Same-sex relationships ‘help self-esteem’ in gay and lesbian teenagers

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Same-sex relationships give gay male teenagers better self-esteem and lower internalised homophobia in teenage lesbians, a study suggests.

The study, carried out by the University of Michigan, did not find similar effects in heterosexual teenagers’ relationships.

Jose Bauermeister, assistant professor at university’s School of Public Health, said his researchers looked at the data of 350 gay, lesbian or bisexual teens from three LGBT drop-in centres in New York.

They compared these teenagers with their heterosexual peers, looking for evidence of the influence of relationships on depression, anxiety, internalised homophobia and self-esteem.

All of the teenagers were interviewed again after two years.

Prof Bauermeister found that girls in lesbian relationships reported reduced internalised homophobia after even just one month, while boys’ relationships needed to last longer to have an effect on self-esteem.

The study also looked at the effects of opposite-sex relationships for teenagers who had not yet come out.

Researchers were surprised to find that such relationships had no effect on mental health, being neither harmful or beneficial.

“I actually expected to see more associations between psychological distress and having an opposite-sex partner,” Prof Bauermeister said.

“But there was no association with self-esteem, depression or anxiety. The literature seems to suggest that creating a bond with a partner may be protective. However, we found having an opposite-sex partner is not protective, but it’s not harmful either.”

He concluded that parents, schools and services should ensure lesbian and gay teenagers feel comfortable discussing their sexual orientation and relationships.

The paper, titled ‘Relationship trajectories and psychological well-being among sexual minority youth’, will appear in the journal Youth and Adolescence in August.

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