Can Romantic Relationships Improve Mental Health in LGBTQ+ Youth?
Romantic relationships can have a big impact on LGBTQ+ youth. In a study published in Abnormal Psychology, relationships protected homosexual youth from the emotional distress of bullying and stigma. Bonds with parents and peers didn’t have the same protective effect. This suggests closeted homosexual youth may not be getting the full emotional support they need.
Meanwhile, romantic relationships were associated with higher stress levels in bisexual youth. This trend may have been due to unique stressors in the bisexual population.
RELATIONSHIPS MAY BENEFIT HOMOSEXUAL YOUTH
The study recruited participants from Project Q2, the longest ever longitudinal study of LGBTQ+ youth. The project involves a racially diverse group of 248 Chicago youth between the ages of 16-20. Most participants identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
In the study, gay and lesbian youth displayed less distress when they were in a relationship. Romantic relationships also buffered the stress of victimization and bullying. Bonds with friends and family did not provide the same benefits.
The study’s authors suggest these young people may rely on their partners for support they often cannot find elsewhere. A 2014 study in the Journal of Adolescence reached a similar conclusion. In that study, youth attracted to individuals of the same gender experienced stress from anticipating societal rejection. Romantic relationships helped improve their emotional well-being.
The study’s authors say their research points to the value of helping young people find romantic relationships. Outreach programs such as “queer proms” may offer more than a fun evening. They can also help young people develop dating skills and find partners. The resulting romance could lead to improvements in mental health by helping offset the effects of discrimination.
ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS AND BISEXUAL STIGMA
One exception to these findings was in regard to bisexual youth. Bisexual people in relationships were 19% more distressed than their single peers. This may be due to unique stereotypes bisexual individuals face. The study’s authors mention previous research in which romantic partners “expected” bisexual women to engage in threesomes (likely due to the myth that bisexual people are inherently polyamorous.).
There is also the matter of bisexual erasure. Bisexual individuals are often told their sexuality is “just a phase.” When a bisexual person enters a relationship, others may claim the person was really straight or gay all along, depending on their partner’s gender. This invalidation can have serious effects on a bisexual person’s emotional health.
(Note: These results are not meant to imply that romantic relationships are bad for bisexual individuals. They merely show how bisexual people are more likely to experience distress in relationships due to stigma.)
Baams, L., Bos, H. M., & Jonas, K. J. (2014). How a romantic relationship can protect same-sex attracted youth and young adults from the impact of expected rejection. Journal of Adolescence, 37(8), 1293-1302. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2014.09.006
Celebrate bisexuality! GLAAD dispels common myths and stereotypes. (2011, September 23). GLAAD.
Romantic relationships buffer gay and lesbian youth from emotional distress. (2018, February 16). EurekAlert.
Courtesy of Good Therapy.