Exploring Sexual Health: An Introduction to LGBTQ
What does LGBTQ mean? What support do LGBTQ people need? To understand LGBTQ, we need to first define the terms gender identity and sexual orientation. Gender identity refers to how you see yourself, as either a male, female, a blend of both or neither. A person’s gender identity can be same or different from their sex assigned at birth. This perception is often influenced by other factors, such as societal and cultural norms. For example, masculine behaviours are often associated with males.
On the other hand, sexual orientation is related to one’s emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to others. Sexual orientation is not discrete, but rather ranges over a continuum. However, it is generally discussed in terms of homosexual or heterosexual. A person of homosexual orientation is one that is attracted to the same sex, while a person of heterosexual orientation is one that is attracted to the opposite sex. There may not necessarily be a correlation between sexual orientation and gender identity, a masculine woman or a feminine man may be heterosexual.
It should be noted that one’s gender identity and sexual orientation can change over time.
What does LGBTQ mean?
Previously termed as LGBT, the acronym has now expanded to LGBTQ to be more inclusive. The definition of each letter in the acronym are as follow -
L- Lesbian: Refers to a woman who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to another woman.
G- Gay: Refers to a man who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to another man.
B- Bisexual: Refers to someone who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to more than one gender, although not necessarily simultaneously or to the same extent.
T- Transgender: Describes someone whose gender identity or expression does not conform to what is expected according to the sex they were assigned at birth.
Q- Queer/Questioning: Queer is often used as an umbrella term for those who are not straight or cisgender, people whose gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth. Queer can also be used by those who refuses to put a label on their gender and sexual orientation. Questioning is a termed often used for those who are not sure how they identify, they are questioning their identity.
The use of ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’ and ‘bisexual’ reflects an individual’s sexual orientation. The term ‘transgender’ describes one’s gender identity, being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation.
The list of letters in the acronym can, and does, continue to expand. This is an effort to include the different communities as much as possible as the terms used to talk about LGBTQ people are constantly evolving.
Recommended Reading: Contraception for Transgender and Nonbinary Individuals
Prejudices and disparities that LGBTQ people face
LGBTQ individuals are part of every community. A study done by Gallup reported that 5.6% of adults in the US identified as LGBTQ. In 2019, a study by the National University of Singapore estimated that 210,000 men had sex with men. A poll done in Japan in 2019 also reported that at least 1 in 11 people identified as LGBTQ. Yet despite the advances in LGBTQ acceptance and rights, those who identify as LGBTQ often still face both internal and external stigma. Many developed internalized homophobia which can result in difficulties with self-acceptance and not being open about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Externally, they have to deal with prejudice, discrimination and violence, of which this stigmatisation can negatively affect their physical and mental health, and their education. One study conducted in the US found that lesbian, gay or bisexual youths were more likely to skip school due to fear, being threatened by others and having their properties damaged, compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
The stigmatisation may even carry on beyond the schooling years. Many of those who identified as LGBTQ had to face family members who disapproved of same-sex relationships, disabled LGBTQ persons or LGBTQ elderlies have to cope with social isolation and those from an ethnic minority background may face racism. These people could also be working in an environment where others are transphobic, where others have a negative attitude, dislike or prejudice towards transgender or transsexual people.
Research have shown that those who identified as LGBTQ face a higher risk of developing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide compared to their heterosexual counterparts. LGBTQ people also tend to have more physical health problems, including an increased tobacco use, HIV and AIDS, and weight-related problems.
‘Reparative therapy’ and ‘sexual orientation conversion therapy’ are used by some organisations in an attempt to change the sexual orientation of an individual. These therapies are counselling and psychotherapy sessions aimed at eliminating or suppressing homosexuality. The American Psychiatric Association does not support the idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder. Hence, the American Psychological Association believe that as homosexuality is not a mental disorder, it does not require therapy nor can it be ‘cured’. Moreover, it is reported that there is insufficient evidence to show the efficacy of such therapies. A study has also found that such therapies may instead harm young people as they often frame the inability of one to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.
Thus, many medical, health and mental health profession organisations have discouraged the use of such therapies. They believe that it is not the role of the counsellor to attempt to change one’s sexual orientation, but should instead provide support to LGBTQ people so that they are able to promote self-acceptance and personal well-being.
There are now more mental health and social support services available for LGBTQ individuals than before. At Dear Doc, we promote an inclusive and diverse community. Through our sexual health consultation channel, our doctors can provide you with the support you need, be it to support your personal well-being or to accompany you on the journey of self-discovery.
Hunt L, Vennat M, Waters JH. Health and Wellness for LGBTQ. Adv Pediatr. 2018 Aug;65(1):41-54. doi: 10.1016/j.yapd.2018.04.002. Epub 2018 May 21. PMID: 30053929.
American Psychological Association. (2006, June 1). Just the facts about sexual orientation and youth: A primer for school personnel. http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/just-the-facts
Michael Schroeder PsyD & Ariel Shidlo PhD (2002) Ethical Issues in Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapies: An Empirical Study of Consumers, Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy, 5:3-4, 131-166, DOI: 10.1300/J236v05n03_09