Sexuality Matters: Health Disparities between Sexual Minority Women & Heterosexuals

Sexual minorities can face a number of social challenges such as marginalization, discrimination, and stigma, which generally have been associated with various negative health outcomes. A recent study compared the mental, cognitive, and functional health of lesbian and bisexual women age 65 and better with that of heterosexual women.

In comparing all study participants, the researcher found that compared to heterosexual women, lesbians had 2.3 times greater odds of facing activity limitations due to a health issue, 2.4 times greater odds of needing help with independent activities of daily living (IADLs) and almost 3 times the odds of having difficulty walking or using stairs. Compared to heterosexual women, bisexual women had 2.4 times greater odds of facing cognitive limitations, and 2.7 times greater odds of needing help with IADLs.

In the 65 to 69 age range, sexual minority women had 2 times greater odds of facing activity limitations, 2.9 greater odds of having difficulty walking or using stairs, and 3 times greater odds of having difficulties with IADLs. For women in their 70s, sexual minority women still showed nearly the same odds of facing difficulties with IADLs. In addition, they had 3.7 times the odds of cognitive limitations. There were no significant differences for women in their 80s.

When the researcher examined socioeconomic background and race/ethnicity, they found that for lesbian and bisexual women, at lower incomes the likelihood of depression is similar to that of heterosexual women. However, at higher incomes, lesbian and gay women’s probability of depression was higher than for heterosexual women. As for education, sexual minorities with high school education or less had 4.2 times lower odds of having frequent mental distress and 3. 2 times lower odds of activity limitations than sexual minority women with at least some college.

Another interesting finding was that nonwhite sexual minorities were 7.1 times less likely to face activity limitations and 5 times less likely to use special equipment compared to white sexual minorities. Nonwhite sexual minorities were also 4.1 times less likely to report frequent mental distress compared to white sexual minorities.

The above shows the importance of appreciating how sexual orientation can impact health, as well as appreciating differences in subgroups of sexual minorities.



Seelman KL. Differences in mental, cognitive, and functional health by sexual orientation among older women: analysis of the 2015 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, The Gerontologist. (2018). DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnx215

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