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Researchers map the sexual network of an entire high school

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"What this shows, for the first time, is that there are many of these links in a chain, going far beyond what anyone could see and hold in their head."

Outside of this large component, there were numerous other smaller components in the network at Jefferson High. There were 63 simple pairs two individuals whose only partnership was with each other. All told, only 35 percent of the romantically active students (189) were involved in networks containing three or fewer students. There were very few components of intermediate size (4 to 15) students.

While many students were connected to much larger networks, they probably didn't see it that way, Moody said. In fact, they probably had no idea of their connections to the network.

"Many of the students only had one partner. They certainly weren't being promiscuous. But they couldn't see all the way down the chain."

The surprising thing about the network at Jefferson High was the near absence of cycling - situations in which people have relationships with others close to them on the network, Moody said.

The lack of cycling seems traceable to rules that adolescents have about who they will not date. The teens will not date (from a female perspective) one's old boyfriend's current girlfriend's old boyfriend. This would be considered taking "seconds" in a relationship.

"If you break up with someone, you may want to get as away from them as possible in your next relationship. You don't want to be connected to them in some way by dating someone with a close relationship," Moody said.

The practical result from such a rule is that no cores form, and that long, chain-like networks form instead. That has important implications for preventing the spread of STDs in teenage populations, according to Moody, Bearman and Stovel.

In adult populations, in which there are cores of sexually active people who are the main conduits of disease, you can focus education
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Contact: James Moody
Moody.77@osu.edu
614-292-1722
Ohio State University
24-Jan-2005


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