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Gay Teens of Color Have Sex Earlier Than Straight Peers, Study Finds

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New research underscores the need for earlier HIV testing and LGBTQ+-inclusive sex education.

A new study drives home the need for LGBTQ+-inclusive sex education.

Young gay sexual minority men have sex younger than their straight counterparts, according to research released by the Rutgers School of Public Health's Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies.

The study, published in the Journal of Sex Research, showed that 19 percent of those in this demographic have a sexual experience before age 13. And the median age for a same-sex sexual encounter is 14.5.

The study "examined the age of same-sex sexual debut for five sexual behaviors in a sample of racially/ethnically and socioeconomically diverse gay-identified YSMM in New York City."

Latinx and Black participants indicated they have oral and anal sex earlier than peers. The earliest behavior for the participants, on average, was mutual masturbation. Following is oral (performing), oral (receptive), anal (receptive), and anal (insertive).

Earlier sex among young gay and bisexual men of color can be associated with increased rates of risky sex, substance use, mental health issues, suicide, and HIV, the study noted.

With these risks in mind, researchers stressed the need for educators and health care providers to have frank conversations with young sexual minority men about sex and STIs that make no assumptions about how they might identify. If possible, these conversations should be had without parents present — presumably because it might out the young person. And testing for STIs for all gay young men is recommended at younger ages.

"Our results suggest that health care providers can play an active role in mitigating sexual and health behaviors that are associated with the early onset of same-sex sexual behaviors; to date the medical profession is ill equipped to address the needs of LGBTQ+ people," said Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health.

Coauthor Caleb LoSchiavo, a Rutgers doctoral student, said schools should also modify sex education to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ students.

"As many schools are forced to redesign their classrooms and curricula to accommodate socially distanced or remote learning for COVID-19, this may be the perfect time to consider implementing comprehensive sex education programming to provide age-appropriate sexual health education for people of all genders and sexual orientations," LoSchiavo said.

According to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of gay Black men will test HIV-positive in their lifetimes. In addition, one in four Latino men who have sex with men and one in 11 white MSM will contract the virus.

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