Sexually active high school girls are more likely to say they've been bullied than sexually active high school boys, a study from Brown University released this month found.
Using data from a 2011 national survey of over 13,000 high school students, Brown researchers found that sexually active high school girls report being bullied 2.27 times more often than their male counterparts.
In addition, both girls and boys were more likely to report bullying if they also reported being sexually active without using condoms or other contraceptives. (Overall, 64 percent of sexually active students said they used a condom during their last engagement in intercourse.) The report suggested that while "engaging in sexual behaviors may be associated with greater levels of popularity" in some cases, that doesn't happen when their peers think the teens behave sexually in ways that are "risky or dangerous to one's health."
Bullying has evolved in recent years, lead author Hailee Dunn noted in a conversation with The Huffington Post. Students know that overt bullying is bad, she said, but they've moved on to more subtle forms, such as commenting on social media platforms. While those comments may not name a particular person, readers know who is being talking about.
Previous studies have linked bullying to depression and suicidal thoughts, and the Brown research found further correlation. Students who said they were both bullied and sexually active reported depression at five times the rate of those who said they were neither bullied nor sexually active. The former students were also three times more likely to report having had suicidal thoughts.
It is important to note that this study shows only correlations, not causal links, between sexual activity, bullying, and depression and suicidal thoughts. The researchers cannot say with certainty that sexual activity led to bullying -- it's not even clear when the sexual activity was public knowledge -- or that bullying caused depression. The published study also doesn't account for sexual orientation, though Dunn is working on another paper that examines whether sexual orientation affects the rates of bullying for sexually active students.
As far as the different rates in bullying of girls and boys, Dunn suggested that arises out of a double standard in how American teenagers (as well as American adults) judge the sexually active. She said that double standard could "absolutely" be lessened by adding gender studies and humans rights to the school curriculum -- although she acknowledged it would not be easy.
"It is quite challenging to change views at a higher level," Dunn said, but addressing these human values in the classroom, "that's a start."