teenage relationships

Relationships help LGBT teens cope better

By Sarah Wednesday, June 12, 2019 - 11:30
Can being in a relationship be good for LGBT teens? Recent research says those in relationships are happier. Time to find that BAE?

Romance is good

Romantic relationships can be wonderful – there’s no question about that. There’s the feeling of really connecting with another person, hour-long conversations, doing new and everyday things together, not to mention the fun stuff: kissing, foreplay, and sex – if you’re having it.

But just because it feels wonderful to have a boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. Or does it?

Plenty of studies have shown there’s a link between being in a relationship and mental health: the former leads to less stress and depression. If you’re a heterosexual adult, that is. Far fewer studies have looked at the benefits of relationships for LGBT teens.

Terrible teens

And let’s face it, the teenage years can be tough. That’s especially true for teens who identify as lesbian, gay, or bi, since they may have to deal with bullying and victimisation. It’s no wonder they’re at a higher risk of mental health problems like depression.

That’s why a U.S. team thought the time had come to research things that could have a positive impact on LGBT teens’ mental health. Naturally, they thought that being in a relationship might be one of those things, especially because a romantic partner can provide support, for example when it comes to bullying.

On the other hand, the researchers reasoned, being in a same-sex relationship could have the opposite effect if it increases a teen’s risk of discrimination or conflict with family members who haven’t accepted – or don’t know about their sexual orientation.

Being in a relationship helps

To find out which hypothesis was true, the researchers tracked down about 250 U.S. teens aged 16-20 from different racial backgrounds and sexual minorities (gay, lesbian, bi, and trans). Throughout the five-year study, the teens were asked questions about their psychological well-being and whether they had a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Romantic relationships can help some gay and lesbian teens deal with bullying and victimisation - more than parents or friends can, the researchers learned. When they were in a relationship, these teens were 17 percent less distressed than when they weren’t.

As author Brian Mustanski put it in a press release, ‘Your romantic partner can be the first person you reach out to when you have good news to celebrate or for a shoulder to cry on when you have bad news.’

Bisexual dichotomy

But this wasn’t the case for bisexual teens. Surprisingly, when they had a boyfriend or girlfriend, they were 19 percent more distressed than when they weren’t in a relationship, the study found.

Why might this be? Past research has shown that bisexual teens may have to deal with problems that both straight and gay young adults don’t. For example, bi women have explained that if they’re in a relationship with a guy, he might see the fact that she’s attracted to women as a threat to his masculinity. Or he might ask her for threesomes all the time.

Guys who identify as bi and are in a relationship with a woman have said it’s hard for them to talk about their sexuality with their partner since she might just end up telling them they’re really gay.

Reference: Romantic Involvement: A Protective Factor for Psychological Health in Racially-Diverse Young Sexual Minorities. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. (2018): 127(3):265-75.

This article was first published on August 1, 2018. 

*To protect the identity, names have been changed and the person/s in the picture is/are models.

Do you agree that being in a relationship can help you deal with emotional turmoils? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page. If you have a specific question, please ask Love Matters experts on our discussion forum.

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