Homelessness experiences, sexual orientation, and sexual risk taking among high school students in Los Angeles

J Adolesc Health. 2013 Jun;52(6):773-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.11.011. Epub 2013 Jan 27.


Purpose: Prior studies reported homeless adolescents engage in more sexual risk than their housed peers. However, these comparisons are typically made post hoc by comparing homeless adolescent community-based samples with high school probability samples. This study uses a random sample of high school students to examine homelessness experiences and sexual risk behaviors.

Methods: A supplemental survey to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey containing questions regarding homelessness and sexual health was administered to Los Angeles high school students (N = 1,839). Multivariate logistic regressions assessed the associations between demographics, past year homelessness experiences (i.e., place of nighttime residence), and being sexually active and condom use at last intercourse.

Results: Homelessness experiences consisted of staying in a shelter (10.4%), a public place (10.1%), and with a stranger (5.6%). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ), younger, and male adolescents were more likely to experience homelessness. LGBTQ adolescents were also more likely to report staying with a stranger and less likely to report staying in a shelter. Compared to adolescents who stayed in shelters, adolescents who stayed with strangers and in public places were more likely to engage in unprotected sex at last intercourse.

Conclusions: Adolescents who report sexual activity and sexual risk taking are more likely to report homelessness experiences. With regard to sexual health, staying with strangers could be a particularly risky form of homelessness; LGBTQ and black adolescents are more likely to experience this form of homelessness. Efforts to reduce homelessness and sexual risk-taking need to recognize the specific vulnerabilities faced by these populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Homeless Youth / psychology*
  • Homeless Youth / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Los Angeles
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Students / statistics & numerical data*
  • Unsafe Sex / psychology*
  • Unsafe Sex / statistics & numerical data*
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*