Many gay men experience issues that can increase their risk for psychological problems. Prejudice and discrimination can cause them to feel anxious or fearful in certain situations. For men who keep their sexual orientations a secret, that burden alone can lead to internal stress that can manifest in various physical and psychological ways. Many gay men choose to cope with feelings arising from their sexual orientations with maladaptive strategies such as drug use and risky sexual behaviors. Although it is well established that sexual-minority individuals have a higher chance of developing mental health issues, gay men appear to reach out for help more often than heterosexual men. Men who adhere strictly to masculine ideals of self-reliance, strength, and control often view psychological help as a sign of weakness. Heterosexual men tend to hold rigid masculine ideals in higher regard than gay men, thus placing them in a position of more vulnerability to the negative outcomes of untreated mental health issues.
To understand the factors that contribute to this reluctance to seek help, Francisco J. Sánchez of the Center for Gender-Based Biology and the Department of Human Genetics at UCLA’s School of Medicine recently conducted a study that evaluated the masculine ideals of identical twin pairs comprised of one gay and one heterosexual twin. After assessing the mental health of the 38 twin sets, Sánchez found that the heterosexual twins had more psychological impairment than the gay twins. This was a surprising result, considering evidence supporting the link between sexual nonconformity and psychological distress.
Specifically, the heterosexual twins had higher levels of paranoia, hostility, anger, stress, and psychoticism than their gay brothers. Although this finding was unexpected, the low rate of help seeking found among the heterosexual twins was not. Despite the fact the heterosexual twins had more psychological issues than the gay twins, they were significantly less likely to seek treatment. Sánchez believes this suggests environmental and social factors contribute more to help-seeking attitudes than genetics. However, there could be certain experiences that occurred in the family of origin that impacted the help-seeking attitudes of the twins. This is just one area that should be explored in future studies. Additionally, the sample size, although highly selective, was very small. Sánchez concluded: “Notwithstanding these limitations, our findings further hint at how environmental and cultural variables may influence attitudes and behaviors that are stereotypically masculine.”
Sánchez, F. J., Bocklandt, S., Vilain, E. (2012). The relationship between help-seeking attitudes and masculine norms among monozygotic male twins discordant for sexual orientation. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029529
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