New Study Sheds Light on PTSD in Adults with Same-Gender Sex Partners

by | December 11, 2010
filed under LGBT

by Roxanna Bennett

A recent study (April 2010) from Harvard School of Public Health and Children’s Hospital Boston found that lesbians, bisexuals, gay men and heterosexuals who have ever had a same-gender sex partner are one and a half to two times more likely to have experienced violence in childhood and had double the risk of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety related psychological disorder affecting people who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events, such as torture, murder, rape, or wartime combat.  Symptoms can include recurrent flashbacks of the traumatic event, nightmares, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, forgetfulness, social withdrawal, hyper-vigilance, emotional numbing. The average lifetime risk for PTSD is four percent for men, ten percent for women.

Among adults who have same-gender sex partners, the risk of PTSD is doubled to nine percent for men and twenty percent for women. The study found that 45 percent of lesbian women and 28 percent of gay men experienced violence or abuse in childhood while 21 percent of heterosexual (referred to as general population in the study) women and 20 percent of heterosexual men had experienced violence or abuse in childhood.

Senior author Karestan Koenen said: “Our study documents that profound sexual orientation disparities exist in exposure to violence and other traumatic events beginning in childhood. Something about our society puts individuals with minority sexual orientations at high risk for victimization. This is a major public health problem that needs to be addressed.”

It’s a relief to have this issue finally addressed in a major research study from a respected institution. Although most people assume that so-called sexual minorities are at higher risk for violence, having data and the outraged opinions of study authors should help to draw much needed attention, and hopefully funding, to this pervasive problem.

Not surprisingly, the data from a nationally representative sample of Americans showed researchers that heterosexuals who experience same-gender sexual attraction but have not had same-gender sex partners, were not at elevated risk for PTSD.

Researchers identified factors increasing the risk of violence exposure and PTSD development in adults with same-gender sex partners (referred to in the study as sexual minorities):

While all of this might appear as just plain common sense, this is the first research investigation to directly link higher rates of PTSD and greater risk of violence and trauma in adults with same-gender sex partners. Lead author Andrea Roberts said: “Medical professionals need to be aware that a high percentage of patients with minority sexual orientation may have been victims of interpersonal violence and may benefit from followup care to cope with the aftermath of violent victimization.”

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