Bisexual Health Awareness Month is dedicated to raising awareness about the startling disparities that the bisexual community faces in terms of both physical and mental health. When compared against statistics for both heterosexual populations and their lesbian and gay peers, startling trends emerge in both social, economic, and health inequities.
Here are seven things you probably didn’t know about bisexual health:
HRC’s 2014 report,Supporting and Caring for Our Bisexual Youth, found that when compared to their lesbian and gay peers, bisexual, queer and pansexual youth were more likely to experience being excluded and harassed, less likely to have caring adults to turn to if they felt sad and less likely to report feeling happy.
Pew Research Center found in its 2013 Survey of LGBT Americans that while 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians say that “most or all of the important people in their lives know of their sexual orientation” only 28 percent of bisexual people report being out.
According to the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC), 45 percent of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide, followed by bisexual men (35 percent), lesbians (30 percent), gay men (25 percent), and much lower rates for straight women and men.
In partnership with BRC, BiNetUSA and the Bisexual Organizing Project, HRC Foundation’s issue brief,Health Disparities Among Bisexual People, highlighted these disparities, which include higher rates of cancer, heart disease and obesity, and higher rates of HPV and other sexual health issues, likely stemming from a lack of access to preventative care and not being out to medical providers.
The Williams Institute found that 39 percent of bisexual men and 33 percent of bisexual women reported not disclosing their sexual orientation to any medical provider, compared to only 13 percent of gay men and 10 percent of lesbians who chose not to disclose.
The objects and people children play with as early as toddlerhood may provide clues to their eventual sexual orientation, reveals the largest study of its kind. The investigation, which tracked more than 4500 kids over the first 15 years of their lives, seeks to answer one of the most controversial questions in the social sciences, but experts are mixed on the findings.
“Within its paradigm, it’s one of the better studies I’ve seen,” says Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor emerita of biology and gender studies at Brown University. The fact that it looks at development over time and relies on parents’ observations is a big improvement over previous studies that attempted to answer similar questions based on respondents’ own, often unreliable, memories, she says. “That being said … they’re still not answering questions of how these preferences for toys or different kinds of behaviors develop in the first place.”
The new study builds largely on research done in the 1970s by American sex and gender researcher Richard Green, who spent decades investigating sexuality. He was influential in the development of the term “gender identity disorder” to describe stress and confusion over one’s sex and gender, though the term—and Green’s work more broadly—has come under fire from many psychologists and social scientists today who say it’s wrong to label someone’s gender and sexuality “disordered.”
In the decades since, other studies have reported that whether a child plays along traditional gender lines can predict their later sexual orientation. But these have largely been criticized for their small sample sizes, for drawing from children who exhibit what the authors call “extreme” gender nonconformity, and for various other methodological shortcomings.
Seeking to improve on this earlier research, Melissa Hines, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, turned to data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The study includes thousands of British children born in the 1990s. Parents observed and reported various aspects of their children’s behavior, which Hines and her Cambridge colleague, Gu Li, analyzed for what they call male-typical or female-typical play.
An example of stereotypical male-typical play, as defined by the study, would include playing with toy trucks, “rough-and-tumble” wrestling, and playing with other boys. Female-typical play, on the other hand, would include dolls, playing house, and playing with other girls.
Hines and Li looked at parental reporting of children’s play at ages 2.5, 3.5, and 4.75 years old, and arranged them on a scale of one to 100, with lower scores meaning more female-typical play and higher scores more male-typical play. They then compared those results to the participants’ self-reported responses as teenagers to a series of internet-administered questions about their sexuality.
Beginning with the 3.5-year-old age group, the team found that children who engaged mostly in “gender-conforming” play (boys who played with trucks and girls who played with dolls, as an example) were likely to report being heterosexual at age 15, whereas the teenagers who reported being gay, lesbian, or not strictly heterosexual were more likely to engage in “gender-nonconforming” play. The same pattern held true when they expanded the teenagers’ choices to a five-point spectrum ranging from 100% heterosexual to 100% homosexual.
Teens who described themselves as lesbian scored on average about 10 points higher on the gender-play scale at age 4.75 (meaning more stereotypically male play) than their heterosexual peers, and teens who described themselves as gay men scored about 10 points lower on the scale than their peers, the researchers report in Developmental Psychology. Questions of transgender identity were not addressed in the study.
“I think it’s remarkable that childhood gender-typed behavior measured as early as age 3.5 years is associated with sexual orientation 12 years later,” wrote Li in an email. “The findings help us to understand variability in sexual orientation and could have implications for understanding the origins of this variability.”
The paper “is just a well-done study in terms of getting around some of the problems that have plagued the field,” says Simon LeVay, a retired neuroscientist whose 1991 paper in Science sparked interest in brain differences associated with sexual identity. “It shows that something is going on really early in life and points away from things like role modeling and adolescent experiences as reasons for becoming gay.”
Others dispute the paper’s methods and significance. Parents’ own beliefs and biases about gender almost certainly influence how they described their children’s gendered play, which could skew their reporting, says Patrick Ryan Grzanka, a psychologist who studies sexuality and multicultural issues at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. But more worrisome to him are the cultural assumptions underlying the study itself. The authors appear to regard gender nonconformity as the primary marker of gayness, which doesn’t align with current research suggesting that your individual preferences for either stereotypically male or female behaviors and traits has little to do with your sexual orientation, he says.
Grzanka is also dismayed that the paper fails to critique the history of similar research that investigated whether childhood behaviors lined up with eventual sexual orientation. It wasn’t long ago that such research was used to stigmatize and pathologize gender-nonconforming children, he says. “I think it’s important to ask why we’re so invested in this purported link [between gender conformity and sexuality] in the first place.”
Yet the sex-happiness association means nothing if we don’t know why it exists. New research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin sheds some light on the matter: Sex itself isn’t what makes us happier, it’s about the snuggles we share before, during, and after.
“We demonstrated that an important reason why sex is associated with well-being is that it promotes the experience of affection with the partner,” says University of Toronto postdoctoral fellow Anik Debrot, the study’s co-author. “Thus, the quality of the bond with the partner is essential to understand the benefits of sex.”
The new research actually comprises four separate studies. In the first two, researchers evaluated the correlation between sex and well-being through cross-sectional surveys of people in romantic relationships. In the first, 335 people (138 men, 197 women) in the US (predominantly married and straight) reported how frequently they have sex and engage in “affectionate touching” (e.g. cuddling, kissing, caressing). They also rated their “life satisfaction” on a one to five scale. The second was similar, but asked 74 couples in San Francisco’s Bay Area to rate their tendency to feel positive emotions such as joy, contentment, pride, amusement, and awe.
Both confirmed that more sexual activity correlates with increased positivity and life satisfaction. However, the association between sex and general happiness was dependent on affectionate touching, meaning that when the researchers accounted for for affectionate touching in their predictive model, the association between sex frequency and life satisfaction was insignificant. These results held steady regardless of participants’ age, relationship duration, and relationship status.
The third and fourth studies took a “Dear diary” approach—participants recorded their emotional state and sexual and affectionate activity on digital devices throughout the day, for several days. The third assessed 106 Swiss couples over ten days, 88% of which were married, and all of which had a child under age eight. It checked in on them six months later. The fourth included 58 Swiss couples, the majority of which were university students.
These daily diary studies showed that on days when people have sex, they experienced more affection and positive emotions immediately after sex, and hours later. “We could also show that sex promotes positive emotions, but that positive emotions do not increase the odds of having sex,” Debrot explains, “This indicates that people seem to feel good because they have sex, but not that they have sex because they feel good.” This finding supports the conclusion that affection—which has been proven to promote psychological and physiological wellbeing outside the sexual realm—is key to coital pleasure.
More, as Debrot explains, previous studies have found that positive talks often occur after sex, that exchanging signs of affection after sex means sexual and relationship satisfaction increases, and that frequent assurance of commitment and love after sex is the best predictor of a good relationship.
Importantly, participants who felt more positive emotions (like joy and optimism) after having sex with their partner in the ten-day study also showed higher relationship satisfaction six months later. This long-term correlation, however, only held true when participants experienced positive emotions after sex, regardless of how frequently they were sexually active.
This type of research always required some external imposition, and it’s impossible to determine exactly what about sex makes us happier. But it makes one reality clear: Sex promotes affection, and affection makes us feel good in the immediate, short, and long-term. And while more frequent sex is proven to make us feel better, prescribing participants to have more frequent sex on its own doesn’t help.
So if you’re looking to increase personal or relationship happiness (and a $50k bonus isn’t quite on the table) your best bet may be simple: Be attentive to your partners’ sexual and emotional needs, allow enough space and time for intimacy, and express your attraction and love before, during, after sex.
Why is care for sexual health issues considered a luxury when it’s a necessary part of population health?
By Zachary Hafner
When Americans seek care for most common health conditions, there is rarely much question about coverage. Every day, consumers—including those on Medicaid and Medicare—seek care for sore joints, depression, and even acne without worrying about whether or not their insurance will cover their doctor visits and medications. For the most part, coverage for sexual health issues is less straightforward—but why? Is it because sexual health issues are not considered legitimate illnesses? Because the costs are significant? Or is it because raising the topic of sexual health can offend certain personal and organizational values? Whatever the reason, it is time for a change.
It’s hard to deny the human and economic burden of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on this country. The CDC estimates that 110 million Americans are infected with an STI, resulting in direct medical costs of $16 billion annually. The most common and fastest growing STI in this country is human papillomavirus (HPV), and it is estimated that half of sexually active men and women will get HPV at some point in their lives. In 2006, a vaccine for HPV was introduced and now there are several. CDC guidelines recommend administering a multi-dose series, costing about $250–450, to all boys and girls at age 11 or 12. (Some states require the vaccine for school admission.) It was included in mandatory coverage under the ACA. Since the HPV vaccine was first recommended in 2006 there has been a 64% reduction in vaccine-type HPV infections among teen girls in the United States.
It seems clear that this kind of care for sexual health is necessary for public health and is also part of caring for the whole individual, a central tenet of population health. But what about sexual health care that doesn’t involve infectious disease? Is it still a population health issue if there’s no communicable disease involved?
Let’s take erectile dysfunction (ED) for example. It is nearly as common in men over 40 as HPV is in the general population—more than half of men over 40 experience some level of ED, and more than 23 million American men have been prescribed Viagra. With a significant portion of the population suffering from ED, is it important for payers and providers to consider ED treatment to be essential health care and to cover it accordingly? Medications like Viagra and Cialis are an expensive burden at upwards of $50 per pill. Medicare D does not cover any drugs for ED, but some private insurers do when the medications are deemed medically necessary by a doctor. A handful of states require them to do so, but they are typically listed as Tier 3 medications—nonessential and with the highest co-pays.
Almost 7 million American women have used infertility services. Coverage for infertility diagnosis and treatment is not mandated by the ACA, though 15 states require commercial payers to provide various levels of coverage. The cost of infertility treatments is highly variable depending on the methods used but in vitro fertilization treatments, as one measure, average upward of $12,000 per attempt.
Are treatments for ED and infertility elective or necessary? In an age of consumerism and heightened attention to the whole patient across a broader continuum of care, organizations that support the availability of a broad set of sexual health services to a diverse group of consumers will have a big competitive advantage, but they may face challenges balancing the costs. Health care has advanced in both technical and philosophical ways that allow people to manage their diseases, cure their problems, and overcome limitations. It has also shone light on the significant advantages to considering a diagnosis in the context of the whole individual—their social and emotional health as well as coexisting conditions. Studies have shown, for example, that infertility, ED, and STIs all have a significant relationship with depression and anxiety.
It’s time sexual health was folded in to the broader definition of wellness instead of marginalized as a separate issue. For too many Americans, it’s too big an issue not to address.
When it comes to sex, we are quite the shallow bunch: Something as simple as the smell of your sweat, the dilation of your pupils or the proportion of your waistline can make all the difference.
Yet science also shows that personality traits matter at least some of the time, both in the long-term partners we choose and our shorter-term, umm, relationships.
So say you want to have more sex — hypothetically, of course. Should you offer flowers or act aloof?
The answer is complicated. Here’s just some of what science has figured out about the mating game and personality. The findings are as diverse — and as seemingly contradictory — as we humans.
Nice Men (and Women) Can Seal the Deal
Recent research published in the British Journal of Psychology showed that altruism may put you in the best position (ahem) to find a willing partner. The results of two trials conducted by Canadian researchers showed that men and women who scored higher on altruism also said they were more desirable to the opposite sex.
Men who scored higher on altruism also reported more sexual partners, and more casual hook-ups compared to female participants. If altruistic participants were in long-term relationships, those altruistic men and women said they had more sex over the last 30 days.
Researchers didn’t just take their word for it. Watch the video above for more.
Honesty Is Sexy
Let’s be real. Humans are drawn to other humans they find physically attractive. But there may be more going on than simple hotness, according to a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Researchers from China divided 120 study participants into into three groups. Before the experiment began, all of these participants, 60 men and 60 women, were asked to rate 60 random Google photographs of Chinese women. The faces were unfamiliar to the study participants, and all the women in the photos had neutral expressions.
Two weeks later, the study participants were asked to look at the photos again. But this time, one group of participants was given the same photos with descriptions of positive personality traits such as decent and honest. Another group was given the photos that now contained negative personality traits including evil and mean. A third group was given no information about personality.
The researchers found no difference among the groups during the first cycle of the experiment. But in the second cycle, those photos that contained positive descriptions of personality traits scored high on attractiveness. Those with negative descriptors scored lowest.
The researchers say “what is good is beautiful,” and this so-called “halo effect” shows that desirable personality traits are reflected in facial preference.
But We Like The Dark Side, Too
Men (and women) may say they like nice humans, but sometimes what we do tells a different story. When it comes to mating, both sexes seem to be drawn to (cue the theme from Jaws) “The Dark Triad.” That psych-speak for the personality traits of Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy.
We know it’s true: Mean girls and bad boys can be pretty popular, at least for a while. It seems the Dark Triad may boost short-term mating prospects for men, and, importantly, women too, despite being “fundamentally callous, exploitative traits that deviate from species-typical cooperation,” explains Dr. Gregory Louis Carter, a lecturer in Psychology at York St John University.
Narcissism, for example, is related to good physical and mental health and longer life while Machiavellianism is linked to social flexibility. Psychopathy results in impulsivity and sensation-seeking, which can be extremely seductive, he says.
So men and women who score high on the Dark Triad scale may appeal to because they are confident, persistent, have a higher-ranking status and look pretty darn good.
The ‘Big Five’ Traits That Mean More Action
If you want to learn about your personality traits, most psychologists suggest looking at the “Big Five.” That’s a group of descriptors that include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Taken together those Big Five can influence our health as well as our sex lives.
In a study of newlyweds, researchers from Florida State University shed some light on how a couples’ personalities influenced how often newlyweds had sex. Although the study did not look at non-married individuals, there is a good chance the results would hold true, says co-author Dr. Andrea Meltzer, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Florida State University.
The study included data on 278 newlywed heterosexual couples, all of whom were married less than six months. They kept a two-week journal detailing their life and how often they had sex. The couples also took a Big Five test to figure out their individual personalities.
Here’s what they found. There was absolutely zero link between the man’s personality traits and how often the couple had sex. But higher levels of the traits of agreeableness and openness among wives led to more frequent sex.
“Openness refers to the willingness to explore new idea and experiences,” says Meltzer, adding these folks tend to like art and abstract ideas, often try new and different foods, and love novelty.
Agreeableness means you can get along well with others and maintain social harmony. These folks are often perceived as kind, generous, and trustworthy, she says.
No surprise that husbands and wives who scored low on neuroticism were more satisfied with their sex lives. But husbands who scored low in openness also were more satisfied with their sex lives. Maybe these guys just weren’t into novelty.
Make ‘Em Laugh
Humor always ranks near the top of seemingly any list of what men and women find attractive in each other.
Some research shows that humor gets us hot because it may reveal intelligence, a creative bent, and robust genes that equate to not only good health but also good parenting traits.
Although humor is almost universally appealing, there are sex differences. “Women want to be made to laugh more than men,” says Carter. “Men want to be able to induce laughter, though probably not in the bedroom.”