Monday, May 4, 2009

Does Dutch study really show queer women are more unhealthy and unhappy than straight women?

On Friday night faith made a comment on Twitter about how we –lesbians and bisexual women - are all so unhealthy and depressed accompanied by a link, which led to a newspaper story. “Lesbians more often depressed and tired,” the headline told me and the actual content wasn’t much better.

It went on to say how research has shown that “lesbians and bisexual women more often have psychosocial health problems than straight women. They suffer from being stigmatized because of their sexual orientation. They have sleeping disorders, suffer from anxiety and depression, are distrusting of others and think they do not function well.”

Headline from

At first I thought it was just this particular news outlet hyping the story and making it more extreme, but when I had a good look on the internet, I noticed this story was everywhere. Every single Dutch news website was reporting about the unhealthyness of Dutch lesbians/bisexuals, one headline more extreme than the other (“lesbian more often sick and unhappy", "Lesbians unhappier and unhealthier", "Lesbians sick, weak and nauseous").

Not to mention the photos they were using to accompany the story. They seemed all rather random, because well, no one seems to know what us lesbians look like, or in some instances, the photos were even extreme.

Headline from

Really Spits, is this what you want people to think all lesbians look like?

The next day I found out that the story had even been on national television, including the 8 o’clock news. From what I have heard, they not only covered the study but also interviewed some poor lesbian, who complained about how tough it is to be gay.

Even my sister asked me about it, saying she didn’t quite get why this woman was so upset and was being gay really that tough for me too? On Tuesday even the government took notice, and they are now going to think about how the situation can be improved.

The study they were all reporting about wasn’t news to me; I knew they had done some stuff on lesbians and bisexual women that would be presented on Friday. What did come as a total surprise was the amount of attention it got, and especially the extreme way it was reported.

Now the latter is nothing new, as this usually happens whenever research results are shared with the press. Most newspapers do not care about the little details, they just want to hear some of the main conclusions and then they run with it.

The researcher in me was really curious to find out what exactly they found in the study, therefore I contacted the organization behind it all, Stichting Ondersteboven, and asked them for a research report.

None was available yet, but they did give me a summary of the research results. What exactly did they do in the study and what did they find? (Non geeks feel free to skip the next few paragraphs)

Website Stichting Ondersteboven

The aim of this study was to compare the psychosocial health of lesbians and bisexual women with women from the general population, to get an idea of the extent of stigmatizing and negative experiences of queer women, and to look at the correlation between level of stigmatization and psychosocial health.

1327 lesbian and bisexual women from all over the Netherlands took part in an online study and filled in a few questionnaires about depression, fear, sleeping disorders, rage, worrying, suspicion and somatic problems. They then compared the results to the norm figures of a sample of women from the general public.

In addition, participants were asked about any negative experiences they had had in the last 6 months in relation to their lifestyle, family situation, or sexual orientation, and what these events looked like.

Results showed that queer women scored higher than the general straight population on everything (i.e., anxiety, fear, depression, anger, suspicion, sleeping disorders and somatic complaints). This was especially apparent for women under the age of 25, who reported the most psychological and somatic complaints. This is not that surprising, as we all know how intense our coming to terms with our sexual orientation and our coming outs can be.

More importantly, the study showed that all of these things were related to the amount of stigmatization queer women experienced. Stigmatization in this study includes everything from being called names or being asked nosey questions, to more serious stuff. Thus, the more negative experiences queer women had had in the last 6 months, the more psychological and somatic complaints they reported.

What I miss in this summary is information about the amount of queer women who are not doing so well. The mere fact that as a whole queer women have more psychological and somatic complaints than straight women, doesn’t really tell us anything.

Is this difference caused by a small group of (young) queer women who have a hard time with their sexual orientation and coming out? Or is it a large group of queer women that have problems? How many of us experience “stigmatization” for being gay and how often does this take place? All these questions are important and need to be answered, before any real conclusions can be drawn.


I think it is good that this study was done, as it is the first of its kind. Lesbians and bisexual women are not often looked at as a separate group, whether it involves research about our health and wellbeing, or about other things like what we are like as a community, about sex education etc. We are so often marginalised and this is exactly why Stichting Ondersteboven conducted this study and gave it so much public attention.

The whole aim of this organization is to improve the position and visibility of lesbians and bisexual women in the Netherlands. This study, and the money and resources they hope to attain through it, is one way to help those queer women who need it, but the organization has also been involved in numerous other activities during the last few years, including the Femme 2009 awards, we reported about in WAE some weeks ago.

I admire the initiative of Stichting Ondersteboven and I think it is important we, as a group, get the attention that we deserve. However, I am not quite sure I agree with the way they go about this. As pointed out, lesbians are being portrayed too much like victims in the news.

The one time a year we get any attention in the news (besides around Gay Pride weekend when we are all pictured as drunk and annoying), the whole country is told we are all so unhealthy and depressed. Now how does that help us exactly?

This article was first published on eurOut. I was too lazy to embed all the links into this article. If you are interested in those, check out the version that’s on eurOut.


Meg said...

that picture of those two women crack me up every time i see it. lol

Nelfy said...

I hate that with these reports, there is often the part missing that states why, eg why is the suicide rate among gay teens three times higher than with straight teens? Yes, it's because they're gay, but it's not because they ARE gay but because they are not accepted as being gay. I think that's a HUGE difference. If society reacted differently to them being gay, things would be completely different. The same thing is true when it comes to kids of LGBT-people. Those children don't think that their families are any different until society tells them.