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High-school romances untangled

Relationships linked in surprisingly long chains

American Journal of Sociology


In this chart, pink circles represent female students at a high school, and blue circles represent male
students. Connecting lines show romantic relationships in the six months preceding interviews. In
addition to this network, there were about 100 other interconnections, with 63 of those between two
students who were not romantically linked to anyone else. Click on the image for the full analysis.

By Robert Roy Britt


Senior writer

Updated: 5:32 p.m. ET Jan. 24, 2005

A study of sexual and romantic relations at a high school found students connected by long
chains, rather than in a tight network with a core group of a promiscuous few.

Sharing of partners was rare, but many students were indirectly linked through one partner to
another and another.

The unexpected result could help shape strategies for combating sexually transmitted diseases
among young people.

"We went into this study believing we would find a core model, with a small group of people who
are sexually active," said James Moody, a professor of sociology at Ohio State University. "We
were surprised to find a very different kind of network."
A virtually unknowable chain
In the most striking chain, 52 percent of the romantically involved students were connected in a
manner of student A having relations with B, and B having relations with C, and so on down the
line over the 18 months of the study.

Students couldn't possibly know of all the connections, the scientists conclude.

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

The study was detailed in a recent issue of the American Journal of Sociology. Peter Bearman of
Columbia University and Katherine Stovel of the University of Washington participated in the
research.

The work was based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a 1995 survey of
students at an unidentified Midwestern high school. The students were mostly white, in the only
public school in a mid-sized city more than an hour away from a metropolis.

Complex rules for teen dating


Of about 1,000 students at the school, 832 were interviewed and asked to identify their sexual
and romantic partners over the previous 18 months. Just more than half reported having sexual
intercourse, a rate comparable to the national average, the researchers say.

Of all the pairings, 63 involved two students who had not partnered with anyone else.

The research reveals a semantically complex rule that seems to guide adolescent sexual conduct.
Here goes: A girl is loath to date her old boyfriend's new girlfriend's old boyfriend.

Adults don't generally adhere to any similar rule, so core populations of sexually active adults
tend to be prime spreaders of disease. But with adolescents, the study suggests, "there aren’t
any hubs to target, so you have to focus on broad-based interventions," Moody said.

© 2006 LiveScience.com. All rights reserved.

[http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6862058/]

RESEARCHERS MAP THE SEXUAL NETWORK OF AN ENTIRE HIGH


SCHOOL
researchnews.osu.edu ^ | Jeff Grabmeier
Posted on 01/24/2005 10:01:51 PM PST by paltz

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, 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.

“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 and other efforts to this select group.

But in the case of adolescents, “there aren’t any hubs to target, so you have to focus on broad-
based interventions,” Moody said. “You can’t just focus on a small group.”

This also means it matters less which people you reach with your efforts. Networks such as the
one seen in Jefferson High are extremely fragile and just breaking one link in the chain - any link
- will stop that part of the network from spreading any further. If enough links are broken, the
spread of STDs can be radically limited.

“The students in this network are not unusual. They are just average students, and not extremely
active sexually. So social policies that could help some of them protect themselves from STDs
could break a lot of these chains that can lead to the spread of disease.”

Contact: James Moody, (614) 292-1722; Moody.77@osu.edu

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

[http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1327834/posts]
[http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/chains.htm]