There are pros and cons to owning a pet as a marginalized individual.
- Since 2018, an ongoing study at the VCU School of Social Work has been analyzing the way pets impact the lives of young LGBTQ individuals.
- From animal-assisted therapy practices to having therapy dogs in schools to reduce anxiety, there are many mental health benefits to animal-human interactions.
- While the majority of current research is being focused on people who are not discriminated against or marginalized by society, this specific study could bring more clarity to how pets positively and negatively impact the lives of young LGBTQ people.
An ongoing study at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work is doing research into the ways that pets and other forms of social support can impact the lives of young LGBTQ individuals.
This study began in 2018 and has since focused on the role that animals specifically play in the lives of LGBTQ youth between the ages of 15-21 years old. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of these interviews with individuals have been conducted via video conferences. The study parameters have even expanded, allowing for questions about what it's been like to have pets during the coronavirus lockdown.
Associate professors Shelby McDonald, Alex Wagaman, and Traci Wike work alongside a team of student researchers (including Caroline Richards and Ryan O'Ryan) to interview LGBTQ individuals on their experiences with pets and how that has impacted their lives.
Questions in these interviews include things relating to:
- Detailing their relationship with their pets
- Any stressors or benefits to living with a pet
- The impact of pets during coronavirus lockdown
McDonald explains to Commonwealth Times: "We added questions about experiences with pets during the pandemic because we wanted to expand our focus to understand how pets might support gender and sexual minority youth who were forced to live at home in a family environment that might not affirm their identity."
Does human-animal interaction impact a person’s experience and well-being?
From animal-assisted therapies to having dogs visit schools to bring down stress and anxiety levels, there have been many studies that look at the benefits of pet ownership.
Photo by Joshua Resnick on Shutterstock
Absolutely. Over the years, many studies have proven the benefits of human-animal interactions. From animal-assisted therapy practices to having therapy dogs in schools to reduce anxiety - there are many mental health benefits to animal-human interactions.
A similar study has been done on the impact of pets in the lives of older LGBT individuals.
A different 2018 study explored the role of pets in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults over the age of 50.
This particular study addressed the following questions:
- How does living with a pet impact perceived social support and social network size?
- How do LGBT older adults describe the meaning of pets in their lives?
In this study, over 59 percent of participants reported that they have pets and described them in affectionate terms, often referring to them as family. Many individuals classified their pets as "supportive" either by offering companionship or keeping them active and socializing. Many participants explained that their pets help them cope with some form of physical or mental health condition.
How is this study different?
The goal of this particular study is to focus on the younger LGBTQ population and to examine how human-animal interactions might impact a person's experience and well-being when faced with victimization over their sexual orientation or identity. Not only that, but this study takes a look at both the positive and negative impacts of having a pet as an LGBTQ individual.
The vast majority of current research focuses on people who are not discriminated against or marginalized by society. According to the researchers, pets may lead marginalized people to "a path of financial stress and housing instability," which are issues the LGBTQ community already struggles with.
"Pets can better people's lives," Richards explains to Commonwealth Times, "but it's also been interesting to see the ways in which pets can be stressors for people experiencing homelessness and financial insecurity."
Shelby McDonald, one of the lead associate professors on the study, has dedicated the last decade of her life to researching the role of animals in the lives of children and has recently turned that focus toward LGBTQ youth.
As of September 2, the researchers have conducted 164 initial interviews. O'Ryan, one of the student researchers, explains: "We've collected a pretty diverse bunch, but the participants we interviewed have been largely white, cisgender, bisexual women. I wish we had the chance to interview more people of color and more people from diverse gender identities."
For more information on the study or a change to join as a participant, email email@example.com.
Mexico City, already progressive, takes more steps to protect its LGBT+ citizens.
- Mexico City has just issued a ban protecting its citizens from "conversion therapy."
- "Conversion therapy" is a loose term covering a wide variety of "treatments" which claim to alter a person's sexuality.
- With the law, Mexico City joins a small club of countries, provinces, and municipalities with such a law.
In a win for LGBT+ individuals, the regional congress of Mexico City passed legislation banning conversion therapy throughout its jurisdiction. The vote took place virtually due to the current pandemic, and the bill enjoyed multi-party support. A medical practitioner who provides conversion therapy will now face five years of jail time for doing so, and more if they attempt the treatments on a minor.
The legislation is being celebrated as a win for the LGBT+ community. With it, Mexico City joins a handful of countries, states, provinces, and municipalities that have explicitly banned these dangerous procedures.
The ashes in the dustbin of history, examined.
Conversion therapy refers to a wide array of procedures that ostensibly alter a person's sexual orientation. These can include anything from trying to "pray the gay away" to aversion therapies that border torture. Variations of the idea of curing homosexuality have been around since the dawn of modern psychology. The amount of acceptance that the concept enjoyed waxed and waned as our understanding of sexuality evolved.
Sigmund Freud famously declared homosexuality "nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation" in a letter to the mother of a gay man who sought his help in "curing" her son. In the same letter, Freud expressed doubt that any therapy could reliably alter human sexuality in a meaningful way.
His daughter, an influential psychologist in her own right, felt differently, suggesting that such a treatment could exist and describing homosexual tendencies in terms of neurotic illness. In the United States, several psychologists argued that such behavior could be "cured" through a variety of procedures, such as electroshock treatment, lobotomy, aversive conditioning, and confrontational therapy often indistinguishable from abuse.
After Stonewall and the rise of modern views of human sexuality, most psychologists and their associations stopped considering homosexuality as a disease.
In the 21st century, the American Psychological Association asked its members to "avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts by promoting or promising change in sexual orientation when providing assistance to individuals distressed by their own or others' sexual orientation." Similar actions have taken place around the world. Recently, the United Nations' expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identify called for a global ban on the practice.
Despite these efforts and others like them, some forms of conversion therapy continue to exist, and a few people still preach its benefits.
This is rather dangerous. While no widely accepted study demonstrates the effectiveness of conversion therapy, credible studies show its adverse outcomes. People who undergo these discredited treatments are at a higher risk of suicide, anxiety, depression, and drug use.
Who isn’t as progressive as Mexico City yet? Where is progress being made?
Areas in dark blue have issued bans on conversion therapy. Light blue signifies a case by case ban. Areas in yellow are/have considered bans. The grey areas offer no protections against conversion therapy.
By Stinger20 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66533359
The above map shows the various places around the world where conversion therapy is banned, legal, or being challenged. Many of the locations shown in yellow are making significant progress towards a ban of this harmful group of procedures. As you might expect, the details of the laws in effect vary by location. Some of the prohibitions are de facto rather than explicit, some only apply to medical professionals carrying out these procedures, and some are enforced not by law but by the mutual agreement of psychologists.
The United Kingdom has taken substantial steps towards a ban, with the NHS and the major psychological and counseling associations of the UK condemning the practice. The government has promised to study the issue in detail before moving forward with legislation that could end the practice. Several organizations continue to advocate for law immediately settling the matter.
In India, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil revealed that he had endured electroshock therapy as a young man after coming out to his less than supportive parents. Since coming out in 2006, he has worked with various charities to help LGBT+ individuals and even opened up his palace grounds for those who were forced out of their families for who they are. His opening up comes alongside protests in India against the practice.
In the United States, discussions of a ban have taken place in many areas not currently protected by one. LGBT+ organizations in those states without bans are actively campaigning for them. The state of Minnesota attempted to pass legislation to that effect last year, but that portion of the bill was cut out. Activists have taken to the local level as they prepare to try again.
Mexico City's ban is entirely in character for a city with a reputation of a protector of LGBT+ rights. In 2009, it was the first place in Mexico to legalize gay marriage and institute a variety of legal equalities. Gay Rights have been slower to gain respect in the rest of Mexico, though its Supreme Court stands ready to protect the rights of LGBT+ individuals in states that have dragged their feet on adopting federal law equalizing marriage.
Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past, say researchers.
"What I was hearing at the beginning of the pandemic was that people who were already anxious were more anxious than ever, and we didn't find that," said researcher Annesa Flentje, an assistant professor in the University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing, in a university press release. "In looking at averages across the LGBTQ+ population, we found the greatest changes in anxiety were among people who weren't anxious prior to the pandemic."
For the study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).
The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant PRIDE Study (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population.
Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a PHQ-9 score of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a GAD-7 score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder.
Risks among gender and sexual minorities
The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.
Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the general population to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid medical leave, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.
"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for health care professionals to support, affirm and provide critical care for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."
What should health care providers do?
The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices.
"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.
Sexuality is fluid and it's important that people get to define it for themselves.
- Sexuality is fluid and ever-changing, and our understanding of it has come a long way since the invention of the Kinsey Scale in the 1940's.
- Defining your own sexuality is important as it is a uniquely personal experience.
- While creating labels for yourself can help you better understand your orientation and build connections along your sexual journey, it's important not to place labels on others. Be open to hearing how they see themselves and respectful enough to refer to them on those terms.
Sexuality can be a big part of your identity. It can encompass nearly every aspect of your being, including your actions, your attitude, your behaviors, and your feelings. It can impact the way you experience sexual attraction (if you do) and it can alter your preferences around sexual and romantic relationships.
Why is sexuality thought of as a spectrum?
A spectrum, in this context, is a tool that can help us better understand the fluidity of sexuality, among other things. The Kinsey Scale, perhaps one of the most well-known spectrum scales, was created in 1948 by Alfred Kinsey, founder of the Kinsey Institute.
The scale allows people at "zero" to report as exclusively heterosexual, and people at the opposite end (six) to report as exclusively homosexual - with ratings 1-5 being people who report varying levels of attraction or sexual activity with either sex. There is also a "category X" designated for those who report no sexual reactions or relations.
This scale was the first of it's kind and it challenged the perceptions of sexuality and really, was a starting point for where we are today.
Modern-day sexuality and labels...
Over time, we have learned more and more about the sexuality spectrum and it's become more and more normalized to place yourself really anywhere along the spectrum. It's safe to say we have come a very long way since the 1940s when the Kinsey Scale was first created.
Sexuality is fluid, it is ever-changing and extremely personal - defining your own sexuality is what's important, not placing these labels on others for them. It's also extremely normal to be overwhelmed by all the different words we now have to describe various sexual and romantic orientations, attractions, and behaviors.
Along with the ever-growing spectrum, it's our responsibility as human beings to adapt and expand the language we use to describe our own (and other people's) sexual preferences. While these "labels" can help us better understand ourselves, they are by no means set in stone.
Defining lesser-known orientations along the spectrum
Unofficial Kinsey Scale test (an official test does not exist, according to the Kinsey Institute)
"Many persons do not want to believe that there are gradations in these matters from one to the other extreme." - Sexual Behavior of the Human Female, 1953.
It's safe (and wonderful) to say that we have come a long way since the 1950's. Sexuality and sexual orientation have become more widely talked about, accepted, and even respected. There are still many areas of the world where people are punished for simply existing as who they are and loving who they love, but the best thing we can do as a society is to adapt and evolve with the spectrum.
In the spirit of adapting and growing, here is a breakdown of some lesser-known orientations along the sexuality spectrum.
Autosexual and/or Autoromantic
Autosexuality is the idea of being sexually attracted to yourself. Autoromantic describes the notion of being in a romantic relationship with yourself.
Autosexuality can mean being turned on by your own look, being excited to spend time alone rather than with a significant other, and/or masturbating to the idea of yourself.
Dr. Jess O'Reilly, a sex and relationship expert, suggests that we may all be "a shade of autosexual," with some people using it to define themselves and others shying away from it due to body shaming.
While autosexuality is often used synonymously with narcissism, Dr. O'Reilly believes otherwise: "[The core erotic feeling] is a feeling you require to even consider having sex, and for many of us, our core erotic feeling involves feeling sexy and feeling desired. You might have an outside source who conveys that desire or it may even be within yourself."
Dr. O'Reilly goes on to question: "Can't we give ourselves permission to feel arousal in response to our own body?"
Demisexual (compared to Graysexual and Asexual)
To be demisexual is to experience sexual attraction in very specific situations, most often with people you have an emotional connection with.
Someone who identifies as demisexual can typically only experience and thrive in sexual attraction once an emotional bond has been formed. That bond doesn't necessarily have to be explained as love or romance, but it can be friendship (even a platonic friendship) that allows them to feel a sexual or romantic attraction.
While many people choose to only have sexual relations with people we feel connected to, demisexual people aren't making that choice, but rather, they need that bond to even begin to feel sexually attracted to someone.
And yet, having an emotional bond with someone doesn't mean people who identify as demisexual will develop a sexual attraction to that person—just as heterosexual men are attracted to women but may not find every single woman they meet to be attractive.
Graysexual, on the other hand, is often considered as the "gray area" between asexual (a term used to describe not having any sexual attraction to others) and allosexual (the opposite of asexual; also called sexual).
People who identify as graysexual don't explicitly or exclusively identify with being asexual or allosexual. They do experience sexual attraction or desire on some level but perhaps not the same intensity as people on either end of the asexual-allosexual line.
Pansexual, Pomosexual and Spectrasexual
Pansexual is a term that describes individuals who experience sexual, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to any person regardless of that person's gender, sex, or sexual orientation.
Pomosexual is more of a term than an identity. It's used to describe individuals who reject sexuality labels or who simply don't identify with any one of them.
Spectrasexuality is a term used to describe people who are able to feel romantic or physical attraction/emotional connections with people of multiple or various sexual orientations and genders, but not necessarily all of them (or any of them).
These terms are often used interchangeably, but it's important to point out the differences. Pansexual is by far the most commonly used word of the bunch and is more geared towards not seeing the label and seeing the person instead, thus being able to build romantic and sexual relationships with anyone, regardless of their orientation.
People who identify as spectrasexual, on the other hand, are able to be attracted to multiple or various genders or sexual orientations, but still may have certain preferences.
Striving for diversity is honorable — but the focus should settle on something much deeper than phenotypic traits.
- In efforts to achieve diversity, whether within workplace teams or elsewhere, leaders often focus on variation of identities regarding race, gender, sexual orientation, and physicality.
- Evolutionary biologist Heather Heying urges that these efforts be taken a step further to focus on diversity of viewpoints and socioeconomic status — two forms of identity that are less apparent without thoughtful conversation.
- Achieving diversity in these ways adds varying life experiences and opinions that enrich office or team culture and provide more innovative solutions.