Bisexual women struggle more with health than lesbians and heterosexuals

A new report has shown that this lack of transparency around bisexuality creates minority stress that in turn has a negative affect on both physical and mental health.

By Andreas R. Graven

While the majority of lesbian and bisexual women in Norway are just as healthy as heterosexual women, bisexual and lesbian women indicate poorer results health wise in some areas. One of these areas is mental health. (Photograph: Colourbox)

Bisexuality continues to be practically out of sight in modern society, the researchers point out. 

The lack of transparency and the uncertainty as to whether society will accept an individual's sexual orientation may have a negative impact on both identity and health.

This is underlined by the researchers who compiled the report at Uni Research Health in Bergen, Norway.

The research project was carried out on assignment from the LGBT Knowledge Centre – National Centre for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs – and forms a part of the Norwegian government's Action Plan for Improving quality of life among lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans persons.

While the majority of lesbian and bisexual women in Norway are just as healthy as heterosexual women, bisexual and lesbian women indicate poorer results health wise in some areas. One of these areas is mental health.

Both the number and severity of mental ailments are higher among bisexual and lesbian women than among heterosexual women, particularly among the younger age groups. 

The group with the highest exposure are bisexual women with low income or low education.

Tried to commit suicide

Close to two in every ten bisexual women (19 percent) and about one in every ten lesbian women (12 percent) reply that they have tried to commit suicide. Comparatively, the same percentage among heterosexual women is 5 percent.

"These results must be taken seriously," underlines Project Manager and Professor Kirsti Malterud from Uni Research Health's Research Unit for General Practice.

Bisexual women also have a lower self-evaluation of their health, more chronic diseases and physical disabilities than lesbian and heterosexual women.

"It appears that minority stress can take different forms and have different significance in terms of identity and health among lesbian and bisexual women," summarises Professor Malterud and her colleague, Professor Norman Anderssen.

They are both researchers at Uni Research Health's Research Unit for General Practice, and professionally responsible for the report. 

Read more about the project here

Lesbians are more open with their GPs
The results of the research also show that lesbians are more satisfied than bisexual women with their sexual orientation. 

Close to three in every four lesbian women (73%) for example are open with their GPs about their sexual orientation, while a much lower percentage – one in four or 17% – of bisexual women have shared such information with their GPs.

The results in the report are based on a review of research literature on this field, and a summary and advanced analyses of health-related data from 197 lesbian women, 405 bisexual women and 979 heterosexual women from the project entitled Sexual orientation and living conditions (2013).

The new study has a solid empirical basis and is more transferable than any former Norwegian research project regarding health among lesbian and bisexual women.  

Suggested measures
The researchers have suggested measures such as increased transparency for bisexuality in Norwegian society and prevention of suicide among younger bisexual women.

They also suggest improvements to the knowledge base within the health services in Norway, in order to be able to provide high quality services to bisexual and lesbian women who may be struggling with severe health problems.

A further measure underlined comprises public health strategies targeting negativity towards homosexuality and bisexuality, and heteronormativity that causes minority stress.

With this report, the researchers were assigned the task of summarising relevant existing research-based knowledge regarding health among lesbian and bisexual women (LB women), charting any differences in health among LB women versus heterosexual women, identifying sub-groups that have a particularly high level of exposure, assessing possible explanations for the differences in health according to sexual orientation and suggesting measures that may help improve the health of LB women in Norway.

Jan. 30, 2015, 9:01 a.m.

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