Wednesday, April 04, 2007

High School Sex (according to researchers, that is)

I'm really not sure what this means in the real world since I haven't had the chance to digest it, but it sure looks interesting.

From Newswise:
For the first time, sociologists have mapped the romantic and sexual relationships of an entire high school over 18 months, providing evidence that these adolescent networks may be structured differently than researchers previously thought.

The results showed that, unlike many adult networks, there was no core group of very sexually active people at the high school. There were not many students who had many partners and who provided links to the rest of the community.

Instead, the romantic and sexual network at the school created long chains of connections that spread out through the community, with few places where students directly shared the same partners with each other. But they were indirectly linked, partner to partner to partner. One component of the network linked 288 students – more than half of those who were romantically active at the school – in one long chain. (See figure above for a representation of the network.)

James Moody, co-author of the study and professor of sociology at Ohio State University, said this network could be compared to rural phone lines, running from a long main trunk line to individual houses. As a comparison, many adult sexual networks are more like an airline hub system where many points are connected to a small number of hubs.

“We went into this study believing we would find a core model, with a small group of people who are sexually active,” Moody said. “We were surprised to find a very different kind of network.”

The results have implications for designing policies to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among adolescents, he said.
Okay, aside from STDs, does this tell us anything?
While many students were connected to much larger networks, they probably didn’t see it that way, Moody said. In fact, they probably had no idea of their connections to the network.

“Many of the students only had one partner. They certainly weren’t being promiscuous. But they couldn’t see all the way down the chain.”

The surprising thing about the network at Jefferson High was the near absence of cycling –- situations in which people have relationships with others close to them on the network, Moody said.

The lack of cycling seems traceable to rules that adolescents have about who they will not date. The teens will not date (from a female perspective) one’s old boyfriend’s current girlfriend’s old boyfriend. This would be considered taking “seconds” in a relationship.
I wonder what else it tells us about relationships, non-romantic in nature, with adolescents? What implications does it have when building a school community? What ought schools be doing differently based on this research?

I have more questions than answers.

Hit tip to Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish. And, like Mr. Sullivan, I figure the headline will generate plenty of traffic from Google. Too bad nearly everyone who comes here for that search string isn't going to find what they're looking for.

:-)

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