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Researchers map the sexual network of an entire high school

researchers interviewed nearly all students at an unidentified Midwestern school that they renamed "Jefferson High School." It is an almost all-white school, and is the only public high school in this mid-sized city, which is more than an hour away from the nearest metropolitan area.

Researchers interviewed 832 of the approximately 1,000 students at the school. Students were asked to identify their sexual and romantic partners in the past 18 months from a roster of other students attending their school. (Romantic relationships were ones in which the students named the other as a romantic partner. Non-romantic sexual partners were those in which the participants said they had sexual intercourse, but were not dating).

Slightly more than half of all students reported having sexual intercourse, a rate comparable to the national average. The researchers mapped the network structure of the 573 students involved in a romantic or sexual relationship.

Moody said the results generate a snapshot of the network of romantic and sexual relations among teens attending the school in this 18-month period - the first such image of an entire population such as this.

The most striking feature of the network was a single component that connected 52 percent (288) of the romantically involved students at Jefferson. This means student A had relations with student B, who had relations with student C and so on, connecting all 288 of these students.

While this component is large, it has numerous short branches and is very broad the two most distant individuals are 37 steps apart. (Or to use a currently popular term, there were 37 degrees of separation between the two most-distant students.)

"From a student's perspective, a large chain like this would boggle the mind," Moody said. "They might know that their partner had a previous partner. But they don't think about the fact that this partner had a previous partner, who had a partner, and so on
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Contact: James Moody
Moody.77@osu.edu
614-292-1722
Ohio State University
24-Jan-2005


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