Sexual risk taking and bullying among adolescents

Melissa K Holt, Jennifer L Matjasko, Dorothy Espelage, Gerald Reid, Brian Koenig
Pediatrics 2013, 132 (6): e1481-7

BACKGROUND: Psychological and educational correlates of bullying have been explored extensively. However, little information is available about the link between bullying and sexual risk-taking behaviors among adolescents, though for some youth it may be that sexual risk taking emerges in response to bullying involvement. Associations for both heterosexual youth and those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (GLBTQ) should be considered, as should the influence of victimization exposures in other domains. Accordingly, associations among bullying, other victimization forms, and sexual risk-taking behaviors were examined among adolescents with particular consideration to sexual orientation.

METHODS: A sample of 8687 high school students completed the Dane County Youth Survey, a countywide survey administered high school students from 24 schools. Participants were asked questions about their bullying involvement and sexual risk-taking behaviors (ie, engaging in casual sex and having sex while under the influence of alcohol or drugs).

RESULTS: Results indicated that bullies and bully-victims were more likely to engage in casual sex and sex under the influence. In multivariate analyses, these findings held even after controlling for demographic characteristics and victimization exposures in other domains, but primarily for heterosexual youth.

CONCLUSIONS: Bullies and bully-victims engaged in more sexual risk-taking behaviors, although patterns of association varied by sexual orientation. Bullying prevention programs and programs aimed at reducing unhealthy sexual practices should consider a broader stress and coping perspective and address the possible link between the stress of bullying involvement and maladaptive coping responses.

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