(dailyRx News) Did you know that sexuality could affect health? Straight couples could be more at risk for unhealthy habits than gay and lesbian couples.
A recent study found that most gay and lesbian couples are more likely to mutually influence each other's health habits and attitudes -- whether good or bad habits.
Only a minimal number of straight couples exhibited a pattern of mutual health influence.
Researchers, Corinne Reczek and Debra Umberson, both Doctors of Sociology, conducted the study. Reczek works at the University of Cincinnati while Umberson works at the University of Texas at Austin.
One hundred 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 acted as a continuation of previous research regarding the health of long-term couples in terms of gender roles .
Researchers previously suggested that because many women are raised to be caretakers, some husbands may gain health benefits later on.
"Sociologists have theorized that from early childhood, the socialization of women into caretaker roles has led to health benefits for husbands." Reczek and Umberson were curious to see how that idea fit into the gay and lesbian model where both genders are not present.
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.
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. Homosexual couples live in a culture modeled after a heterosexual lifestyle, both socially and institutionally, allowing for more cooperative and equal health work to occur.
These 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 more of a balance in power and influence because their relationships did not fall into the typical masculine/feminine labor roles.
The study interviewed a somewhat mixed demographic in terms of race and 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 age was 49 for gay males and 43 for the lesbians. It is possible that data may differ within couples at different ages or with large age gaps between partners.
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.