Ethical and Regulatory Issues with Conducting Sexuality Research with LGBT Adolescents: A Call to Action for a Scientifically Informed Approach

  • Brian MustanskiEmail author
Invited Essay


Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adolescents experience disparities in mental and sexual health. There is also a lack of research on this population relative to other adolescents, which limits our ability to effectively address these health disparities. Researchers may unfortunately avoid conducting research with this population because of anticipated or actual experiences with difficulties in obtaining IRB approval. A case example is provided to illustrate the ethical and regulatory issues related to research with LGBT adolescents. Relevant U.S. federal and local regulations related to research on sexual and mental health with adolescents is then reviewed. Data are presented demonstrating that requiring parental consent for LGBT youth under age 18 would likely alter study result. Data are also presented on participants’ appraisals of the risks and discomforts associated with research participation. The provision of such empirical data on the risks of research participation is consistent with the goal of moving the IRB process of risk/benefit assessment from being entirely subjective to being evidence-based. Finally, recommendations are provided on how to approach these issues in IRB applications and investigators are called to help to build a corpus of scholarship that can advance empirical knowledge in this area.


Gay youth Homosexuals Lesbians Bisexuals Ethics Institutional review boards 



Project Q2 was IRB approved by all engaged institutions. Use of quotations from correspondence with the IRB was officially determined not to be human subjects research by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) IRB. Project Q2 was made possible by grants from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the William T. Grant Foundation. I would like to acknowledge the contributions of Dr. Robert Garofalo and Ms. Erin Emerson, who served as Co-Investigators on Project Q2 and to the research team at UIC and Howard Brown Health Center. Thank you to Dr. Sarah Johnson, Dr. Robert Garofalo, Dr. Ritch Savin-Williams, and Ms. Erin Emerson who provided comments on drafts of the article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IMPACT LGBT Health and Development ProgramUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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