According to a recent study led by Judith P. Andersen of the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto in Canada, lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adults are more likely to have experienced various forms of childhood adversity than their heterosexual peers. In her study, Andersen explored different forms of childhood adversity, including emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, divorce, marital discord, and neglect. She also included parental mental illness and parental substance use as forms of maltreatment and adversity. Using the Adverse Childhood Experiences scale (ACE), Andersen wanted to not only compare adversity between LGB adults and heterosexual adults, but also see if there were significant disparities in the adversities experienced by lesbian and gay individuals when compared to bisexual individuals.
Andersen analyzed data from over 22,000 adults and found that compared to heterosexuals, LGB individuals had much higher rates of childhood adversity. In particular, LGB-identified people were more likely to have experienced all forms of abuse, parental mental illness, family incarceration, and parental substance abuse than heterosexuals. However, only the bisexual participants reported high levels of parental discord. It has been clearly established that LGB adults have higher rates of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, than heterosexual adults. Andersen believes that perhaps the high rates of childhood adversity contribute to these conditions in LGB individuals, especially when coupled by the additional stress of being victimized and bullied for their sexuality.
The results of this study in no way suggest that childhood adversity leads to sexual orientation. Instead, they suggest that LGB individuals who have experienced challenges resulting from their orientation may be more reflective of their pasts. They tend to seek out therapy in higher numbers than their heterosexual counterparts and this experience may encourage them to be more open to recognizing and identifying childhood adversity. In other words, many LGB individuals may be more willing to admit the difficulties of their childhoods because of their adult experiences. Andersen believes that her results shed new light on how childhood experiences of LGB adults can differ from those of heterosexual adults. She also has shown that it is important to examine each specific sexual orientation independently to better understand how family history and childhood adversity may vary. She added, “We recommend the use of the Adverse Childhood Experiences scale in future research examining health disparities among this minority population.”
Andersen, Judith P., and John Blosnich. Disparities in Adverse Childhood Experiences among sexual minority and heterosexual adults: Results from a multi-state probability-based sample. PLoS One 8.1 (2013): 1-7. Print.
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