Structural stigma and sexual orientation-related reproductive health disparities in a longitudinal cohort study of female adolescents

J Adolesc. 2019 Jul;74:183-187. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.06.008. Epub 2019 Jun 22.


Introduction: Sexual minority female adolescents have worse reproductive health than heterosexual peers; research into the origins of these disparities is limited. Our objective was to examine whether exposure to structural stigma (e.g., societal-level conditions, cultural norms, institutional policies/practices that constrain the lives of the stigmatized) is associated with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and teen pregnancy in sexual minority female adolescents.

Methods: Longitudinal data were utilized from 6581 female adolescents aged 9-14 years at baseline (1996) in the U.S.-based Growing Up Today Study and followed through 2007. We used a previously-validated structural stigma scale composed of four state-level items (e.g., employment non-discrimination policies) with one item added relevant to reproductive health. Risk ratios were generated from multivariate models.

Results: Sexual minority female adolescents were significantly more likely than heterosexual peers to have an STI diagnosis and teen pregnancy. Sexual minority female adolescents living in states with lower, compared to higher, levels of structural stigma were significantly less likely to have an STI diagnosis, after adjustment for individual- and state-level covariates (relative risk [RR] = 0.70, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.51, 0.97). In contrast, among completely heterosexual adolescents, structural stigma was not associated with STI diagnosis. Teen pregnancy risk-a rare outcome-did not vary by level of structural stigma for sexual minority or heterosexual adolescents.

Conclusions: Structural stigma is a potential risk factor for adverse reproductive health among sexual minority female adolescents. Changing laws and policies to be inclusive of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, can help alleviate entrenched reproductive health disparities.

Keywords: Public policy; Sexual minorities; Sexually transmitted infections; Structural stigma; Teen pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproductive Health*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities / psychology
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Stigma*