The LGBT Health & Development Program

Higher Pregnancy Rate for LGBT Youth

Posted on June 7th, 2012 by rachel in Research Blog, Youth Blog. 3 comments

The pregnancy rate for teenagers who identify as lesbian or as bisexual is two to seven times greater than their heterosexual counterparts, according to a 2007 British Columbian study  “Not Yet Equal: The Health of Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Youth in BC.”  While the average teen birth rate is currently at an all-time low due in part to improved sexual education, this sexual education may be biased toward heterosexuals.  The fact that sexual harassment and substance abuse has been found to be more common in lesbian and gay youth may also contribute to this disparity.

Popular shows like “Teen Mom” make the pregnancy rate seem like it is forever increasing.  However, the overall rate of teenage pregnancies decreased 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionResearch suggests that the reason for this decline may be an increased use of contraceptives and dual protection.  A focus on sexual education in high schools has helped teenagers become more aware of the risks and choices that go along with sex.

Photo credit: Not Yet Equal: The Health of Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Youth in BC

Why, then, is the rate of teenage pregnancies for lesbian and bisexual youth so high?  One major reason could be a greater likelihood of harassment and discrimination which may lead to risky behaviors.  “Not Yet Equal: The Health of Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Youth in BC” found in a survey of 30,000 LGBT and heterosexual youth in British Columbia that lesbian and bisexual females who had been involved with a pregnancy were at least twice as likely to have experienced sexually-oriented discrimination in the past year.  Similarly, gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) youth who said they experienced family rejection during their childhood were 3.4 times more likely to have had unprotected sex than youth who did not experience family rejection, according to a 2009 Pediatrics report.  According to “Not Yet Equal: The Health of Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Youth in BC,” this type of psychological abuse can lead to coping behaviors that include risky sexual decisions.

Further, a greater propensity toward substance use may also have an effect on the higher rate of teenage pregnancies.  In one study, more GLB youths reported alcohol use before their last sexual encounter than did heterosexual youth, according to a report in the American Journal of Public Health.   The authors theorized that this may in turn lead to a decrease in the likelihood of using contraceptives and thus an increase in the pregnancy rate.  A different study found that GLB youth use contraceptives less frequently.

To counteract this, it is necessary for schools to put a greater emphasis on sexual education that caters more toward the needs of LGBT youth.  A major reason that lesbian and bisexual youth are less likely to use birth control is that sexual education that is directed toward them rarely emphasizes the need for birth control.  There is a biased idea that these adolescents do not need information about birth control simply because they are LGBT, but this is clearly not the case.

The importance of GLB-sensitive sexual education in schools was made evident through a study conducted by the report in the 2001 American Journal of Public Health that was previously mentioned.  This report found that GLB youths who attended schools that had sexual education that was specified for their needs had sex less recently, had fewer sexual partners, and reported less substance use than did GLB youths in other schools.

It should therefore be a priority of schools to enact a system that does not discriminate against LGBT youth.  Clearly these adolescents are more likely to become teenage mothers than their heterosexual counterparts.  Measures need to be taken, particularly in the school system, to address these needs so that teenage pregnancy can be consistently addressed for all young people.



Blake, S.M., Ledsky, R., Lehman, T., Goodenow, C., Sawyer, R., Hack, T. (2001, June).  Preventing sexual risk behaviors among gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents: the benefits of gay-sensitive HIV instruction in schools.  Am J Public Health, 91(6), 940-946.

Goodenow, C., Netherland, J., Szalacha, L. (2002, Feb).  AIDS-Related Risk Among Adolescent Males Who Have Sex With Males, Females, or Both: Evidence From a Statewide Survey.  Am J Public Health, 92(2), 203-210.

Hamilton, B., Ventura, S. (2012, April).  Birth Rates for U.S. Teenagers Reach Historic Lows for All Age and Ethnic Groups.

Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R., Sanchez, J. (2009).  Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults.  Pediatrics, 346-352

Saewyc E, Poon C, Wang N, Homma Y, Smith A & the McCreary Centre Society (2007). Not Yet Equal: The Health of Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Youth in BC. McCreary Centre Society.

Wind, R. (2012, Feb 8).  U.S. Teen Pregnancy Rate at Lowest Level in Nearly 40 Years.

Latest IMPACT News