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Same-sex couples experience unique stressors

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Study by SF State professor finds that institutionalized discrimination has lasting effects

Professor of Sociology Allen LeBlanc

By Lisa Owens Viani

Stressors faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals have been well studied, but San Francisco State University Professor of Sociology Allen LeBlanc and his colleagues are among the first to examine the stressors that operate at the same-sex couple level in two new studies conducted with support from the National Institutes of Health. “People in same-sex relationships are at risk for unique forms of social stress associated with the stigma they face as sexual minority individuals and as partners in a stigmatized relationship form,” said LeBlanc.

In the first study, recently published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, LeBlanc and colleagues conducted in-depth interviews with 120 same-sex couples from two study sites, Atlanta and San Francisco, and identified 17 unique pressures that affect LGB couples. Those range from a lack of acceptance by families to discrimination or fears of discrimination at work, public scrutiny, worries about where to live and travel in order to feel safe, and experiences and fears of being rejected and devalued. The researchers also found that same-sex couple stressors can emerge when stress is contagious or shared between partners and when stress “discrepancies” — such as one partner being more “out” than the other — occur.

“We wanted to look beyond the individual, to look at how stress is shared and how people are affected by virtue of the relationships they’re in, the people they fall in love with and the new ways couples experience stress if they’re in a stigmatized relationship form,” said LeBlanc. “One of those is feeling that society doesn’t value your relationship equally.”

“Changing laws is one thing, but changing hearts and minds is another.”

That perception is the focus of a second study just published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. LeBlanc found that feelings of being in a “second-class” relationship are associated with mental health issues — such as greater depression and problematic drinking — even after taking into account the beneficial impact of gaining legal recognition through marriage. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, but the effects of long-term institutionalized discrimination can linger, according to LeBlanc.

“Our work is a stark reminder that legal changes will not quickly or fully address the longstanding mental health disparities faced by sexual minority populations,” said LeBlanc. “Changing laws is one thing, but changing hearts and minds is another.”

Even though people in same-sex relationships experience many unique challenges, research also shows that having a good primary intimate partnership is important for a person’s well-being, which is true for both heterosexual and LGB couples. “The unique challenges confronting same-sex couples emanate from the stigma and marginalization they face from society at large, not from anything that is unique about their relationships in and of themselves,” said LeBlanc. LeBlanc’s study builds on an emerging body of research suggesting that legal recognition of same-sex relationships is associated with better mental health among LGB populations — as has long been suggested in studies of legal marriage among heterosexual populations. “This new research suggests that legal marriage is a public health issue,” said LeBlanc. “When people are denied access in an institutionalized, discriminatory way, it appears to affect their mental health.”

LeBlanc said transgender individuals were not included in the studies because of other stressors unique to them; he noted that another study focused specifically on trans- and gender-nonconforming individuals is underway. He hopes his research will help people better understand and support not just same-sex couples but also other stigmatized relationships, including interracial/ethnic relationships or partnerships with age differences or different religious backgrounds. “It’s not just about civil rights for LGB persons,” he explained. “It’s about science and how society can be more supportive of a diversity of relationships that include people from all walks of life.”

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Doctors Are Failing Their Gay Patients

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by Liz Posner

You’re supposed to be able to tell your doctor anything. But how are patients supposed to know what to tell their doctors if the doctors don’t ask the necessary questions in the first place? When it comes to sexual health screening, many doctors either missed the class in medical school that was supposed to teach them to ask patients about sexual health questions, or their lack of attention to sexual health is a conscious choice. Bespoke Surgical recently conducted a study of 1,000 Americans of various ages and sexual identities to hear what they’ve been asked by their doctor on the topic. The results suggest few doctors are asking questions about sexual health at all, and that LGBTQ patients, in particular, are being neglected.

The survey asked participants what kinds of questions their primary care physician focused on when they brought up sexual health during physical exams. The results varied based on the sexual orientation of the patient, as the graph below shows.

There are some outliers here that should be noted, but first, take a second to note how low these numbers are overall. Over half of heterosexual respondents said they were never asked about basic sexual health questions like HPV and STD exposure—a number that’s surprising, especially since 79 million Americans have HPV, a condition that can lead to cancer in both men and women. In general, it seems like doctors aren’t asking patients the right questions about sexual health.

But consider the shocking numbers revealed in the chart above. Of the physicians who saw homosexual patients last year, only 13 percent asked their patients if they had received the PrEP HIV prevention drug. Nearly half of all gay and lesbian respondents said their doctor had not asked them about HPV/Gardasil, anal pap smears, PreP/Truvada, or prior STD exposure. Only 40 percent of patients gay, straight and bi said they were asked if they used any kind of protection during sex.

When they do ask the right questions, the survey suggests doctors are asking them of the wrong people. In all but one of the above sexual health categories, bisexual patients were more likely to be asked about sexual health conditions. This could be because, as the Advocate explains, there’s a myth that bisexual people are more promiscuous than other people. The survey authors affirm this: “the ‘B’ in LGBTQ+ is often misrepresented in a variety of settings, including sexual promiscuity.”

Undoubtedly, doctors aren’t asking their patients a full range of questions because they aren’t able to spend enough time with them in the first place. People of all sexual orientations have experienced the rotating door model of doctor visits. Some primary care doctors say they treat 19 patients a day. With a full roster of 2,500 patients total, the Annals of Family Medicine says each doctor would have to “spend 21.7 hours per day to provide all recommended acute, chronic and preventive care” for that many patients. A 2016 study found that most doctor’s office visits only last 13-16 minutes. Professor Bruce Y. Lee at Johns Hopkins calls the average crammed doctor’s visit “archaic” in an article for Forbes, and says, “there is little time to actually listen or talk to patients and maybe not enough time to carefully examine them.”

The LGBTQ population seems to be catching on to the fact that primary care physicians may not know the right questions to ask their patients. That would explain why gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents were 20-30 percent more likely than straight respondents to rate having a doctor with the same sexual identity as them as “very important.” LGBTQ people are especially vulnerable to discrimination and may face barriers to health care that heterosexual people don’t. Some technology, like the entrepreneurs who launched an app to connect LGBTQ patients to gay-friendly doctors, is helping to make this easier. But it’s a quick fix to a much more systemic problem, considering so many primary care physicians don’t ask about sexual health problems at all.

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What a leather convention can teach everyone about sex and consent

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I don’t think I’d ever realized just how “vanilla” I was, and how little I understood about all of the ways you can engage in fun, healthy, consensual, adventurous sex.

“Hotel is closed for private event” read the signs affixed to the front of the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill last weekend. A steady stream of people, mostly men, many in leather harnesses, some in collars and on leashes, and some simply in jeans and sweaters, walked in and out in an almost continuous stream.

Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL), now in its 48th year, is a three-day long celebration of the leather community, a subculture that celebrates various sexual kinks, many centered around leather and toys. Bears, daddies, pups and others identifying with various subsets roam the Hyatt Regency, participating in conference-like demonstrations about suspension (BDSM where you’re bound and hung) and electro (BDSM involving electric shocks), buying handcrafted leather goods and sex toys, and, of course, partying. (Actual sex was not part of the convention but no doubt took place in private.) It’s a predominantly LGBTQ centric space, although look closely enough and you’re sure to find people on every part of the gender and sexuality spectrum.

My first MAL was in the winter of 2016. I’d just gone through a breakup and my friend had suggested that perhaps it would be good for me to explore life beyond my comfort zone. “Just get ready,” he’d said, “it may be more than your little vanilla heart can handle.” And he wasn’t entirely wrong. It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle it, but I don’t think I’d ever realized just how “vanilla” I was, and how little I understood about all of the ways you can engage in fun, healthy, consensual, adventurous sex.

That first year I met Adam, a dentist in town from Texas just for MAL. “You look like you could use a drink,” he said back in a hotel room he was sharing with a friend of mine.

“Do I look that out of place?” I asked. I’d put on a leather jacket to try to blend in.

“Not out of place,” he said, “just kind of shocked.”

And shocked I was. Not necessarily at anything that was going on at the hotel that night, but more so at the fact that for the better part of my life I’d allowed myself to believe that this kind of sexual openness was only available to a certain kind of person.

“Where I grew up, there wasn’t really anything like this,” said Anthony, a 30-year-old living in Arlington, Va., who grew up in Portsmouth. (The sources for this story preferred that only first names be used, for privacy reasons). “There was no kink culture, and I really wanted to explore it. Everyone here was super welcoming, and that’s why I keep coming back.”

This was a common sentiment. “It’s a different part of the gay family,” said Garret, 28, who lives in Washington. “We all have different interests … and if nobody else respects that, come to MAL because they do here.”

Respect, as it turns out, is a dominating theme throughout the course of the weekend. You might expect that when many attendees are walking around in only a jockstrap and a harness, but it is pleasantly surprising to see how strictly they adhere to that principle. In the era of #MeToo, when more and more queer folks are being vocal about the role consent plays in queer spaces, perhaps the leather and kink communities have something to teach the general public about active and enthusiastic consent.

Ask for permission before petting. Hold out your hand and let the pup come to you first. If the pup doesn’t, or turns or growls, let them be as they may not want to or have permission. This is rule No. 5 as listed on the board outside the 10th anniversary mosh at the MAL Puppy Park, a yearly tradition in which individuals who participate in pup play — a BDSM role-play wherein one participant acts as the “pup” and one as the handler — have an opportunity to interact with other pups. Other rules include: Nudity is not permitted in public spaces, genitals cannot be exposed and DO NOT pull on a pup’s tail or collar. It can cause injury and is disrespectful. Change some of the verbiage and perhaps these would be appropriate guidelines to post at the Academy Awards.

“It’s where I met my current roommate,” said Allyn, a 31-year-old originally from Wisconsin who now lives in Washington, of his first MAL experience. “It was exhilarating. I’d never seen anything like it. It make me feel brave and nervous at the same time.” He didn’t speak to his would-be roommate the first night they met, however. “I mean, I had a ball gag in at the time,” he recounted.

Zack, 23, from Baltimore, also used the world “exhilarating” when describing his first MAL experience. “I got chills coming down the escalator into the lobby of the hotel,” he said. “It’s the closest thing to Folsom I’ve ever been too,” a reference to the San Francisco street fair that’s the world’s largest leather celebration.

Everyone I spoke to talked about descending that escalator on the evening of the opening party. It is truly a complete sensory experience. The sight, sound and smell of wall-to-wall leather and latex on every kind of body, not just seen but celebrated and appreciated.

While I was talking to Garret about the weekend, someone he appeared to know approached him, whispered something in his ear and, after he nodded yes, lifted Garret’s arm and began to sniff his armpit. Garret continued to answer my questions without pause. “There may be something over here that’s not your thing, but then you’ll look over there and see something going on that you’re totally into,” he explained “Don’t be shy, don’t judge other people for something you don’t understand. And above all, come and have a good time. No one is here to be spectacled. It can be a learning and cultural experience.” The sniffer had moved on to his other armpit by the time he finished talking.

Although I have yet to be brave enough to buy and wear a harness to MAL myself, each year I attend I move closer toward that goal. At the very least, the event has highlighted for me the fact that there is an exciting world beyond the “vanilla” one I’d relegated myself to — and has given me a better understanding of the queer community as a whole. At one point, in the leather market, a man who had recently undergone top surgery was trying on a new harness next to a group of folks signing to one another, while feet away a $1,400 bejeweled pup hood was on sale. Only at MAL.

Complete Article HERE!

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Women Got ‘Married’ Long Before Gay Marriage

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Two women in the 1890s

In 1880, on the first anniversary of her marriage, author Sarah Orne Jewett penned a romantic poem to her partner. “Do you remember, darling, a year ago today, when we gave ourselves to each other?” she wrote. “We will not take back the promises we made a year ago.”

Jewett wasn’t addressing her husband—she was writing to her future wife, Annie Adams Fields. Over a century before same-sex marriage became the law of the land, Jewett and Adams lived together in a “Boston marriage,” a committed partnership between women.

They weren’t the only ones: For several years near the turn of the 20th century, same-sex marriage was relatively common and even socially acceptable. These women shared kisses, hugs and their lives—but today, few remember these pioneers of same-sex relationships.

Though homosexuality was taboo during the 19th century, intense and romantic friendships among women were common. At the time, women were encouraged to exist in a sphere separate from that of men. Public life, work and earning money were seen as the purview of men.

Two young women, 1896.

This ideology isolated women from the outside world, but it also brought them into close contact with one another. As women were viewed as devoted, asexual and gentle, it was acceptable for them to do things like kiss, hold hands or link arms, and openly express their affection for one another. At newly founded women’s colleges, for example, students gave one another bouquets of flowers, love poems and trinkets and openly declared their love. Having a crush on another woman wasn’t blinked at—it was expected and considered part of women’s college culture.

A group of New England women took this concept one step further by “getting married.” Though they didn’t commit to one another legally, they combined households, lived together and supported one another for the long term. These independent women pushed the boundaries of what society deemed acceptable for women by attending college, finding careers and living outside their parents’ home. But since they did so with other women, their activities were deemed socially acceptable.

In 1885, novelist Henry James explored the phenomenon in his book The Bostonians. The novel, which pokes fun at independent women, features a relationship between Verena Tarrant, an outspoken feminist, and Olive Chancellor, who becomes fascinated with the fiery speaker. They form a partnership and move in with one another, but when Verena decides to marry Olive’s cousin the relationship falls apart. The popular novel is thought to have contributed to the use of the term “Boston marriage,” though James never used the phrase in his book.

Michèle André and Alice Sapritch in “The Bostonians”, the drama adapted by Jean-Louis Curtis from Henry James’s novel.

Boston marriages offered equality, support and independence to wealthy women who were determined to push outside of the domestic sphere. They also offered romantic love: Though each relationship was different, women often referred to one another as husband or wife, kissed and hugged, wrote passionate letters when they were apart and shared beds. However, this was not necessarily seen as sexual in the 19th century since women were assumed not to have the physical desires of men.

Were these women lesbians in the contemporary sense of the word? Though we can’t glimpse into the bedroom behaviors of people of the past, it’s certain that many of the women in romantic friendships and Boston marriages did share sexual contact.

For some women, Boston marriages were used as a front for relationships we’d see as lesbian in the 21st century. As historian Stephanie Coontz tells NPR, “a pair of women who actually had a sexual relationship could easily manage to be together without arousing suspicion that it was anything more than feminine affection.” But for others, sex didn’t appear to be part of the equation. Rather, Boston marriages offered something even more appealing—independence.

Ironically, the practice faded as people became aware of lesbianism. At the turn of the century, the concept of “sexual inversion” made it possible to categorize relationships that had once been considered socially acceptable as sexually deviant.

Though Jewett and Fields lived together for over two decades, Jewett’s publishers seem to have edited out telling details from her letters to Fields, a society chronicler, to prevent readers from assuming they were lesbians.

It would take 100 more years for same-sex marriage to be legally accepted in the United States. But even in death, the commitment and love of same-sex partners from the 19th century lives on, like that of American novelist Willa Cather and her longtime companion, Edith Lewis. The pair lived together as committed partners for almost 40 years—and now they’re buried together in a New Hampshire cemetery. If that isn’t love, what is?

Complete Article HERE!

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We May Have Just Identified Genetic Evidence of Male Sexual Orientation

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But that still doesn’t mean there’s a ‘gay gene’.

By PETER DOCKRILL

Scientists are reporting what could amount to be the firmest evidence yet of genetic links to male sexual orientation, in the first published genome-wide association study (GWAS) examining the trait.

Researchers recruited more than 2,000 men of both homosexual and heterosexual orientation and analysed their DNA, identifying two genetic regions that appear to be linked to whether individuals are gay or straight.

“Because sexuality is an essential part of human life – for individuals and society – it is important to understand the development and expression of human sexual orientation,” says psychiatrist Alan Sanders from NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Illinois.

“The goal of this study was to search for genetic underpinnings of male sexual orientation, and thus ultimately increase our knowledge of biological mechanisms underlying sexual orientation.”

To do so, Sanders’ team studied 1,077 homosexual men and 1,231 heterosexual men of primarily European ancestry, who were respectively recruited from community festivals and a nationwide survey.

For the purposes of the study, the men’s sexual orientation was based on their self-reported sexual identity and sexual feelings. Each individual taking part provided a sample of their DNA in the form of blood or saliva samples, which were genotyped and analysed.

When the researchers sifted through the data, they isolated several genetic regions where variations called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) signalled single-letter changes in the DNA, with two of the most prominent congregations located near chromosomes 13 and 14.

“The genes nearest to these peaks have functions plausibly relevant to the development of sexual orientation,” the researchers explain in their paper.

On chromosome 13, the variants were located next to a gene called SLITRK6, which is expressed in the diencephalon – a part of the brain that’s previously been shown to differ in size depending on men’s sexual orientation.

While the mechanisms here aren’t fully understood, the researchers explain the SLITRK gene family is important for neurodevelopment and could be of relevance for a range of behavioural phenotypes, not just sexual orientation.

On chromosome 14, the strongest associations were centred around the thyroid stimulating hormone receptor (TSHR) gene, and it’s thought the cluster of SNP variants here could conceivably affect sexual orientation due to altered expression in the hippocampus – in addition to producing atypical thyroid function.

It’s not the first time scientists have examined our genetic code looking for hints as to predictors of sexual persuasion.

While there are numerous environmental factors to consider, previous research – that has not yet been replicated – linked a genetic marker in the X chromosome called Xq28 to male sexual orientation back in the 1990s.

This gave rise to the idea of the so-called ‘gay gene’, even though that’s technically a misnomer, since the Xq28 band actually contains several genes, and the science on the region remains unclear.

More recently, a controversial study presented in 2015 by UCLA researchers suggested an algorithm analysing epigenetic markers that affect gene expression could predict male sexual orientation with up to 70 percent accuracy, but the findings were never published.

Similarly controversial – but in a completely different field of science – researchers from Stanford University made headlines in September when they claimed an AI they had developed could correctly distinguish between gay and heterosexual men and women (81 percent of the time and 74 percent of the time respectively).

While those findings produced an uproar, the claims – if true – serve as another illustration that our biology may contain innumerable clues about things like our sexual orientation that science is only beginning to reveal.

In terms of the new results, there’s bound to be a lot of interest in the study, but the researchers are eager to emphasise their findings are largely speculative for now, since there’s still a lot we don’t know about what these genetic variations really mean.

There’s also the relatively small size and skewed European basis of the sample – not to mention the fact that it’s all men – which limit what it can tell us about genetic underpinnings to sexual orientation more broadly across race and sex lines.

Despite those shortcomings, there’s a lot for other researchers to consider here, and the team hopes this could lay the groundwork for future investigations that could more deeply penetrate the genetic factors that help influence our sexual identities.

“What we have accomplished is a first step for GWAS on the trait, and we hope that subsequent larger studies will further illuminate its genetic contributions,” says Sanders.

“Understanding the origins of sexual orientation enables us to learn a great deal about sexual motivation, sexual identity, gender identity, and sex differences, and this and subsequent work may take us further down that path of discovery.”

The findings are reported in Scientific Reports.

Complete Article HERE!

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