There is considerable debate over whether adolescent sexual activity is maladaptive and associated with worse mental health outcomes versus a positive developmental milestone that is associated with better mental health outcomes. Although these perspectives are often pitted against one another, the current study employed a more integrative perspective: adolescent sexual activity may be maladaptive in certain contexts, but healthy in other contexts.
We investigated whether family support and gender moderated the relation between sexual activity and mental health outcomes in a diverse sample of 519 lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth. Specifically, we examined whether youth who engaged in more sexual activity would have fewer depressive symptoms in the context of a more supportive family environment, but more depressive symptoms in the context of a less supportive family environment and whether this effect was stronger for sexual minority girls. Consistent with the sexual health perspective, we found that among girls with more family support, those who engaged in more frequent same-sex sexual contact had lower levels of depressive symptoms.
Unexpectedly, we found that among boys with more family support, those who engaged in more frequent same-sex sexual contact had higher levels of depressive symptoms. In contrast, girls and boys with less family support showed no relation between sexual activity and depressive symptoms.
Overall, results suggest that context is critical when determining whether same-sex sexual contact among LGB youth should be considered maladaptive or beneficial.
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- 1Department of Psychology, University of Utah, 380 South 1530 East, Room 502, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112-0251, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 2Department of Psychology, University of Utah, 380 South 1530 East, Room 502, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112-0251, USA.
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