A new study published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds that homeless youths who have same-sex friends and acquaintances with stable housing are less likely to engage in risky sexual activity and are at lower risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Researchers looked at the association between STD rates and the characteristics of the social networks of 258 homeless people, aged 15 to 24, in San Francisco. Compared to males, females were less likely to have sex using condoms and more likely to have sex with intravenous drug users.
The study also found that males were more likely than females to have same-sex friends and to know people with stable housing. When males had people with stable housing in their social network, they were more likely to use condoms. Females were more likely to use condoms when they could name a same-sex friend, according to the study.
“The presence of same-sex friendships and contacts living in stable homes seems to increase condom use,” study senior author Dr. Colette Auerswald, an associate adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a university news release.
“Young homeless men seem to name these social network contacts more frequently than do young homeless women. It will be important in future investigations to ask why this happens,” she added.
Having family members in their social networks also reduced females’ risk of having sex with intravenous drug users. None of the females who had a family member in their social network had a sex partner who was an intravenous drug user, compared with about 26 percent of those without such a family member.
This study shows the importance of reconnecting homeless young men and women to mainstream society, lead author Dr. Annie Valente, who conducted the research while a medical student at UCSF, said in the news release.
“It also emphasizes how same-gender friendships and family ties may be effective tools in our efforts to improve the health of homeless youth,” she said.
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