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Married LGBT older adults are healthier, happier than singles, study finds

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Same-sex marriage has been the law of the land for nearly two years — and in some states for even longer — but researchers can already detect positive health outcomes among couples who have tied the knot, a University of Washington study finds.

For years, studies have linked marriage with happiness among heterosexual couples. But a study from the UW School of Social Work is among the first to explore the potential benefits of marriage among LGBT couples. It is part of a national, groundbreaking longitudinal study with a representative sample of LGBT older adults, known as “Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study,” which focuses on how historical, environmental, psychological, behavioral, social and biological factors are associated with health, aging and quality of life.

UW researchers found that LGBT study participants who were married reported better physical and mental health, more social support and greater financial resources than those who were single. The findings were published in a February special supplement of The Gerontologist.

“In the nearly 50 years since Stonewall, same-sex marriage went from being a pipe dream to a legal quagmire to reality — and it may be one of the most profound changes to social policy in recent history,” said lead author Jayn Goldsen, research study supervisor in the UW School of Social Work.

Some 2.7 million adults ages 50 and older identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender — a number that is expected to nearly double by 2060.

Among LGBT people, marriage increased noticeably after a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. A 2016 Gallup Poll found that 49 percent of cohabiting gay couples were married, up from 38 percent before the ruling.

For the UW study, more than 1,800 LGBT people, ages 50 and older, were surveyed in 2014 in locations where gay marriage was already legal (32 states and Washington, D.C.). About one-fourth were married, another fourth were in a committed relationship, and half were single. Married respondents had spent an average of 23 years together, while those in a committed, unmarried relationship had spent an average of 16 years. Among the study participants, more women were married than men, and of the respondents who were married, most identified as non-Hispanic white.

Researchers found that, in general, participants in a relationship, whether married or in a long-term partnership, showed better health outcomes than those who were single. But those who were married fared even better, both socially and financially, than couples in unmarried, long-term partnerships. Single LGBT adults were more likely to have a disability; to report lower physical, psychological, social and environmental quality of life; and to have experienced the death of a partner, especially among men. The legalization of gay marriage at the federal level opens up access to many benefits, such as tax exemptions and Social Security survivor benefits that married, straight couples have long enjoyed. But that does not mean every LGBT couple was immediately ready to take that step.

According to Goldsen, marriage, for many older LGBT people, can be something of a conundrum — even a non-starter. LGBT seniors came of age at a time when laws and social exclusion kept many in the closet. Today’s unmarried couples may have made their own legal arrangements and feel that they don’t need the extra step of marriage — or they don’t want to participate in a traditionally heterosexual institution.

Goldsen also pointed to trends in heterosexual marriage: Fewer people are getting married, and those who do, do so later.

“More older people are living together and thinking outside the box. This was already happening within the LGBT community — couples were living together, but civil marriage wasn’t part of the story,” she said.

The different attitudes among older LGBT people toward marriage is something service providers, whether doctors, attorneys or tax professionals, should be aware of, Goldsen said. Telling a couple they should get married now simply because they can misses the individual nature of the choice.

“Service providers need to understand the historical context of this population,” she said. “Marriage isn’t for everyone. It is up to each person, and there are legal, financial and potentially societal ramifications.” For example, among the women in the study, those who were married were more likely to report experiencing bias in the larger community.

At the same time, Goldsen said, single LGBT older adults do not benefit from the marriage ruling, and other safeguards, such as anti-discrimination laws in employment, housing and public accommodations, are still lacking at the federal level.

Over time, Goldsen and colleagues will continue to examine the influence of same-sex marriage policy on partnership status and health.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging. Other researchers were Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, Amanda Bryan, Hyun-Jun Kim and Sarah Jen in the UW School of Social Work; and Anna Muraco of Loyola Marymount University.

Complete Article HERE!

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Undoing the STIgma: Normalizing the discourse surrounding STIs

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April is STD/STI Awareness Month.

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Let’s talk about sex. It’s fun, it’s natural.

Now, considering that April is STD/STI Awareness Month, let’s take it one step further and talk about sexually transmitted diseases and infections, or STDs/STIs.

They’re not so fun and not “natural,” per se, but they can and do happen to many people. In fact, according to the American Sexual Health Association, or ASHA, “one in two sexually active persons will contract an STD/STI by age 25” and “more than half of all people will have an STD/STI at some point in their lifetime.”

Yet for the most part, society hasn’t entirely accepted the reality of STIs. Instead, mainstream conversations about STIs rely on seeing them as punchline. This quote from “The Hangover” is a good example: “Remember what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Except for herpes. That shit’ll come back with you.”

If STIs aren’t portrayed as comical, then they’re seen as shameful.

“Some people believe that having an STI is horrible and people who have them are bad,” explained John Baldwin, UC Santa Barbara sociology professor and co-author of “Discovering Human Sexuality.”

In other words, there is a stigma associated with STIs.

“It’s not a death sentence.”

– Reyna Perez

Reyna Perez, the clinic lead for UC Berkeley’s Sexual Health Education Program, or SHEP, defined STI stigma as “shame with oneself (about) having an STI or amongst other people.”

“(They think) they’re ‘dirty’ or (use similarly) negative terms,” Perez said.

She went on to explain that campus students often think contracting an STI is the end of their sex lives and lives in general. But this is not true.

“It’s not a death sentence,” Perez said. “Most of them are curable or at least treatable.”

Despite the prevalence of STIs, people don’t know much about them. This lack of understanding reinforces the misconceptions surrounding them.

To help resolve this issue of ignorance, Baldwin first shed light on the difference between STDs and STIs.

“STD is the common language that a lot of people use and (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC) uses because it communicates with large numbers of people, but medical doctors sometimes like to use ‘STI,’ ” Baldwin explained.

According to Baldwin, the term “STI” is more inclusive because it also considers people who don’t have symptoms but are infected and could infect others.

It’s true: People can be asymptomatic and transmit STIs to their partners.

“Large numbers of Americans have HIV and no symptoms and have sex with lots of others and infect others,” Baldwin said.

Additionally, sexual intercourse isn’t the only method by which STIs can be transmitted, a fact that more people should be aware of. There are many ways in which STIs can be spread, but they often go unnoticed.

According to Perez, “(People) don’t realize how you can contract them and there’s a gap in knowledge.”

Perez said STIs can be transmitted through oral sex or, in rare instances, fingering, which many people are unaware of. She also pointed out that HIV can be spread through non-sexual bodily fluids such as blood and breastmilk.

STIs can also be transmitted by something as simple as skin contact — Elizabeth Wells, lead and co-facilitator of the Sex 101 DeCal, said genital warts and herpes can be spread this way.

Even when it comes to sexual intercourse, the way by which most people believe STIs are spread, people don’t always take preventative measures.

“It’s not like everyone is consistently using condoms or barrier methods,” Perez said.

Another notable fact is that some STIs aren’t even viewed as STIs at all. For instance, cold sores on the mouth region are a form of herpes.

“They don’t realize it until someone brings it up to them,” Perez said. “Once you attach the title of ‘STI,’ suddenly it becomes something to be ashamed of. But it shouldn’t be that way.”

When the facts are laid out like this, it becomes apparent that there’s no reason to make STIs something to feel ashamed about. Many people contract them at some point, and although there are preventative measures such as condoms and other barrier methods, there are many possible avenues through which people can get them.

“Shit happens,” Wells said. “Who are we as individuals and society and people who are sex positive to vilify people that made decisions in the heat of the moment, or it just happens (that) the condom breaks?”

Yet the stigma surrounding STIs persists, largely because of the long societal tradition of suppressing discussions surrounding sex as a whole.

Baldwin expressed his belief that the stigma stems from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Judeo-Christian culture has been a prominent force that has shaped society’s views for hundreds of years. It frowns upon sexual activity, and looking down on STIs — perceived to be spread through sexual means alone — is part and parcel of that general disapproval.

“Society doesn’t evolve very fast in terms of thinking that I think you still see that mindset permeating today,” Wells said. “(STI stigma) is rooted in this idea that we’re not going to be talking about sex.”

Delving even deeper into the issue of STI stigma shows that it is further problematic because it is linked to racism.

According to a 2015 report by the CDC, STIs are more prevalent among certain racial or ethnic minorities than they are among white people. Being part of a racial or ethnic minority group also entails a plethora of issues that make it generally more difficult to find and receive appropriate sexual health services.

“It’s largely an issue of access, and you’re seeing a lack of comprehensive sexual education in those areas,” Wells said.

To vilify someone for getting an STI when they don’t even have the resources to know how to prevent them is to vilify them for not having access to sexual health resources. It is to vilify them for structural inequalities in access to education — inequalities which they did not ask for and cannot control.

“Being part of a racial or ethnic minority group also entails a plethora of issues that make it generally more difficult to find and receive appropriate sexual health services.”

Not only is it problematic to treat STIs as a taboo subject when this attitude stems from sexually repressive and prejudiced notions, but STI stigma also is harmful because it inhibits people from seeking medical treatment.

“If someone has an STI, we shouldn’t stigmatize them,” Baldwin explained. “We should try to help them get the best medicine and treatment.”

STI stigma also causes “intense emotional distress,” according to Perez.

“It’s so difficult to start support groups at the Tang Center because there’s stigma,” Perez said.

Considering all these facts and issues, the obvious final question is, “How do we get rid of the stigma surrounding STIs?”

One key component is awareness.

Awareness that people with STIs can and do lead normal lives helps. Modern science has allowed for medication that can either cure or treat STIs.

“It’s a world changer,” Perez said.

When engaging in sexual activity during an outbreak, there is also world of possibilities.

“There are creative ways to have sex while having an outbreak,” Perez explained.

She expanded upon this statement to say that, for instance, partners could use strap-on dildos when the involved parties are having a herpes recurrence.

“I believe that we are moving away from the preceding era of ignorance and successfully moving to have more scientific knowledge of STIs and their treatment so that more people are, in fact, getting good care,” Baldwin said. “Our society is moving in the right direction.”

“The need for action if you are diagnosed with an STI is further reason to destigmatize STIs –– so people can recognize the symptoms and be unafraid to seek help.”

To promote awareness, according to Perez, the Tang Center and SHEP offer programs for people who are curious to find out more about STIs as well as for people who have already been diagnosed with an STI who desire health coaching and/or emotional and mental support.

Awareness includes being conscious of preventative measures.

“Just being aware of sexual health resources (is) also really important,” Wells said. “A lot of people don’t know about it because it’s not talked about, because sex isn’t talked about.”

Wells explained that, for instance, people can take pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, before having sex with someone who has HIV or AIDS. This will lower the chance that the partner without HIV/AIDS will also get the infection. Similarly, taking post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, after sex with someone who has HIV/AIDS will help prevent transmission of the disease.

Although STIs aren’t the end of the world, if left undiagnosed or untreated, they can become serious health risks. The need for action if you are diagnosed with an STI is further reason to destigmatize STIs –– so people can recognize the symptoms and be unafraid to seek help.

According to Wells, on the last Friday of every month, the Tang Center offers free STI tests that take approximately 20 minutes. She clarified that there is, however, a six-month period after the initial infection in which the tests might not detect its presence.

Another key factor to destigmatizing STIs is simply talking about them. To emphasize this point, Wells quoted a SHEP saying: “Communication is lubrication.”

In other words, people need to start talking about STIs so that it will become acceptable to talk about them as well as to prevent them.

“It shouldn’t be uncomfortable for people because the way I see it, it’s mutual respect within relationships,” Perez explained. “I’m respecting my partner and getting myself tested and taking preventative measures, and my partner should respect me back by also being open to talking about STIs and … getting tested and (taking) those preventative measures as well.”

The way in which the discussion around STIs is being framed is also something to consider. For instance, discerning between STDs and STIs is important. Likewise, it’s crucial not to define people by their STIs.

“We don’t even like to use the word ‘HIV-positive,’ ” Perez said. “We like to use the phrase ‘a person living with HIV’ because they’re a person first before their STI.”

Awareness and communication aimed at undoing the stigma around STIs are imperative for the sake of public health but also for the sake of true sex positivity.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why men and women lie about sex, and how this complicates STD control

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When it comes to reporting the number of sex partners or how often they have sexual intercourse, men and women both lie. While men tend to overreport it, women have a tendency to underreport it. Although the story is not that simple and clear-cut, I have discovered some interesting reasons why this is the case – and why it matters to doing research on sexual health.

Lying is an inherent aspect of reporting sexual behaviors. For instance, more females report being a virgin (i.e., had not had sexual intercourse) despite having had genital contact with a partner, compared to males.

I have studied sexual avoidance and also frequency of sex in patient populations. In this regard I have always been interested in gender differences in what they do and what they report. This is in line with my other research on gender and sex differences.

The low validity and usefulness of self-reported sexual behavior data is very bad news for public health officials. Sexual behavior data should be both accurate and reliable, as they are paramount for effective reproductive health interventions to prevent HIV and STD. When men and women misreport their sexual behaviors, it undermines program designers’ and health care providers’ ability to plan appropriately.

Pregnant virgins, and STDs among the abstinent

A very clear example is the proportion of self-reported virginal status among pregnant women. In a study of multi-ethnic National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, also known as Add Health, a nationally representative study of American youth, 45 women of 7,870 women reported at least one virgin pregnancy.

Another example is the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) which are not expected among young adults reporting sexual abstinence. Yet more than 10 percent of young adults who had a confirmed positive STD reported abstaining from any sexual intercourse in the last year before STD testing.

If we ask youth who have had sexual experience, only 22 percent of them report the same date of first sex the second time we ask about it. On average, people revise their (reported) age at first sex to older ages the second time. Boys have higher inconsistency reporting their first sex compared to females. Males are more likely than females to give inconsistent sexual information globally.

Why don’t people tell the truth about sex?

Why do people lie about their sexual behavior? There are many reasons. One is that people underreport stigmatized activities, such as having multiple sexual partners among women. They overreport the normative ones, such as higher frequency of sex for men. In both cases, people think their actual behavior would be considered socially unacceptable. This is also called social desirability or social approval bias.

Social desirability bias causes problems in health research. It reduces reliability and validity of self-reported sexual behavior data. Simply said, social desirability helps us look good.

As gender norms create different expectations about socially acceptable behavior of men and women, males and females face pressures in reporting certain (socially accepted) behaviors.

In particular, self-reports on premarital sexual experience is of poor quality. Also self-reports of infidelity are less valid.

Although most studies suggest these differences are due to the systematic tendency of men and women to exaggerate and hide their number of partners, there are studies that suggest much of this difference is driven by a handful of men and women who grossly inflate and underreport their sexual encounters.

Even married couples lie

Men and women also lie when we ask them who is making sexual decisions regarding who has more power when it comes to sexual decision-making.

We do not expect disagreement when we ask the same question from husbands and wives in the same couples. But, interestingly, there is a systematic disagreement. More interestingly, in most cases when spouses disagree, husbands are more likely to say “yes” and wives “no.” The findings are interpreted in terms of gendered strategies in the interview process.

Not all of the gender differences in reported sexual behaviors are due to men’s and women’s selective under- and over- reporting of sexual acts. And, some of the sexual behaviors do vary by gender. For instance, men have more sex than women, and men less commonly use condoms. Men have more casual partners, regardless of the validity of their report.

Secretive females, swaggering males

Studies have found that on average, women report fewer nonmarital sexual partners than men, as well as more stable longer relationships. This is in line with the idea that in general men “swagger” (i.e., exaggerate their sexual activity), while women are “secretive” (i.e., underreport sex).

Structural factors such as social norms shape men’s and women’s perceptions of appropriate sexual behaviors. Society expects men to have more sexual partners, and women to have fewer sexual partners.

According to the sexual double standard, the same sexual behavior is judged differently depending on the gender of the (sexual) actor (Milhausen and Herold 2001). Interestingly, men are more likely to endorse a double standard than women.

In the presence of sexual double standards, males are praised for their sexual contacts, whereas females are derogated and stigmatized for the same behaviors, “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut.”

Research suggests that lifetime sexual partnerships affect peer status of genders differently. A greater number of sexual partners is positively correlated with boys’ peer acceptance, but negatively correlated with girls’ peer acceptance.

Self-serving bias is common

As humans, self-serving bias is a part of how we think and how we act. A common type of cognitive bias, self-serving bias can be defined as an individual’s tendency to attribute positive events and attributes to their own actions but negative events and attributes to others and external factors. We report on sexual behaviors which are normative and accepted to protect ourselves, and avoid stress and conflict. That will reduce our distinction from our surroundings, and will help us feel safe.

As a result, in our society, men are rewarded for having a high number of sexual partners, whereas women are penalized for the same behavior.

The only long-term solution is the ongoing decline in “double standard” about sexual morality. Until then, researchers should continue questioning the accuracy of their data. Computerized interviews may be only a partial solution. Increasing privacy and confidentiality is another partial solution.

Complete Article HERE!

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Is Dating Dead?

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You may be digging your own dating grave.

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Ask a Millennial about dating and you tend to get something along the lines of, “No one wants a relationship,” “Everyone just wants to hook-up,” and, “Dating is dead.” If you’re a millennial you can stop nodding now, because as a life, dating, and relationship consultant, I can tell you it’s absolute nonsense.

Modern dating is not all about hooking up – Millennials have less sexual partners than their parents, and not that many people actually spend their time swiping right or left – only 22% of 25-34-year-olds are actually dating online or on mobile apps. Research consistently shows that the majority of people would jump on the opportunity for exclusivity – 77% of 18-45-year-olds want it now, and 93% in five years and even Tinder agrees that 80% of its users want a long term relationship, so why does everyone have this negative perception on dating?

This negative perception comes from two main things; some people need to give themselves an excuse to hook-up, and people are burnout, and mainly disappointed.

Millennials live in an age where sexuality offers validation and pleasure, but pain and shame at the same time. You can become famous from a sex tape, but ridiculed and slut-shamed for a leaked nude. A selfie posted on Facebook can get over a couple hundred likes, but at the same time reported for explicit content or trolled for being too sexual.

It’s said that our actions are based on two things, to find pleasure and to avoid pain.People that actually just want to have no strings attached sex, pleasure, may find it easier to believe in, and blame hook-up culture for their actions. It’s a defense mechanism, “It isn’t my fault that I can’t find a relationship, I’m not a slut, it’s just how society is nowadays.” Consequently this tactic doesn’t do any of us any good, and only perpetuates that hooking up is the problem.

You can date without having sex, and you can have sex without dating. Once you realize this, the excuse everyone just wants to hook-up disappears. Let’s compare two scenarios. First scenario; you go on a date to a bar, or even better yet, you go over to someone’s apartment to watch a movie (Netflix and chill – an acceptable Millennial date). You end up having sex. There wasn’t a connection, so you don’t pursue a relationship. Despite if you liked the person or not, you tell everyone dating is dead, and everyone just wants to hook-up. This reasoning makes your actions acceptable, and you are not a slut, it just didn’t work out. Damn Millennials and hook-up culture.

Second scenario; you go on a date to a bar, (because you said no to the Netflix, but we should still chill), have interesting conversation, and then go home. You either connected or didn’t. You tell everyone dating is fun, or disappointing, but that won’t stop you from going on another date.

The difference in the scenarios is that in the first one, both people made it clear that sex was the goal (even if it wasn’t explicitly stated), while the second one was aimed at getting to know each other. People want to date, and people want to have sex. They are two different things. You get to choose which one you work towards. If you’re lucky, they happen together, but dating is a process that actually takes time, and effort.

Relationships are composed of a lot of dates, which is also a lot of work, and most of your first, second, and third dates will be dead ends, or maybe more, but then they might include a broken heart or two. This can lead to a feeling of hopelessness, and discouragement. No one wants to date, everyone just wants to hook-up. Dating and relationships suck. Then you’re back to telling yourself, “I’m not the problem, Millennial dating is all about hooking-up. I might as well give up or just join everyone else.”

There isn’t a class on dating and relationships in school, so the only way to learn about them is from experiences. Sadly, many of your experiences may be filled with rejection, heartbreak, or just boring dates. It’s your job to decide what you’re working towards. You control how you feel and act; if you hook-up, go on actual dates, and even if you give up on dating. Nothing is wrong with either, but stop blaming this idea of hookup culture.

The standards and expectations are yours to define. Be honest with yourself. Are you going out to have sex, to date, to develop a relationship or all of the above? What are you ready for? Figure that out, and then start acting like it, because dating isn’t dead, but you may be digging your own grave.

Complete Article HERE!

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Four of the biggest relationship mistakes people make

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Relate counsellors have revealed how to prevent a relationship from turning sour 

By Kashmira Gander

From trawling Tinder to enduring bad date after bad date, finding a partner can be a painstaking process. But the effort that goes into tracking down someone compatible can feel insignificant when compared with what is needed to keep that partnership going.

As the weeks, months and years wind on, not only staving off boredom but building trust and supporting each other when life throws up unexpected hurdles are paramount to the health of a relationship.

Forgot that, and you risk turning a person you loved and lusted after into a glorified roommate or someone you despise. To uncover the most common yet avoidable mistakes that people make, we turned to counsellors at the relationship charity Relate.

Firstly, sex isn’t as big an issue as one might imagine, the counsellors suggest. “Sex is a great pleasure of relationships and a very healing pleasure,” says Barbara Bloomfield. “But, if neither partner is particularly bothered about sex, a compassionate, non-sexual relationship can be really enjoyable too.”

Fundamentally, communication is the most important part of a relationship. And if a couple has agreed that sex isn’t a priority, then there is no reason their pairing shouldn’t work out.

“In a healthy relationship you both agree on what is right for you both,” says Relate counsellor, Gurpreet Singh. “Mismatched expectations, on the other hand, can lead to resentment and cause problems in the relationship,” he adds.

“The danger is when couples avoid each other to avoid sex and a distance grows,” chimes Dee Holmes.

And while communicating may seem like an obvious piece of advice, it’s something that many of us struggle to understand – otherwise the lack of it wouldn’t cause so many break-up.

Talking and listening in equal proportions, advises Singh, is just one aspect of this process. “Do this openly and honestly with a view to connect rather than pass information,” he adds.

Not only that, but the timing of a conversation is almost as important as having it at all, suggests Martin Burrow, a senior practice consultant.

“Talking after the event, not before it” is a poor way of behaving that people too often slip into, he adds.

Similarly, “imagining their partner thinks in the same way they do” is another easily avoided issue, according to Bloomfield.

“It takes a lot of effort to understand that your partner had a different set of parents with different values and he or she constructs their world very differently to your own,” she says.

The exact words a person uses, adds Barbara Honey, senior practice consultant, are as key as the message a person is trying to get across.

“Begin complaints with ‘I feel…’ rather than ‘you are…’ which results in conflict,” she says.

Bloomfield points to her own relationship to highlight that counsellors aren’t infallible, either. She admits that, after being with her partner for 35 years, they have “time-honoured ways of winding each other up”. But she adds that learning the other person’s triggers and avoiding them is a simply way of preventing conflict.

Barbara Honey Relate chimes that – however scary it may sound – talking about expectations before committing to a relationship in the first place is the simplest way to prevent heartbreak.

She adds that the most important lesson she has learned from her own relationship is that “you can’t change someone else – only yourself.”

Something as simple as who does the hoovering can, therefore, be a marker of the health of a relationship. Bloomfield adds that regarding doing the dishes and hoovering up as “labour” that needs to be divided up can show a level of respect that should trickle into all parts of a relationship.

She adds: “It makes a big difference to feeling that the two of you are a team.”

Complete Article HERE!

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