A new study has identified that gay and bisexual youths are more likely to use steroids than their straight counterparts. Why is this, and why are we only hearing about this problem now?
The study, published this month in the journal Pediatrics, is the first of its kind to look into steroid abuse rates and sexual orientation.
The research, conducted by analysts at the Fenway Institute, Massachusetts, found that by analyzing data from 17,250 adolescent boys from across 14 United States jurisdictions collected as part of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, they were able to identify a group who admitted to using steroids. Of that group, gay and bisexual-identifying youths were almost six times more likely to use steroids than their heterosexual peers.
To put this figure into more real terms, 21% of the gay or bisexual boys in this nationally representative sample said they had used steroids, compared to just 4% of straight boys. This significant difference carried through into what were classed as “moderate users,” who had taken steroid pills or injections up to 40 times. Nearly 8% of gay or bi teens fell into that group, opposed to 2% of straight teens. Among heavy users (above 40 times), 4% of gay or bi teens identified themselves compared to less than 1% of self-identifying straight teens.
“It’s a bit sad that we saw such a large health disparity, especially among the most frequent steroid users,” co-author Aaron Blashill of the Fenway Institute is quoted as saying. “Given the dramatic disparity … it would seem that this is a population in which greater attention is needed,” the authors said.
Why Are Gay and Bisexual Men Turning to Steroids More?
It’s important to note that while this study is nationally representative, research into this field is severely limited and so drawing any definite conclusions is neither wise nor sound.
There’s also a legitimate caveat to be made about steroid use: steroids are not of themselves necessarily harmful and of course are used as part of everyday medical treatment. That being said, there are known risks and particularly from the heavy steroid use that is often associated with sport and bodybuilding. While the synthetic forms of the male hormone testosterone can indeed increase muscle growth and boost strength and endurance, it can also lead to heart and liver damage, high blood pressure and thus increasing the risk of serious related health problems, and affect our moods and possibly exacerbate mood disorders.
Those important asides recognized, the researchers were actually able to identify one reason why gay and bisexual teens might use steroids more than straight teens. By looking at other relevant data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and searching for patterns, they were able to say that there may be a link between victimization and steroid use, and suggest that one reason why gay men might turn toward steroids is because they fear being bullied. The reasoning might not be as simple as just bulking up to protect oneself, as some in the media have suggested, but may harbor more complex psychological elements.
Other researchers not directly linked to this study have also offered that body image could play an important role in elevating these numbers. For instance, we know that young gay and bisexual men are more likely to develop eating disorders. By the same token, could body dysmorphic disorder contribute to steroid use in this vulnerable group? While there is little research to support the notion, primarily because there has been very little research done on this topic, it does seem at least a reasonable assumption which deserves testing — and that is where a key point made by the researchers behind this study deserves highlighting.
There is such little research into the health needs and problems affecting the LGBT community that we simply don’t have concrete answers as to why young gay and bisexual men are turning to steroids and, just as importantly, how to intervene to stop young people using steroids when they may not be fully able to grasp the health implications of this practice.
This is also another way that the LGBT community is affected by LGBT-rights hostile state lawmakers who have the power to support LGBT-inclusive research like that being conducted by the Fenway Institute, or to derail them, something that has to be addressed if we’re ever to find the muscle to tackle this worrying health issue and others like it.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.