Lecture on the health of sexual minorities presented at UP

Posted on August 15, 2016

Prof Theo Sandfort from Columbia University in New York, delivered a public lecture in the Merensky II Library Auditorium on the University of Pretoria's Hatfield Campus on Thursday, 4 August 2016. The topic of the lecture was 'The health of sexual minorities: theory, realities and further thoughts'.

Prof Sandfort is a research scientist at the HIV Centre for Clinical and Behavioural Studies at New York State Psychiatric Institute and Professor of Clinical Socio-medical Sciences in Psychiatry at Columbia University. He has extensive experience in quantitative and qualitative social science research in sexuality and HIV. His primary research interests are: same-sex sexuality and mental health, gay and lesbian lifestyles as determinants of HIV risk behaviour, psychosexual development, cross-national comparisons in sexuality, and sexual health counselling.

During his lecture, Prof Sandfort drew upon research that was conducted in several countries across the globe, showing that same-sex sexual orientation is a risk factor for both mental and physical health. He explained that the most productive way to understand these sexual orientation-related health disparities is offered by the sexual minority stress model. This model explains that the additional stress factors specific to members of sexual minority populations might have a negative impact on their health. These factors include experiences of prejudice, expectations of rejection, concealing one's sexual orientation, and internalised homophobia.

Prof Sandfort went on to explain that stressors such as homophobia or sexual stigma that may arise from the environment require an individual to adapt, and in the process can cause significant stress, which in turn ultimately affects physical and mental health outcomes. Some persons belonging to a sexual minority are more affected than others. He said that two factors critical to understanding differences among sexual minorities are gender nonconformity and resilience. He further suggested that the socio-ecological model and a life-course perspective offer additional understanding of sexual orientation-related health disparities. Sexual stigma also more broadly affects how same-sex sexuality is expressed. It could also help to understand why, worldwide, men who belong to a sexual minority are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS.

Prof Sandfort is currently visiting the University of Pretoria where he is hosted by Prof Vasu Reddy, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities. He will be at the University until 17 August.


- Author Ansa Heyl

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