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Gay, bisexual boys more likely to use steroids
February 4th, 2014
12:36 PM ET

Gay, bisexual boys more likely to use steroids

Everyone has heard about steroid abuse in the context of professional athletics, but its misuse among adolescent boys has gotten a lot less attention.

A new study suggests that gay and bisexual adolescent boys are more than five times more likely to use anabolic-androgenic steroids - which increase the development of secondary male sex characteristics - than heterosexual adolescent boys.  The study appeared Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers Aaron Blashill and Steven Safren, both affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, were "shocked" at how much more steroid use affects sexual minorities, Blashill said.  It is not common to find such a strong disparity in psychological research.

"It really highlights that this is clearly an at-risk group," Blashill said.

Background

Testosterone and synthetic derivatives of it are forms of anabolic-androgenic steroids. These substances are most commonly used to enhance strength, performance or muscularity, according to the study.

Nearly 25% of adult men who misuse these steroids say they first started during adolescence.  However, this is the first study to examine the issue as it pertains to sexual orientation in boys, and to find a significant difference in sexual minorities compared to heterosexuals.

"We know steroid use among boys usually is more driven by appearance-related motives as opposed to performance enhancement, as we see with pro athletes," Blashill said. "The motives are a bit different."

Serious health problems may ensue from chronic use of anabolic-androgenic steroids.  Adolescent use of these steroids has been associated with cardiovascular, endocrine and psychiatric complications, in addition to other negative health outcomes, the study said.

Methods

Researchers analyzed information gathered from 17,250 adolescent boys who came from 14 jurisdictions around the United States.  Of these participants, 635 were classified as "sexual minorities" based on their answers to questions about sexual identity, attraction and behavior. The study authors did not ask about transgender identity.

The data were collected in the form of surveys given to the boys in 2005 and 2007.

Participants answered questions about how many times they had taken steroid pills or shots without a doctor's prescription, as well as questions gauging symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts.  They also answered questions about substance abuse and victimization. A question about asthma was included because this is a condition for which some steroids are used as a treatment.

Results

Researchers found that 21% of adolescent boys who were classified as sexual minorities misused anabolic-androgenic steroids in their lives, compared to 4% of heterosexual boys.

"The most startling finding is that when you look at the severe users," who had used the steroids 40 or more times in their life, "that disparity continued," Blashill said.

Sexual minority boys also tended to have a greater likelihood of experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, victimization and substance abuse.  These were also predictors of misusing anabolic-androgenic steroids.

When researchers controlled for these variables, they still observed an effect of sexual minority status on steroid misuse, but it was a weaker association.  Blashill believes that body image issues would explain the rest of the link between steroid misuse and sexual orientation, but the study did not directly study perceptions of body image.

Previous studies have shown that body dissatisfaction is a strong predictor of anabolic-androgenic steroid misuse, and that gay males tend to report more dissatisfaction with their bodies than heterosexual males.

Caveats

This is a correlational study, which means that researchers did not prove that having symptoms of depression or having been victimized drives people to use anabolic-androgenic steroids.  The study did not address whether the pattern is the same in rural vs. urban settings.

A possible design flaw is that participants answered questions about using "steroids" without a prescription, not "anabolic-androgenic steroids," so they may have been thinking about corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone. Corticosteroids are drugs resembling cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands.

But the study authors argue that because the steroid question followed prompts about illegal substances, participants were more likely to be thinking about anabolic-androgenic steroids during the survey.

More research is needed to confirm the findings of this study.

Conclusions

Medical providers, school counselors, and therapists should include anabolic-androgenic steroids as part of a standard assessment of drugs and alcohol, Blashill said. They should also consider other performance and appearance-enhancing drugs, which also carry health risks.

"If we know that a boy has body image concerns, then we definitely should be assessing what sort of behaviors he might be engaged in, in response to that dissatisfaction," Blashill said.


soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. jamul bob

    Narcissism and the gay lifestyle are two sides of the same coin. No demographic is as self-centered as the gay community; hence the advent of "Gay Pride".

    February 4, 2014 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rob

      Bob, perhaps you could quantify how much more self-centered and narcissistic the gay community is than any other subset of the population. It sounds like you're the expert on gay community issues so maybe you could go so far as to provide a link to where you found this data. Oh wait, this is just your personal opinion. Someone can be proud of who they are and what they stand for and not be narcissistic or self-centered. You know what is two sides of the same coin? Ignorant people and making ignorant remarks. Funny how that works.

      February 4, 2014 at 14:34 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      You might have touched upon something. Using my Facebook friends as an example, I have several gay male friends (a few female but that's not what I focusing on right now). Half of these gay males post full body pics of themselves scantily dressed on a regular basis. None of my straight male friends do this.

      February 4, 2014 at 23:12 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Oh, and they're extremely buff and muscled. One of them posts pics of himself in his little tight underwear.

      February 4, 2014 at 23:30 | Report abuse |
    • Razi

      But the correlation between steroid use and victimization might as well indicate that they are talking it to gain muscle mass for an edge on fighting back against bullies. Getting a nice six pack might just be icing on the cake.

      February 5, 2014 at 17:00 | Report abuse |
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    • Dan Z

      When you grow up listening to haters and ignorant people like the posters here, you have to try harder to like yourself. Some of you refer to gay friends but I have to wonder whether you really are friends to them or not since you have such unkind opinions of them.

      February 6, 2014 at 15:59 | Report abuse |
  2. JOHN

    Being gay is a lifestyle as much as being straight is a lifestyle. When I hear straight men and women refer to themselves as having a heterosexual lifestyle then I will be open to using that term. And that is two sides of the same coin.

    February 4, 2014 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jujubeans

      Right; you choose your lifestyle; you don't choose being gay or straight.

      February 4, 2014 at 16:23 | Report abuse |
  3. Ryan

    I wonder if the comments will have anything to do with the article?

    February 5, 2014 at 14:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ben

      Unlikely, considering this is a mainstream media site.

      February 5, 2014 at 16:07 | Report abuse |
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  5. Derick Gardner

    Jen is right. Most gay guys are only concerned about their appearance and they tend to be exhibitionists. Of course, they are going to attempt to use anything they can get their hands on to attain perfection. I should know because I'm gay myself. However, the older you get the harder it becomes, and eventually you realize that remaining in a so-called "state of perfection" is unsustainable. We are all victims of the aging process and trying to fight it and look young when you are already old just makes you look ridiculous not to mention the butt of a lot of bad jokes.

    February 6, 2014 at 03:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Vanessa

      I have quite a few gay guy friends and I can say none of them are solely concerned about their appearance. Yes, like the rest of us that like to look good, they do care about their appearance. But that's not their sole concern.

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  6. Jesse

    Makes sense. I've spent a lot of time in gyms. At first I was kinda surprised by the numbers of huge bodybuilder dudes that were gay, but then I started seeing it so much it's like common knowledge to me. I always just theorized on my own that those big bodybuilder guys do what they do (bodybuilding) because they are obsessed with the perfect male form. They not only want it for themselves, they are attracted to it.

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    Ironically, most of the bodybuilding world and publicity targets heterosexual people so in my eyes it is heterosexual people who are far more concerned about physical appearance.

    Have you seen those ads where a male bodybuilder is showed with phrases like "how to be better in bed" or "how to shape the abs that will get you the women of your dreams" etc?

    Heterosexual people are certainly really shallow and publicity understands it.

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