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New Research from Thorn: LGBTQ+ Minors are 3X More Likely to Experience Unwanted and Risky Online Interactions

June 6, 2023

4 Minute Read

At Thorn, we regularly conduct original, comprehensive research that allows us and our partners across the entire ecosystem to better understand the real experiences of youth today. 

In our latest research, LGBTQ+ Youth Perspectives: How LGBTQ+ Youth are Navigating Exploration and Risks of Sexual Exploitation Online, we discovered that LGBTQ+ youth place enormous importance on online communities as places for exploration and perceived safety – but these platforms also carry their own risk of harm and risky encounters.

The LGBTQ+ minors we surveyed not only viewed the likelihood of online harm occurring as higher than their non-LGBTQ+ peers, but they indicated they are between two to three times more likely to have experienced unwanted or risky interactions online, such as receiving unsolicited nudes, getting blackmailed or having had an adult attempt to befriend or manipulate them. 

What did we find?

Key findings from the research include:

  • LGBTQ+ minors seek out online spaces for community. Young LGBTQ+ people spend more time in digital spaces and tend to maintain more online-only relationships than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. 
    • More than three out of four LGBTQ+ minors view their online communities as essential to them, suggesting that digital platforms act as tools for increased exploration for young LGBTQ+ people and at earlier ages.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 participants reported having a secondary account on the same platform — sometimes referred to as a “finsta” — and frequently to create more independence from their offline communities. Among minors, LGBTQ+ respondents were twice as likely as non-LGBTQ+ respondents to have a secondary account (36% vs. 18%) and were more likely to use those accounts to interact with people they only knew online. 
    • Across all respondents, the leading reason reported for maintaining a secondary account was to keep activity private from parents.
  • LGBTQ+ minors were twice as likely to report sharing their own SG-CSAM (nude) photos or videos. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ minors were more likely to report their friends have received unsolicited nudes, shared their own nudes, and have had experiences with their nudes being leaked without permission.
    • Across all age groups involved in the study, LGBTQ+ participants reported higher rates of experiences with sexually-explicit imagery among their friendship groups than non-LGBTQ participants. 
  • Online grooming is viewed as common. Among all participants, with little difference between teens and young adults, the overwhelming majority (83%) view the likelihood of adults attempting to befriend and manipulate a minor online as at least somewhat common. 
    • Views of this risk are even higher among LGBTQ+ teens, with 91% viewing this experience as at least somewhat common. 
  • LGBTQ+ teens are 10 points more likely to try and handle feeling unsafe online on their own. Cis non-hetero male teens are particularly vulnerable, with nearly one-half reporting they would try to handle feeling unsafe on their own.
    • Among LGBTQ+ teens choosing not to report risky online experiences to their caregivers, 1 in 6 cited outness concerns as a factor. For 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ teens, concerns about being cut off from their online community play a role.

What it tells us

This research confirms what we already knew to be true: that LGBTQ+ minors face unique and increased risks online – including exposure to self-generated child sexual abuse material – and are susceptible to greater isolation when they feel unsafe.

Studying how LGBTQ+ youth handle online risks can aid in creating better interventions and protections against harmful experiences, particularly regarding sexual abuse, like the non-consensual sharing of explicit images or online grooming. What we learned is that conversations surrounding the intersection of technology and sexual experiences or other online risks are much less frequently discussed within families when compared to other pivotal topics such as puberty, mental health, and bullying. 

Empowering parents and youth:

To address the gap in these critical conversations, we must equip parents with the resources and support they need to speak openly and often with their children about online harms – both that they might protect themselves, and support friends who may turn to them first and encourage them to get help from a trusted adult. Thorn for Parents is a great place to start.

At the same time, young people and their peers play an active role in recognizing and navigating potentially risky online interactions when they or their friends  experience them. To help, our NoFiltr youth program exists to provide resources and encourage healthy and informed conversations directly between youth. It underscores the importance of having them more often to help guide kids through these complicated topics with understanding, empathy, and support.

Youth who want to test their knowledge about online safety can visit And young people can share and receive advice about their online behavior at

What’s next?

Thorn will continue to monitor trends in youth attitudes and experiences in the years to come. Our hope is this data can be used to inform and deliver successful interventions that safeguard, support, and empower all young people as they navigate their digital experiences. To stay up to date with Thorn’s latest research, sign up for our newsletter.

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