Nondisclosure of Sexual Orientation to a Physician Among a Sample of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth

Published in: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, v. 160, no. 12, Dec. 2006, p. 1248-1254

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2005

by Garth D. Meckler, Marc N. Elliott, David E. Kanouse, Kristin P. Beals, Mark A. Schuster

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BACKGROUND: The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine recommend discussing sexual orientation as part of the health supervision of all adolescents. Little is known about whether lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth hide their orientation from health care providers, which can potentially lead to missed opportunities in identifying individual health risks and provide appropriate screening and counseling. OBJECTIVES: To describe the health care experiences of a nonclinical sample of LGB youth and identify factors associated with disclosure and nondisclosure of orientation to physicians. DESIGN: Community-based participatory study using a self-administered questionnaire. SETTING: Los Angeles youth empowerment conference held in October 2003 targeting high school-aged LGB youth. PARTICIPANTS: One hundred thirty-one youth aged 14 to 18 years who identified themselves as LGB. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Physician's knowledge of participant's sexual orientation. RESULTS: Thirty-five percent of the sample reported that their physician knew they were LGB. Bisexual youth were less likely than gay and lesbian youth to have disclosed. The strongest predictor of disclosure was having discussed sex or sexual health of any kind with a physician (odds ratio, 15.47; 95% confidence interval, 4.34-55.18). When asked what a physician could do to make talking about being LGB more comfortable, 64% of participants chose the survey response, Just ask me. CONCLUSION: Even among a nonclinical sample of LGB youth who were open enough about their orientation to attend a conference on the subject, only 35% reported that their physician knew their orientation. The results indicate that physicians had not discussed sexuality with most LGB youth in the study and that most youth would welcome such a discussion.

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