behaviors. Regression analyses (linear and logistic) were subsequently used to evaluate the relationships between sexual orientation and sexual risk behaviors, controlling for demographics and child welfare factors.

Results: About 20% of youths (15.7% of males and 22.4% of females; N=215) identified as sexual minority (i.e. homosexual, bisexual or other). Bivariate analyses revealed that sexual minority participants had similar rates of ever having an intercourse as their heterosexual counterparts (50.5% vs. 47.9% respectively). Nevertheless, sexual minority youths reported earlier sexual debut (M=13.2 vs. M=14.1; t=3.95, p<.001), higher number of lifetime sexual partners (M=3.21 vs. M=1.77; t=-2.46, p<.014) and lower rates of condom use during last sexual contact (71.2% vs. 81.5%, χ2=4.17, p=.041). Regression analyses revealed that sexual minority orientation was significantly associated with earlier sexual debut (beta=-.157, p<.001), increased number of sexual partners (beta=.10, p=.001) and decreased likelihood of condom use (OR=.49, p=.021). The impact of sexual orientation on each risk behavior remained significant after controlling for key demographics and child welfare factors. Furthermore, gender moderated the relationship between sexual orientation and some sexual risk behaviors.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings from this study indicate that sexual minority youths may be especially vulnerable for engagement in sexual risk behaviors. Comprehensive sexual health programs targeting sexual minority adolescents in the child welfare system are greatly needed.


[1] Data from the Massachusetts site, which also participated in the evaluation, was excluded from the present analysis because it used slightly different survey questions compared to the California sites.