“The talk” between parents and teens can be tough. For parents of LGBTQ youth who are also learning about their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, that conversation can become all the more challenging. A new study by Northwestern University says that parents of LGBTQ teens often feel uncomfortable and unequipped to talk to their kids about sex.
However, research shows that parents who support their teenager’s identity and orientation by not only talking about it, but helping them navigate the terrain, can majorly influence positive health outcomes. It builds a solid foundation that allows teens to create nurturing relationships between themselves and their partners throughout the years.
This article will highlight the importance of the sex talk, with resources to guide the process. Here’s what you need to know about talking to your LGBTQ teenager about sex.
Discard Assumptions About “The Talk”
Research shows that teens who engage in honest dialogue with their parents about sex are more likely to practice safe sex. They’re also more likely to develop healthier relationships with partners, in both the short and long term. However, the study by Northwestern University found that parents of LGBTQ teens often feel unequipped to enter this conversation. One parent shared that her knowledge felt invalid, granted that “all of [her] sex talks were about how to not get pregnant and how babies are conceived.” Other parents shared similar viewpoints, while many voiced that they felt a lack of community support.
Interestingly enough, these parents seemed unaware of resources and research that can change their understanding of “the talk.” For instance, parents who equate the sex talk with pregnancy prevention should know that LGBTQ teens are actually more likely to get pregnant. As for parents who feel that their teen is unreceptive? Another study by the same research institute found that “gay and bisexual male youth in our study wanted to be closer to their parents and be able to talk about sex and dating.” However, these teens found that their conversations with their parents were “brief and focused exclusively on HIV and condom use.”
That being said, the first thing a parent should do is discard their preconceptions about what the sex talk entails. Don’t make assumptions about how your teen will react. Also don’t assume that just because your teen is LGBTQ, your knowledge won’t translate or be helpful. Secondly, understand that while it’s natural to feel uncomfortable or possibly unequipped when it comes to talking to your teen about sex, there’s a plethora of resources and community out there that will support you. This article will get to those eventually. But first, it will cover key pointers in talking to your LGBTQ teen about sex.
Keep in Mind That There’s More to Sex Than Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation
LGBTQ teens aren’t focused just on learning about sex. They’re also exploring their identity in relation to their community, their future, etc. Learning about your teen’s sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as their community, is as important as talking about intercourse. Acknowledging this diversity says that you are interested in learning more about them and who they are.
Parents of transgender teens may find this process an emotional one, due to the increased challenges their child faces. While many LGBTQ teens face being bullied, shunned, or even kicked out of their homes, transgender teens are particularly at risk. They’re embarking on a journey that is often different than their loved ones envisioned. These realities can cause a parent to feel overwhelmed by the situation. Keep in mind that your child is probably also aware of these challenges, and need your support more than your sorrow. Asking your teen open ended questions about what they know and how they’re feeling, rather than supplying them with statistics or research, is a good practice. It shows that you’re interested in exploring together, and also leaves the possibility for you to share your knowledge—but not in a heavy handed way.
Know the Special Considerations of the LGBTQ Community
Be aware that the LGBTQ community does have unique considerations when it comes to sex. Safe sex means using protection even if neither partner can get pregnant, in order to prevent infection or STIs. If your teen is using a hookup app like Grindr, establish safety procedures around its usage, such as making sure to tell at least one person where they’re going. Know the the potential dangers of anonymous sex, which is more common in the LGBTQ community.
At the same time, the emotional tenor of sexual encounters is more universal, and can offer common ground for talking to your child. Choosing to move at a pace that suits an individual, exploring the vulnerability that can arise during a sexual encounter, and choosing a partner with whom one is comfortable, are all examples of topics that you can address with your child—regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Focus on Specific Sex Acts and Not Identities
Don’t make assumptions about the type of sex your teen will have. For instance, anal sex is often associated with gay and bisexual men. But the truth is that lesbian and transgender teens can have anal sex too, and that your gay or bisexual teen won’t necessarily want to.
If your teen does express an interest in bottoming, know the nuances involved in the act. It should always be done with a partner they trust. Teens should also be aware of the higher rates of STIs, as well as HIV transmission. This article on bottoming can tell you everything you need to know.
When talking to trans teens, be sensitive to their gender identities while also acknowledging the needs of their bodies. You’ll still want to talk to your trans son, for instance, about periods and gynecological care. You’ll also want to discuss the best way to disclose gender identity to potential partners. Make it clear that your teen always deserves to be in supportive, affirming, and healthy relationships. TransYouth Family Allies has some great resources on how to support your child, in this area and others.
Know Your Facts From Fiction So Your Teen Can Do the Same
It’s highly likely that your teen has come across, or will come across, misinformation regarding safe sex. Public school sex-ed programs are frequently homophobic and transphobic. And the porn that they have likely been exposed to is meant as adult entertainment, not sex education. Be aware of the myths revolving around LGBTQ sex. Popular misconceptions include: the idea that HIV is the only STI, that drugs and alcohol will improve sexual encounters, that lesbians can’t get STIs, and that abuse can’t occur in LGBTQ relationships. Setting the facts straight can help ensure that your teen has safe sex with partners they can trust.
Be Flexible and Sensitive, But Not Passive
Be prepared to have the sex talk more than once. It’s likely to be awkward the first time, but ending it by saying “you can come to me with questions” is almost a guarantee that your teen won’t ever broach the subject. They may not be ready to talk about it the first time you bring it up, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again. When they do seem ready to talk, you can ask questions about how they feel, and where they are at in their journey, rather than forcing information upon them. This will build a rapport of trust and “we’re in this together,” that makes your teen feel more comfortable coming to you when they do have questions.
Educating Yourself On LGBTQ Youth Is Easy and Essential
Research is essential for helping your teen adjust to being sexually active in a healthy manner. Fortunately, a plethora of resources exist for helping parents connect to their LGBTQ teens about sex. A few good places to start are:
- PFLAG is the nation’s largest family and ally organization. Its mission is to advance equality through support, education and advocacy. With 400 chapters across all 50 states, they offer a wide variety of resources both online and in person.
- GLAAD is dedicated to shifting the cultural narrative on the LGBTQ community. Their website contains a host of resources including relevant media, events, and ongoing campaigns.
- My Kid is Gay helps parents of LGBTQ youth understand and support their kids. Their resources include a comprehensive e-care package called “Coming Out With Care” so parents can help support their kids after they come out.
Remember: sex is just one part of the equation when it comes to talking to your LGBTQ teen. With the right resources and a positive attitude, it can become a way to know your child better and support their health in the long term. Lighthouse is proud to offer LGBTQ affirming resources to parents and teens. Click here if you would like to connect with a provider near you.