Keeping Sexuality Secret Takes Mental Toll on Bisexual Men01/04/13
FRIDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Bisexual men have higher
rates of mental health problems than gay men do, and new research
suggests that this burden might stem from their desire to keep
their sexual relationships with men secret.
Researchers evaluated the mental health of more than 200
bisexual men in the New York City area who were on the down-low,
meaning they were married to or in a relationship with a woman and
had had sex with a man in the past year. None of the men had told
their female partner about their same-sex relationship.
The study found that men who wanted to conceal their sex with
other men and were afraid of people finding out were more likely to
experience depression and anxiety and lack positive feelings.
Men who had disclosed their bisexual behavior to someone other
than their partner, like a close friend, were not less likely to
suffer one of these mental health problems.
The study was published Jan. 2 in the
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
"Trying to maintain a constant vigilance and thinking, 'Will someone find out?' and 'What would happen if somebody knew?' appears to be a stressor that adversely affects these men," said study author Eric Schrimshaw, an assistant professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
But the good news is that there could be ways for these men to
ease the toll of hiding their bisexual behavior.
The study suggests that concealment is linked to mental health
problems only in men who have homophobic feelings and who lack good
"Our primary goal should be working with these men to help them feel more comfortable with their identity so that they are less concerned about who might find out and dealing with concealment concerns," Schrimshaw said.
Previous research has found that about 37 percent of men in the
United States who have sex with both men and women experience
clinical depression at some point in their lives, compared with 23
percent of men who only have sex with men and 15 percent of men who
only have sex with women.
The current study involved 203 men who were aged 18 and older.
The men led primarily heterosexual lives, having had sex with a
woman in the past year with whom they were or had been in a
relationship that lasted for at least three months.
The men also had sex with a man within the past year and did not
consider themselves to be gay.
Schrimshaw and his colleagues found that 38 percent of the men
had not told anyone about their sex with men, and the remainder had
told at least one person, in most cases a parent or close
The participants who reported concealing their gay relationship,
fearing others would find out and being embarrassed about it were
more likely to be married or live with their female partner, less
likely to have a regular male partner or frequent male sex, and
more likely to have a household income of at least $30,000 and a
These men could have a stronger desire to conceal because they
have more to lose, Schrimshaw noted.
Although concealing exacted a mental toll on these men, the
study did not find mental health benefits among the men who had
told someone about their bisexual behavior.
Schrimshaw suspects this discrepancy is because the men in their
study could still have been dealing with their sexuality and needed
to come to terms on their own with what might happen if someone
found out before they could get to the point of feeling comfortable
Although bisexual men can become more accepting of their
sexuality over time, and possibly experience fewer mental problems,
it is not known if they typically progress from becoming aware of
their sexuality to exploring and disclosing it, as is thought to be
the case for gay men, Schrimshaw said.
Commenting on the study, Brian Mustanski, director of the IMPACT
LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Health and
Development Program at Northwestern University, said, "Bisexual
groups have not been studied as much, and that is a major strength
of this paper."
However, disclosing could turn out to improve bisexual men's
mental health if they received acceptance from the person they
told, Mustanski said. The study did not compare the mental health
of men who experienced positive and negative reactions to sharing
The finding that the relationship between concealing and poor
mental health could be due to men lacking support and having
negative attitudes about their sexuality could help psychologists
and counselors, Mustanski said.
"Instead of discussing disclosure, you're perhaps better off discussing their sexuality as part of who they are and building networks of accepting people in their lives," Mustanski said.
Nonetheless, Schrimshaw and his colleagues wrote in their study,
encouraging disclosing can be appropriate if men have accepted
their sexuality, and in cases where their female partner could be
at risk of HIV or another sexually transmitted disease.
Mustanski encourages men who are having sex with both men and
women and who want help to go to an LGBT center where they can find
a therapist and receive health care.
For more information and a directory of health care providers,
Gay and Lesbian Medical
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