Are Homosexual Couples Healthier?

Homosexual couples talk health more than straight couples

(RxWiki News) Did you know that sexuality could affect health? Straight couples could be more at risk for unhealthy habits than gay and lesbian couples.

"Talk to your partner about staying healthy."

Researchers Corinne Reczek and Debra Umberson, both of who are professors of sociology, conducted the study. Beczek works at the University of Cincinnati while Umberson works at the University of Texas at Austin.

100 in-depth interviews were conducted with people currently involved in relationships that have lasted eight or more years. Fifty relationships total were studied and both partners were interviewed. Twenty of those relationships were heterosexual marriages, fifteen were committed gay male relationships, and fifteen were committed lesbian relationships. The research team also followed the habits of these couples for a certain amount of time.

The study was conducted recently but acted as a continuation of previous research regarding the health of long-term couples in terms of gender roles, "Sociologists have theorized that from early childhood, the socialization of women into caretaker roles has led to health benefits for husbands. Reczek says this newest study is among the first of its kind to explore how gay and lesbian couples affect each other's health habits."
Regardless of sexuality, over 75% of couples engaged in some sort of health conversation on a regular basis. These conversations were generally influenced by two things: one partner had unhealthy habits, or one partner was considered the "health expert". About half of the people -- homosexual and heterosexual alike -- interviewed considered their partner's bad habits the reason for having health conversations. Among the heterosexual couples interviewed, data showed that men were generally the partner with the bad habits in need of the health conversations. Likewise, heterosexual couples who identified one partner as the "health expert" almost exclusively named the woman as occupying that role.
Gender was not a prominent identifier for the "health expert" within the gay and lesbian couples who were interviewed. The study found that homosexual couples (gay and lesbian) were more likely to have mutually reinforcing health habits. 80 or more percent of both gay and lesbian couples had mutually reinforcing habits while only ten percent of the straight couples were found to have mutually reinforcing habits.
The researchers suggested that gay couples already live outside of the general social "norms" thus allowing for more balanced communication to occur, especially in terms of caretaking. "The social and institutional conditions within which gay and lesbian couples live – including a heteronormative and homophobic culture at large, and a non-institutionalized nonheterosexual union – structure a unique relational context for cooperative, more egalitarian health work processes to emerge," write the researchers.
The researchers ultimately suggest that their findings reveal that the, "...gendered relational context of an intimate partnership shapes the dynamics and explanations for health behavior work." Gay and lesbian relationships may have had more of a balance in power and influence because their relationships did not fall into the culturally coded family division of labor.
The study interviewed a somewhat mixed demographic in terms of race/ethnicity: 80 percent of the straight respondents were white, 15 percent were African-American, one Asian-American and one Latina, and gay and lesbian respondents included 63 percent whites, 27 percent who identified as Hispanics, Latinos or Latinas, one African-American, one Native-American/Hispanic, and one South American.
The average age of the straight couples was 45 years while the average for gay males was 49 and 43 for the lesbians. It is possible that data may differ within couples at different ages or with large age gaps between partners. Likewise, the average income of the households was $60,000, portraying couples of a general economic situation. Couples with a lower or higher household income could act differently.
The study was an observational study released in the June 11 issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine. The study was mostly funded by grants from both the National Institute on Aging and the Mentoring Program of The Center for Population Research in LGBT Health.

Review Date: 
June 18, 2012