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Researchers map the sexual network of an entire high school

COLUMBUS, Ohio 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 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.

The study was conducted by Peter Bearman of Columbia University, Moody, and Katherine Stovel of the University of Washington. The results were published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Sociology.

The researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. As part of that study in 1995,
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Contact: James Moody
Moody.77@osu.edu
614-292-1722
Ohio State University
24-Jan-2005


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