A recently released study, “Sexual Orientation and Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids in US Adolescent Boys,” shows that teenage boys who are gay or bisexual are nearly six times as likely as their straight counterparts to abuse steroids.
A doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, Aaron J. Blashill, told Reuters Health, “What was most surprising to us was the magnitude of the disparities that emerged between sexual minority and heterosexual boys.”
It’s estimated that 5 percent or more of adolescent males take anabolic-androgenic steroids to improve their strength, muscle size, and athletic performance, but the relationship between steroid abuse and orientation had never been studied before.
Since drug use overall is higher in the LGBT community due to factors such as poor body image and depression, Blashill and his colleague Steven A. Safren realized that gay and bisexual boys would likely be at more risk than most for steroids, too. Long-term misuse or abuse of steroids can lead to changes in hormones, heart problems, and psychiatric issues.
For their study, Safren and Blashill studied U.S. Youth Risk Behavior Surveys from 2005 to 2007, which gave them data regarding 17,250 teenage boys; 635 identified as gay or bisexual. Analysis showed that while only about 4 percent of straight adolescent boys had abused steroids for a period, among gay and bisexual boys the figure was 21 percent. The latter group was also almost six times as likely to report moderate (ten times or more) to severe (forty times or more) steroid use.
The researchers found that the risk factors for steroids were similar to that of other drugs and alcohol, such as feelings of despair, depression, or rejection. However, even after adjusting for those factors, gay or bisexual boys were still at a higher risk than expected for steroid use and abuse.
Blashill told Reuters, “Gay and bisexual boys are often targets of bullying, and some boys (particularly if they also possess poor body image) may turn to anabolic-androgen steroids (AAS) use as a means to obtain a more muscular build, in hopes it would deter others from bullying them.
“Parents should be mindful of their son’s school climate regarding bullying, in general, and specifically, attitudes toward sexual minorities.”
As with other drugs, teenage users are likely to be discreet about their use, but he advised parents to keep an eye out for giveaways such as extreme workouts.
He added that just as girls commonly fear that they’re too chubby, boys may feel that they’re too skinny; such sentiments may be confirmed by family or friends, including those who are well-meaning. Blashill explained, “these comments, coming from peers, family (and) coaches, can have real impacts on boys’ body image.”
The book review site Goodreads credits writer and body image coach Golda Poretsky with the quote, “Weight and body oppression is oppressive to everyone. When you live in a society that says that one kind of body is bad and other is good, those with ‘good’ bodies constantly fear that their bodies will go ‘bad,’ and those with ‘bad’ bodies are expected feel shame and do everything they can to have ‘good’ bodies. In the process, we torture our bodies, and do everything from engage in disordered eating to invasive surgery to make ourselves okay. Nobody wins in this kind of struggle.”