Men who have sex with men are at increased risk of contracting STIs like HIV and HPV, which can cause anal and oral cancer. When it comes to HIV, gay and bisexual men accounted for 48 percent of the more than 1 million people living with the disease in the U.S., according to a 2006 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The research also found that 53 percent of newly diagnosed HIV-positive people were gay or bi. Another risk group is bisexual women, who, when compared with straight women and lesbians, exhibit the highest rates of alcohol and substance abuse, which can lead to risky sex.
Studies show that gay men use illicit drugs at a higher rate than the general population. “Gay men are significantly more likely to have used marijuana, stimulants, sedatives, cocaine, and party drugs (ecstasy, ketamine, and GHB)," according to the Pride Institute. "The use of crystal meth in gay and bisexual men has increased dramatically in recent years as well.” Substance abuse was also found in an alarming rate within the transgender community, ranging anywhere from four to 40 percent of respondents.
In an effort to sport perfect bodies, more and more gay men are resorting to steroid use before hitting the gym. Gay and bisexual teens are more than six times more likely to abuse steroids than their straight peers, according to a recent study by the Fenway Institute. The effects on your health can be long-lasting — heart disease, hypertension, insomnia, depression and suicidal thoughts, and dangerous rages have been reported by users.
Problems with body image are more prevalent among gay men than their straight peers, leading to eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. The National Eating Disorders Organization reports that gay men are disproportionately found to have body image disturbances and eating disorder behavior when compared with straight men. Gay men are thought to only represent about five percent of the total male population, but 42 percent of men with eating disorders identify as gay.
Studies show lesbians and bisexual women often have a higher body mass index than heterosexual women. Womenshealth.gov attributes this to a lack of physical fitness and the fact that lesbians tend to worry less about weight issues than straight women. The National Institutes of Health began a study in 2010 — expected to wrap in 2016 — aimed at determining why the obesity rate within the lesbian community was so high. One of the study's early findings is that LGBT individuals are 46 to 76 percent less likely to be on an athletic team than heterosexuals.
Smoking rates among lesbian women are nearly double that of heterosexual women, according to SAMHSA studies. By comparison, gay men reported using tobacco at a 50 percent higher rate than straight men. Within the transgender community, studies suggest that tobacco use can range from 45 to 75 percent. Smoking reduces life expectancy by at least a decade.
More than half of gay and lesbian couples (56.4 percent) and 47.4 percent of bisexual adults reported experiencing some form of domestic violence — compared with just 17.5 percent of straight couples who reported the same. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study in 2010 and they found that “bisexual women had an overwhelming prevalence of violent partners in their lives: 75 percent had been with a violent partner, as opposed to 46 percent of lesbian women, and 43 percent of straight women. For bisexual men, that number was 47 percent. For gay men, it was 40 percent, and 21 percent for straight men.”
Lesbians and bisexual women are less likely to get routine screenings, pap tests, mammograms, and clinical breast exams, according to Womenshealth.gov. And according to the Center for American Progress, due to “low rates of health insurance coverage, high rates of stress due to systematic harassment and discrimination, and a lack of cultural competency in the health care system, LGBT people are at a higher risk for cancer, mental illnesses, and other diseases, and are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs, and engage in other risky behaviors.”
Internalized homophobia, social stigma, and fear of rejection by family members are just a few of the reasons LGBT people decide not to come out. Studies show that living in the closet can have a detrimental effect on our emotional well-being, causing higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. LGB youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than straight teens and pre-teens, according to the Trevor Institute. A study of transgender people found a staggering 41 percent have attempted suicide at least once.