Study Finds Gay And Bi Teenage Boys Much More Likely To Use Steroids: But Why?

A new study conducted by Masschusetts General Hospital finds that gay and bisexual teenage boys are at a much higher risk for steroid use. The data, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, was conducted from 2005 to 2007 and based on 17,250 teenage boys whose average age was 16 years old. Out of those 17,250 boys, 635 (around four percent) identified as bisexual or gay.

Here's a round-up of the results:

  • 21 percent of bisexual or gay teenage boys said they had used steroids at some point
  • On the other hand, only four percent of straight boys said they used steroids at some point
  • For bi or gay male teens, eight percent reported moderate steroid use; versus two percent of straight boys
  • Four percent of bi or gay teens reported heavy steroid use; versus less than one percent of straight boys

Beyond these results, however, the scientists noted that certain factors among gay and bi male populations would be more likely to increase steroid use:

Exploratory analyses suggested that increased depressive symptoms/suicidality, victimization, and substance use contributed to this disparity...Prevention and intervention efforts are needed for sexual minority adolescent boys.

The results of this study come less than a month after another study showing that teenage boys who were underweight — and bullied for it — often faced a higher rate of depression, which contributed greatly to steroid use.

Author of the study Dr. Blashill told the American Psychological Association:

Teenage girls tend to internalize and strive for a thin appearance, whereas teenage boys tend to emphasize a more muscular body type. We found that some of these boys who feel they are unable to achieve that often unattainable image are suffering and may be taking drastic measures.

This new study's results go hand-in-hand with that previous study — after all, gay teens already have much higher rates of suicide or depression. Since depression is heavily linked to steroid use, the correlation between sexual orientation and steroid use doesn't come as much of a surprise.

Back in 2005, another study addressed the particular body image concerns of gay men. While the study certainly leaves out bisexual men, it still offers valuable insight as to how a body aesthetic develops among sexual minority men. From the abstract:

For this cross-sectional study, 357 gay males completed a Web-based survey, and 2 multiple regression analyses indicated that minority stress factors (i.e., internalized homophobia, expected stigma for being gay, and experiences of physical attack) were associated with body image dissatisfaction and masculine body ideal distress...Gay men's conformity to masculine norms was not associated with body image dissatisfaction but did uniquely explain an additional 3% of variance in masculine body ideal distress scores.

The study further discusses how "traditional masculinity" might add onto "gender-related presenting concerns.

A more recent study in 2009, published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity and authored by Dr. Francisco J. Sánchez, demonstrated how gay men may face pressure to adhere to a masculine aesthetic in order to be accepted by society and to be seen as desirable by other men. This additional context also may help explain the disproportionately higher use of steroids among teenage gay and bi boys, who may be using them to "bulk up."