Be suspicious of statistics, especially those that seem too good or too bad or too surprising to be true.

You may have seen this amazing news headline: 1 in 10 Teens Has Had a Same-Sex Partner. The story on AOL Health begins this way:

Nearly one in ten teens has had a same-sex partner — double what previous research has shown, according to a surprising new study.

The latest findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, reveal that 9.3 percent of teenagers say they have had at least one partner who is the same sex as they are.

That’s about twice as many as indicated in a 2002 study of Massachusetts and Vermont teens showing 5 to 6 percent of teenagers had had same-sex partners.

“I don’t know that it means there’s an increase in prevalence,” said Massachusetts psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Carlat, AOL Health’s mental health expert. “As homosexuality has become more and more accepted in society, people are more willing to acknowledge their sexuality than they used to be.”

Wow! Who knew? 1 in 10 American teenagers has had a same-sex partner?! That’s really terrible/terrific (depending on your point of view). What a revelation!

The only problem with this revelation is that it’s false. If the reporter for AOL had taken time to read just the abstract for the Pediatrics article she may have seen the heading “CONCLUSIONS” (in all caps) and noted this summary:

Of sexually active adolescents, 9.3% reported a same-sex partner, a higher estimate than other published rates.

AOL speaks of 1 in 10 teens; the original article concludes 9.3% of sexually active adolescents reported a same-sex partner. There’s a big difference. The survey analyzed data from 17,220 teenagers. Of those, 7,261 (or 42%) reported having had sex. So according this study 58% of teens are not having sex with anyone and 9.3% of those have, had same-sex partners, or 3.9% of the total sample.

There are other reasons to be suspicious of the headline. For starters, as AOL reports later in the article: “The new research analyzed data from 17,220 teenagers in New York City who filled out public health surveys” (emphasis mine). The whole Pediatric article is not available online so I can’t comment on the ins and outs of the methodology. But I have to believe that a study dealing with “teens in New York City who fill out public health surveys” is going to yield some different results than, say, teens in Dallas or Atlanta or Sioux Falls.

And then there’s the disturbing information, which the AOL article also reports, that “About a third of teen boys who had bisexual experiences said they’d had forced sex, compared to 6 percent of boys who reported having only heterosexual experiences.” Later the article says that 36% of girls with bisexual experiences and 35% of boys with bisexual experiences endured some kind of “dating violence” in the past year. So, at the very least, a good chunk of the teens with a “same-sex partner” were forced into this experience. Indeed, the journal abstract concludes: “Adolescents with both-sex partners reported a marked prevalence of dating violence and forced sex.”

The lesson in all this is, once again, to be wary of dubious data. It is not true that 1 in 10 teens have had a same-sex partner. What’s true is that around 4% of teens in New York who filled out a public health survey reported a same-sex experience, and that a not insignificant number of those experiences were forced in some way.

Don’t believe everything you hear.

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41 thoughts on “Is It True That “1 in 10 Teens Has Had a Same-Sex Partner”?”

  1. Brent says:

    sigh…

    The evil one is the father of lies. I wonder how often he uses lies like this to convince the gullible/naive that ungodly activities are acceptable.

    Sadly “but I read it on the internet” is the validating truth for most people.

  2. Hayden says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for looking deeper into this one. Ever since the article you wrote on statistics a couple of months ago, I have been skeptical of them more and more. I never fully bought into them, but now i am seeing that the only place that they are helpful is in the game of baseball :–)

  3. Hey Kevin,
    I appreciate you taking the time to look into this one. I find two things surprising about the whole article: 1.) How little we think critically about the information we receive 2.) How much sloppiness and distortion can go on in the public information realm.

    Thanks once again,
    Nick McDonald

  4. The only statistic I trust: 3 out of 4 people make up 75% of the population. Beyond that, statistics are made to say whatever the presenting party wants them to say. This is across the board, not just in “there” camp.

    Thanks for your work.

  5. “their” camp… I’m immortalized as the misspelling guy…

  6. Matt says:

    Kevin-
    Thanks for this post. Long time reader, first time to comment.

    I’ve been working in student ministry for the past 10 years. Although the data/statistics in this particular report seem to be fairly unreliable, I would say this is one of the fastest growing trend I have seen in high school & college aged young people. Each year I work with a new class of students I see more and more instances of solid, godly, role-model-caliber young Christian men and women who have had a homosexual encounter (consensual, experimental, and/or rape) in their past. (And it’s not like these kids grew up in New York – my students all come from the buckle of the Bible belt.)

    I don’t mean to undermine the point of your post because I agree that statistics are often misleading. However, I would like to be one voice that is starting to sound the alarm on this issue. It is one that the church does not know how to handle and the kids who have this history know that – which makes the problem even worse.

    “Don’t believe everything you hear” is also good advice when working with young people who have learned how to hide these shameful secrets beneath good Christian behavior.

  7. jason says:

    I was going to say the same thing Matt said. I was shocked but the more I counselled the more I heard this.

  8. rg says:

    A lot of teens have grown up experimenting sexually with a partner of the same sex. Most of them have turned out heterosexual. While the experimentation is clearly wrong by Biblical standards, I think it’s probably no more prevalent than it always has been. Whether it deserves elevation to Crisis Level on the List of Sins is debatable.

  9. Chris Bundy says:

    Kevin, I appreciate the service you did and valuable lesson you demonstrated. I’m afraid to admit that I should “test all things” myself but didn’t. You are indeed in possession of a Pastor’s heart and caring for the flock. For this I thank you.

  10. Doyle says:

    So how many in 100 pastors preach against homosexual activity? How many out of 100 students have never heard from the pulpit that it is sinful? How can pastors in the RCA have an credibility in preaching that it is sinful when their own denomination openly endorses it?

  11. Chris Zodrow says:

    “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” — Disraeli

  12. Caleb Land says:

    I don’t care what the statistics say, if we aren’t at that point yet, it wouldn’t surprise me if we were in a VERY short time.

    I teach public school students through Christian Released-Time Education (www.gilmerclc.org for more info on what that is) in a rural, 1 High School county in Georgia that would be considered the heart of the “Bible Belt.” In this town, of the 145 students who enroll voluntarily in our Christian elective Bible classes at least 5% are “out” about their own homosexuality and from our surveys around 90% think people should be free to be homosexual if they want.

    I would say that the issue of homosexuality is THE #1 BARRIER for teenagers, both here and in a larger town where I served as a youth pastor, that keeps them from believing the gospel. There is scarcely a week that goes by that I am not questioned about it or asked to defend the orthodox Christian position.

    I know people blow up statistics (we use examples like this to teach logic here at the CLC all the time) BUT PLEASE DON”T MINIMIZE THIS ISSUE FOR THIS GENERATION! It wouldn’t surprise me if those statistics were true, but even if they aren’t, the reality of this issue in the lives of most teenagers is going to be, and already is, one of the most pressing issues of the day.

  13. Caleb Land says:

    Looks like the other folks who work with teenagers (Matt, Jason) tend to agree with me. Once again, not disregarding your point, but if you are implying that this is not a MASSIVE PROBLEM for teenagers, then I take issue.

  14. The attempt to normalize the sin of homosexuality has been going on for some time. It has intensified the past two years as President Obama has adopted one of the most pro-gay agendas in history. Add to this the false belief that homosexuals cannot change and you have a dangerous mix for Christians in the future. Once Democrats are successful in mandating the acceptance of homosexuality, those of us who remain faithful and preach the Gospel, will be seen as bigots, homophobes and probably guilty of violating some “hate crimes” law. Why Christians want to appease this agenda, or worse, partner with those who are advancing it is beyond me. For in doing that, they are helping to bring about pretext to justify persecution of their brethren.

  15. Tim says:

    I am so glad you posted this! Very interesting.

  16. Simon says:

    A wise man once said, “statistics are like people, if you torture them enough they will say whatever you want them to”.

  17. DavidN says:

    So the headline could easily have read ‘One third of teens have been violently forced into having bisexual sex’.

  18. Paul says:

    [writing the first part of this with my professional statisticians hat on]

    I’m not sure what this proves except that the AOL journalist is lazy, ignorant, stupid or some combination thereof.

    Kevin’s correct that it’s not a random sample of teens in the USA so the results can’t be generalized beyond teens in NY who filled in the survey. But then, it’s the journalist, not the authors of the study, who generalized the results.

    To me, the results are interesting. It’s interesting how many of them have had same-sex partners and how common violence is. That makes the survey worth while since it points the way towards survey questions that are asked of a random sample and so can be generalized.

    Having said that, this is not a new phenomenon. Same sex partners were rather common in C. S. Lewis’ school (and many similar schools), as he writes in “Surprised by Joy”. By the way, if you don’t believe me about that, read the chapter called “Bloodery” and if you don’t know the meanings of “catamite”, “pederasty” and the slang meaning of “tart”, be sure to look them up.

  19. ross says:

    hey Doyle, not sure of the stats about how many RCA pastors preach and teach about homosexuality. I am thankful that my pastors do and pray that more in the RCA will.

  20. Rebekah says:

    Of course, should this be a growing trend anyway, it would undermine the idea that some people are homosexual by nature. I have a hunch that “have had a same-sex partner” means “have had a same-sex partner at some time” and not just “have only had a same-sex partner.”

    Such sexual activity would not show that homosexuals are more comfortable with coming out. It would show that culturally there is less restraint on all kinds of perverted sexual activity.

    Thank God the gospel is good news for all this, too.

  21. Lisa says:

    It is amazing that in criticizing the AOL article for not being factual, you actually made up your own facts regarding the study. You state “So, at the very least, a good chunk of the teens with a “same-sex partner” were forced into this experience.” Nowhere in the abstract does it state that the same-sex experiences were forced. However, not only do you make up the conclusion that they were, you also determined all on your own that “a good chunk” of them and “not an insignificant number of them” were forced.

    Will you hold yourself to the same standard you hold the AOL writer to and correct your blatant mischaraterization of the study?

  22. Simon says:

    Lisa, with all due respect, the AOL article states:
    “About a third of teen boys who had bisexual experiences said they’d had forced sex, compared to 6 percent of boys who reported having only heterosexual experiences.”
    So if I read that correctly I can paraphrase; roughly 33% of male teens in the sample group from NYC whom identified having had bisexual experiences, had been raped by males. I use the term “raped” cautiously. Rape is an evil thing but is certainly the correct term for anything related to forced sex.
    This is a horrifying thing when it happens to anyone, yet here we are talking 33% of these young males. That figure is not insignificant! What a tragedy these people have been abused.
    I do sympathise with those that have sexual feelings for the same sex. What a difficult place it must be. It’s as if the thinking is “If only all people would accept homosexuality as legitimate then we could lead happy and content lives”.
    Of course that statement is an over-simplification but this belief prevails among many. The problem is it is utterly false. Homosexuality is a difficult thing to live with. The suicide rates are very high, the promiscuity levels are extreme. It is not the utopia much of the media promises. The desperation and loneliness of many gay people is immense. There is very little reason to believe that the universal “destigmatisation” of homosexuality will change any of that.
    This is all quite apart from the belief that God is clearly against it. Yet if we are honest with our appraisal of scripture, there is no ambiguity here. So while I need to accept and love homosexuals, there is no space to accept their decisions to engage in homosexual acts as legitimate. Ultimately we all answer to God and it is God we must obey.
    I would also encourage those people that abhor homosexuality to remember (or realise) that it is sin. Sin that in God’s eyes is deserving in death every bit as much as when we lie, deceive someone, cheat ect. also deserves death.
    Praise God that Christ’s death was “once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous”. 1 Pet 3:18, lest we all be condemned.

  23. Lisa says:

    Well, not to belabor the point, and with all due respect to you, once again your conclusion is not based on facts. The statement that 33% of males who had sex with both men and women (i.e. had bisexual experiences) also had forced sex does not tell you in any way that the forced sex was in the same sex encounters. That is simply your conclusion, which you choose to represent as fact.

  24. Lou Barba says:

    Hello Kevin,

    I read this post and agree with how skewed these statistics are. Honestly, does anyone really believe that the majority of teenagers tell the truth when asked about their sexual activity? There probably are a few. I’ve been a school bus driver for fifteen years, and must conclude that a great deal of this so-called activity is wishful thinking or simple bragging. Even though these surveys are not in front of their peers, I still conclude that the biggest majority of answers are pure fiction.

  25. Simon says:

    Thanks Lisa, it is a valid point you make.
    If I take the second part of the sentence “….compared to 6 percent of boys who reported having only heterosexual experiences.” then if I have got this right, should I then deduct the 6% from the roughly 33%?
    If so we have 27%. More than 1 in 4.
    I still can’t but feel that is indeed substantial and hardly insignificant. I’m sorry if you are upset by KDY’s appraisal of AOL’s take on the study but I still see no reason to think his comments are irresponsible or misplaced.
    I must reinterate, it is nothing short of terrible that even one of these people is subjected to rape.

  26. Paul says:

    This is interesting, and of course, scoundrels make statistics, and “news” outlets are in the business of getting people to read their items — so a shocking headline will get more readers (more ads browsed, etc.).

    Here’s my question. I’m probably relying on very old numbers, but somewhere in my head there’s a figure rattling around that around 10-11% of the general population is now, or has engaged in, homosexual behavior.

    If that is the case, would it be any surprise that 9.3% of teens who had engaged in ANY sexual behavior had engaged in homosexual behavior? Seems to me it would be right in line with the statistical “norm” for the general population (if that old “norm” I cite is indeed accurate — which it might not be). [[[I'm not using "norm" as a description of behavior, but as a statistical term.]]]

  27. JD Powers says:

    It is specious to conclude that because a higher incidence of respondents reporting same-sex partners also report having been victims of dating violence, it must have been (or was even often) the same-sex encounter that was violent. The data, at least as presented here–I haven’t read the actual study either–do not support that conclusion, however much you might wish it to be so. Correlation does not equal causation.

    Don’t believe everything you hear, indeed.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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