This Pride Month, new research on the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ teens

Several new studies from researchers at the Wellesley Centers for Women help us understand more about the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ teens—and how we can better support them.

WCW Senior Research Scientists Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., and Jennifer M. Grossman, Ph.D., looked at how LGBTQ+ teens talk to their families about sex and relationships as compared to heterosexual teens—a topic on which there has historically been very little research. Their study was published in the Journal of GLBT Family Studies.

They found that mothers offered more messages about sexual protection methods to their heterosexual teens, and fathers talked less with LGBTQ+ teens about risks of sex and relational sex (meaning sex within the context of a close relationship). Non-heterosexual male teens reported talking to more family and extended family members, while female and non-binary LGBTQ+ teens confided in fewer family members or no one. 

In another study, soon to be published in JMIR Mental Health, Charmaraman—director of WCW’s Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab—examined how LGBTQ+ middle schoolers use social media, who they are connected to and for what purposes, and the associations between these behaviors and their mental wellbeing, compared to their heterosexual peers.

She found that LGBTQ+ teens reported having smaller networks on their favorite social media sites, and responded positively less often when friends shared good news or tried to make friends feel better when they shared bad news. However, unlike heterosexual youth, LGBTQ+ teens more often reported joining a group or online community to make themselves feel less alone. 

“These results help us understand where LGBTQ+ teens are getting support, and where support is lacking, both online and offline,” said Charmaraman. “We can share that information with families, schools, and community organizations so they can help these teens get what they need to thrive.”

Charmaraman and Grossman are available to speak more about both of these studies.