Health Issues for Gay Teens
by Charles Downey
As with adults, a certain percentage of the teenage population is homosexual. Aside from the normal stresses of adolescence, gay teens also have distinct health and psychosocial needs. Not all parents suspect or know that their son or daughter is gay, but those who do have a special responsibility for providing support and care. Parents, teachers, and healthcare providers are all links in the chain that can provide support and encouragement for gay teenagers.
Medical Care That Is "User-Friendly"
As a child matures into their teen years, it is important for them to have a healthcare provider who they can trust to help them when they need it. If medical care is not user-friendly, gay teens just may do without.
While many gay or lesbian teens struggle with their sexual identities, they also have the same healthcare concerns as other teenagers. For gay young men, the risk of getting HIV is higher than that for most other teens. The risk adds significantly to the health "worry" burden that teenagers normally face.
Lack of empathy, listening, or an abrupt bedside manner potentially turns teens off not just to the healthcare provider, but away from healthcare altogether. Gay teens need to feel relaxed because sexual information can be specific. This helps the healthcare provider know if the teenager is at risk. Moreover, the healthcare provider must also be specific in telling young men or women about the skills they will need to protect themselves.
A healthcare provider must have an understanding of sexual behavior in gay teens and take a very sensitive and complete medical and sexual history in order to treat them appropriately. Information they have can help them better deal with their patients, otherwise misunderstandings can occur. For example, young lesbian women may deny the need for birth control despite occasional sexual encounters with men. Only frank discussion between a teen and a healthcare provider can identify important concerns and risks like this.
Often, gay-and-lesbian friendly posters and brochures in a waiting room can be enough to put a teen at ease. Because many youths are still questioning and exploring their sexual identities, they may be ill at ease with the term "lesbian" or "gay." Other teens are farther along in their quest for sexual identity and may be comfortable using those terms to describe themselves. Most healthcare providers avoid labeling and simply ask about the teen's sexual history without needing specific details. The teen can answer none, males, females, or both.
Increased Physical and Emotional Health Risks
Sexually transmitted infections are an important risk for all teens, gay or straight. Male teens who are gay are particularly at risk for HIV because this infection is still found in older gay men. Condoms can help prevent transmission of HIV, but inexperienced teens may not know how to ensure that they are used properly. When a teen gets HIV, symptoms may not appear for many years. Another challenge to HIV education is the perception that it is curable. Teens do not know how deadly AIDS was in the 1980s, and because of medications, may think there is no danger in having HIV. Counseling and testing can protect teens and help them to get proper treatment.
Psychosocial concerns are part of any teens healthcare concerns, but may be more so for gay and lesbian teens. Gay teens may go through stages where they just feel different from other kids, followed by confusion about their emotional and physical attractions to people of the same sex where they're not at all sure what their actual orientation is."
Gay teens are also concerned about bullying, violence, and emotional abuse. This can be at home, school, or work in the years after coming out.
Importance of Support and Resources
As the parent of a gay teen, you can help most by remaining open-minded and supportive. Love and warmth from supportive parents can work wonders as children face the challenge of growing up gay or lesbian in a straight world. Work with your son or daughter to find groups and associations where they can interact positively with people who understand their orientation.
One of the more important connections for gay and lesbian teens are gay-straight alliances. Gay kids need to know that not only other gay people care for them. They also need to know that straight people care for them and want to see them healthy.
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network
Sexuality and U
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Health concerns for gay and lesbian teens. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/dating-sex/Pages/Health-Concerns-for-Gay-and-Lesbian-Teens.aspx. Updated November 21 2015. Accessed March 17, 2017.
HIV and young men who have sex with men. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/sexualbehaviors/pdf/hiv_factsheet_ymsm.pdf. Accessed March 17, 2017.
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Last reviewed March 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 3/17/2017
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