NEW YORK — A new qualitative study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, shows that sexual and gender minority youth are turning to online resources in search of a supportive, validating community and access to relevant, accurate information about sexuality and gender, but are not currently having those needs met.
The research, based on focus groups and interviews with 92 youth, was conducted by Jessica Steinke, MPH; Meredith Root-Bowman, MPA, MPH; Sherry Estabrook, MA; Deborah S. Levine, MSW, MAT; and Leslie M. Kantor, PhD, MPH. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) collaborated with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation on the research, and contracted with the research firm Community Marketing & Insights (CMI) to develop the initial study design and collect data. The research explored how sexual and gender minority youth seek out and use digital interventions and online resources. Data was collected through a series of interviews and focus groups with youth across the country, ages 15-19, who self-identify as non-heterosexual, non-cisgender, questioning, and/or who have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior.
Among the study’s findings:
- Sexual and gender minority youth report that interpersonal discrimination has substantial negative effects on their mental health.
- Sexual and gender minority youth often go online for resources to address the isolation, stigmatization, and lack of information they experience in their daily lives.
- Sexual and gender minority youth are turning to online resources to find a supportive, validating community and to seek relevant, accurate information on identity, relationships, and sexuality.
“At Planned Parenthood, we understand that sexual and gender minority youth are in critical need of resources that address their experiences so that they have the support, information and skills they need,” said Dr. Leslie Kantor, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Youth need access to safe, supportive and validating communities to make healthy choices and live fulfilling lives. This research has important implications for understanding the kind of support that sexual and gender minority youth need, and we’re proud to be partnering with other youth serving organizations to carry out this work.”
Youth interviewed in this study described isolation, stigmatization, and invisibility that contributed to the obstacles they face in taking care of their physical health, including their sexual health.
"I definitely think that as a result of the stresses that come along with being a queer teen there’s often a lot of both physical and mental health side effects that aren’t very good. … I also think that as a result of these stresses we’re more likely to turn to unhealthy coping methods..." (Participant 71, age 17, queer transgender male)
Study participants noted that the lack of resources that incorporate the perspectives of sexual and gender minority people, and limited access to peers experiencing similar things, led them online to reduce isolation and search for information about identity, relationships, and coming out. Many went to Google, YouTube, and Tumblr to connect with and learn about the experiences of others, but wished for safer digital spaces in which to do that.
“Technology has created amazing opportunities for us to reach people in different ways, and Planned Parenthood is continually looking for innovative approaches to get people the care and information they need – whether that’s on their phone, online, or in a health center,” said Kantor.
The study concludes that digital interventions for sexual and gender minority youth should focus on mental health and well-being holistically rather than solely on risk behaviors. Interventions should include opportunities for interpersonal connection, help foster a sense of belonging, and provide accurate information about sexuality and gender to help facilitate positive identity development.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With over 650 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America media office: 212-261-4433
January 31, 2017