Straight Parents Don’t Know How to Talk to Their Queer Kids, Study Shows

A new study from Northwestern University is showing that straight parents are not just uncomfortable with talking to their LGBT kids about sex, but they're also often unprepared.

Giving your children “The Talk” can be a terrifying prospect for any parent. But a new report by Northwestern University is showing us how real that is, especially for straight parents with queer children. When it comes to educating their queer children on sex ed, a lot of straight parents are just at a loss.

The study, titled “Parents struggle to discuss sex with LGBTQ teens,” was conducted by Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing. Published in late March in Sexuality Research and Social Policy, researchers surveyed 44 parents of LGBT children whose ages varied from 13–17 to focus on the struggles that they had with discussing sex ed with their parents. Unsurprisingly, most of the parents felt “uncomfortable and unequipped” to broach the topic of sex with their children.

Much of this could be that there simply isn’t a framework in place to educate students on queer-inclusive sex ed. Though sex education is required in 24 states and 34 mandate HIV education, even the most progressive states are struggling to teach queer-inclusive curriculums.

There were several main issues of the study were pointed out: firstly, parents really struggled to talk to their children about sex that wasn’t focused on reproduction. Second, the lack of queer inclusion within sex ed hinders the impact of important information that everyone should know, like birth control. But as the study’s lead author, Michael E. Newcomb, writes: “at the most basic level, the mechanics of sex differ, and parents, assuming they’re heterosexual, most likely don’t know much about those mechanics. If LGBTQ teens are unprepared when they start having sex, they may be more likely to engage in unsafe behaviors.” But lastly, a better understanding of sex as it pertains to LGBT individuals helps children see their parents as resources they can talk to — but this will require parents to be mindful of their language.

So how can parents do a better job at talking to their queer kids about sex? Including topics that are often underacknowledged like safer sex practices, STI prevention, sexual violence and consent, but also pleasure and self-discovery. Parents themselves can seek out resources that are inclusive and diverse (such as those provided by GLSEN and Scarleteen), and can help them to reframe sex ed beyond reproduction or centered on heterosexual people.

Writer for NewNowNext, Refinery29, Wear Your Voice, BitchMedia, etc. Budding sex educator. @NerdsOfPreycast cohort. She/Her.