A new Planned Parenthood study, conducted in partnership with HRC and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that LGBTQ youth often turn to the internet for health information and that many don’t get the relevant, accurate facts they need. The study’s recommendations on how to fill that health education gap — from offering more positive, accessible information to providing opportunities for teens to connect — represent an important step toward providing young people with the high-quality online resources they need.
The study drew on interviews and focus groups with 92 LGBTQ teens, ages 15 to 19, from across the U.S. HRC worked with Planned Parenthood and the research team to design the study, connect with youth participants, and interpret the findings.
In the groups and interviews, youth discussed challenges they’ve faced because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including a lack of community and being stereotyped or sexually harassed. When it came to health education, participants felt unable to relate to the information presented by their schools and healthcare providers. Because most health-related information is designed for heterosexual, cisgender students, it often didn’t reflect LGBTQ teens’ identities, experiences, or relationships.
Knowing they weren’t getting adequate information from traditional sources, some of the youth in the study reported turning elsewhere to fill the gaps — either to the internet or to their peers. Unfortunately, these sources had their own limitations. Participants said they felt they couldn’t trust that the information they got online or from friends was medically accurate. They also found that many online resources were too technical to understand, or didn’t seem to apply to their experiences.
Based on these findings, the researchers developed recommendations to improve online health resources for LGBTQ youth. For instance, they determined that educational content should emphasize the positive aspects of being LGBTQ, and that it must feel relevant to youth with a range of identities under the LGBTQ umbrella. They also found that it takes more than just information to truly fill the health information gap. Resources also need to build teens’ sense of community by offering opportunities to connect through chats and message boards, they said. And researchers also emphasized the importance of protecting users’ privacy and guarding against inappropriate behavior, such as bullying and sexual harassment.
LGBTQ youth are already seeking health information online. And while that can’t replace comprehensive, LGBTQ-inclusive health education in schools and healthcare settings, these recommendations and their implementation would represent a major step forward for LGBTQ teen health. These are goals towards which HRC, Planned Parenthood and their partners continue to work.
Click here to learn more about HRC’s work on inclusive sex education. For an in-depth look at the experiences of LGBTQ teens at home, at school, and in the community, check out Growing Up LGBT In America, the report on our 2012 survey of more than 10,000 youth across the United States.