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Romantic relationships help gay and lesbian – but not bisexual – youths

Growing up gay or lesbian can add stresses like bullying and homophobia to a young person’s life, but romantic relationships may provide a buffer that other types of support can’t, a new study shows.

However, for bisexual teens – who face some unique challenges – romance could actually add stress, researchers found.

The joint study by scientists from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Cincinnati found that support from parents and friends, while also important, didn’t provide the same level of psychological protection for gay and lesbian youths.

“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,” co-author Dr. Brian Mustanski of Northwestern Medicine said in a press release. “Having a partner then can amplify the good things in life and provide critical support during tough times.”

Gay and lesbian teens reported 17 percent less distress when in a relationship than when single, the study found.

He and his colleagues sought to fill gaps in research about romantic relationships. Most research into romance and mental health centers around adult relationships, and research is also lacking into how such relationships affect the mental health of sexual minorities.

However, the study did find a surprising result: while gay and lesbian youths found support and a buffer from stress in their romantic relationships, for bisexual teens they often simply added another source of stress.

They saw a 19 percent rise in their stress, the study showed. This could be because opposite-gender relationships often mean navigating stereotypes with a romantic partner rather than receiving support.

Still, the findings show there could be value in setting up events such as LGBT+ proms that allow teens to meet one another.

Participants were from Project Q2, a sampling of LGBT+ young people from a wide range of diverse backgrounds in the Chicago area.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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