Sexual minority youth (SMY) experience elevated rates of adverse sexual health outcomes. Although risk factors driving these outcomes are well studied, less attention has been paid to protective factors that potentially promote health and/or reduce negative effects of risk. Many factors within interpersonal relationships have been identified as protective for the sexual health of adolescents generally. We sought to systematically map the current evidence base of relationship-level protective factors specifically for the sexual health of SMY through a systematic mapping of peer-reviewed observational research. Articles examining at least one association between a relationship-level protective factor and a sexual health outcome in a sample or subsample of SMY were eligible for inclusion. A total of 36 articles reporting findings from 27 data sources met inclusion criteria. Included articles examined characteristics of relationships with peers, parents, romantic/sexual partners, and medical providers. Peer norms about safer sex and behaviorally specific communication with regular romantic/sexual partners were repeatedly protective in cross-sectional analyses, suggesting that these factors may be promising intervention targets. Generally, we found some limits to this literature: few types of relationship-level factors were tested, most articles focused on young sexual minority men, and the bulk of the data was cross-sectional. Future work should expand the types of relationship-level factors investigated, strengthen the measurement of relationship-level factors, include young sexual minority women in samples, and use longitudinal designs. Doing so will move the field toward development of empirically sound interventions for SMY that promote protective factors and improve sexual health.
Keywords: adolescence; protective factors; relationships; sexual health; sexual minority.