Why are Gay Teens More Likely to Use Steroids?

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.


Tim W.
Timothy W4 years ago

Jason P.
I doubt that is a factor. I am pretty sure they figure in the percentage of a groups population. I think the main thing that is difficult to measure is who is being honest about themselves. How many of the guys that don't do steroids are actually gay but simply afraid to say so, and how many of the straight guys that do steroids admit it. Guys that are gay and are willing to admit it in a survey are also more likely to admit to drug use as well. All I know is that being 50 years old and having been active in the gay community for a large part of those years, I have met few that do steroids. It simply makes your muscle mass look freakish and ugly. They tend to cause acne and most guys would rather build there bodies more naturally. I am not trying to say some gay men don't use steroids, just very few. I do imagine there is a number of young gay people still trying to get through the horrible experience of high school and in some cases college that might resort to steroid use, hopping that it will help them avoid the bullying. Just one more reason we need more support in our schools and communities for LGBT youth.

Jason Perry
Jason Perry4 years ago

Could it also be bc ur not taking into account there are way more straight boys than gays boys

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


John B.
John B4 years ago

Thanks Steve for the article. I know of no gay or bisexual men who take steroids, but many of my straight friends do.

Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago


judith sanders
judith sanders4 years ago

I'm going with Timothy W's observation: "many gay men don't admit in studies that they are gay anyway, and the ones that will admit to being gay are more likely to also admit to drug use."

Timothy Wood
Timothy W4 years ago

sarah j.
You are correct in many circles of the Gay community there are high expectations for men to be fit, but honestly most gay men I know including myself find men on steroids to be unattractive. The muscle mass never looks quite natural and frankly steroids tend to cause body acne and other physical problems that doesn't go over well if you get my meaning. I just don't think this study is accurate.

As I mentioned before, I think that the study is off do to the fact that many gay men don't admit in studies that they are gay anyway, and the ones that will admit to being gay are more likely to also admit to drug use. Then there are a lot of guys that report that they don't use steroids who would never admit to being gay. So you end up with a study that doesn't have accurate stats on what percentage of steroid users are gay straight bi or just plain stupid.

Natasha Salgado
Past Member 4 years ago

Not a shocker...but very sad that these young boys men feel the need to do so...but i'd like to add I feel this to be a male issue-not only a gay one. But with a society obsessed with perfect toned bodies--one can't be surprised the peer pressure that follows. I place a lot of blame on these photoshopped alluring shots in mags in vids. And what the girls will do is also a topic in itself---4 another day. Thanks

sarah jaffe
sarah jaffe4 years ago

Why am I not surprised? From what I've been told by a friend who dates a lot of gay men, there are super high expectations for physical fitness, and the appearance of muscles are a huge turn-on. There are also some confidence issues that lead to perfectionism and eating disorders as a by-product of being a heavily judged minority by largely religious groups of society that is only beginning to be addressed and healed. Straight guys can get away with having sub-divine levels of fitness and maybe don't feel as much pressure to perfectionism; after all, women don't know men's bodies like men do.

That said, no gay man I know has used steroids, they are too smart for that. But I've thankfully grown up in very diverse and accepting parts of Canada and don't know what it's like in other parts of the world. I can't say the same for some women I know...

Val M.
Val M4 years ago