“Gay and bisexual men experience numerous negative health conditions, including high rates of mental health problems,” said Beth N. Fischgrund of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, and lead author of a new study examining masculinity and mental health in gay and bisexual men. “Empirical studies show that a strong adherence to masculine norms is correlated with poor health outcomes, such as mental health problems and risky sexual behaviors.” National studies have shown that gay men are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety as heterosexual men, and that suicide rates for these men are nearly double those of other men.
The way gay and bisexual men perceive their masculinity has a significant impact on mental health. “Society’s messages about sexuality are not the only cultural attitudes that sexual minority men are confronted with; cultural attitudes also delineate what it means to be a man,” said Fischgrund. She added that some men may exhibit hyper-masculine behaviors when they feel their masculinity is being threatened. “Gay men who endorse hyper-masculine norms might then experience identity incongruence when they are presented with general society’s norms that differ and contradict their own. In these situations, the more integral the hyper-masculine norms are to a man’s identity, the more psychological distress he may experience.”
For her study, Fischgrund recruited 311 gay and bisexual men, nearly a third of which reported an HIV positive status. “Among these gay and bisexual men, those who adhered to norms that incorporate an interpersonal aspect of masculinity (i.e., conceptions of masculinity as social behavior or as sexual behavior) endorsed higher levels of mental health distress than did men who adhered to norms that focus on the intrapersonal aspects of masculinity (i.e., conceptions of masculinity as physical appearance),” said Fischgrund. “Additionally, men who did not know their HIV status endorsed higher levels of depression.” She emphasized the importance of her findings. “Speciﬁcally, designing programs that center on altering the social and sexual masculine norms within the gay male community are needed to decrease the mental health burden of gay and bisexual men, which has been shown to be associated with HIV risky behaviors.”
Fischgrund, B. N., Halkitis, P. N., & Carroll, R. A. (2011, October 24). Conceptions of Hypermasculinity and Mental Health States in Gay and Bisexual Men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024836
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