THE IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING BARRIERS PARENTS FACE WHEN COMMUNICATING WITH THEIR LGBTQ+ YOUNG PEOPLE ABOUT SEX AND SEXUALITY. By Alex Michel-Smith

“I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON OUT THERE:” Parents’ perspectives on promoting health in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents. (Newcomb, et al., 2018)

One of my favourite things about being a health promoter is being able to work with parents to find ways they can open or strengthen their communication with their young people. I’m always trying to find new techniques and skills that parents can take home to have a go starting conversations about health-related topics with their young people. I really enjoyed reading about parent-adolescent communication from the perspective of parents of LGBTQ+ young people because it highlighted some interesting issues and barriers parents faced when having conversations about sex and sexuality with their young people. While I could go on forever about this topic, I’ll just highlight some key findings from this study around the barriers that parents of LGBTQ+ young people face when discussing sexual health related topics with their young people.

While this particular study only looked at 44 parents of LGBTQ+ adolescents aged 13 – 17 years, it highlighted the need for more information and skills for parents to be able to improve parent-adolescent communication around sexual health related topics and issues with their LGBTQ+ young people. Effective communication around sexual health related topics and issues relating to LGBTQ+ youth can be limited by two things: a parent’s awareness of their child’s LGBTQ+ orientation and identity, and a parent’s knowledge of LGBTQ+ sexuality.

Many parents in this study (77%) stated that they had discussed using protection during sexual activity with their young person while less than half (48%) stated they had discussed health risks associated with sexual activity. This is interesting because it showed that parents were more confident discussing methods of protection such as condom use but were unsure how to discuss issues around pregnancy and sexually transmissible infection prevention with their LGBTQ+ young people. Only some parents had discussed getting to know their partner before engaging in sexual activity with them or discussed the importance of sexual activity being consensual, but many of these conversations were based around the fear that their young LGBTQ+ person would be subject to violence if they disclosed their sexuality and/or gender identity to their sexual partner.

While most parents described their relationship with their young person positively, about one-third of parents faced challenges when communicating with their young person around sexual health topics because of discomfort, a lack of accurate knowledge about what sex is for their LGBTQ+ young person and feeling “unequipped” to be having these discussions. Half of these parents identified struggling to set boundaries for their young people in certain situations such as sleepovers due to their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, because their boundaries had previously been set under the assumption that their child was heterosexual and/or cis-gendered.

I acknowledge that this study was a very small population of parents, that these parents already knew of their child’s sexual and/or gender orientation and identity, and that this will not be the reality for all parents that we work with; but I believe that understanding some of the barriers parents of LGBTQ+ youth face when discussing sexual health with their young people can better prepare us to facilitate more inclusive discussions with parents and share more useful techniques and skills that they can draw on when having these discussions with their young people.

 

References:

Newcomb, M. E., Feinstein, B. A., Matson, M., Macapagal, K., & Mustanski, B. (2018). “I Have No Idea What’s Going On Out There:” Parents’ Perspectives on Promoting Sexual Health in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Adolescents. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 15(2), 111-122. Retrieved from

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6145819/