The Potential of Mindfulness for Men Experiencing Sexual Racism

February 19, 2020:

Sexual racism is discrimination in a dating context based on a person’s ethnicity or race. Sadly, it is a common experience for men who have sex with men (MSM). Sixty-two percent of Latino MSM (Diaz et al., 2001) and 69% of African American MSM (Wong, et al., 2010) report experiencing sexual racism from a male partner. Sexual racism has been linked to mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and stress. In a recent article in the journal Mindfulness, Methodology Center Research Assistant Eric Layland and a team of researchers examined how often young MSM of color experience sexual racism and how mindfulness can be used to address the effects of sexual racism.

The authors worked with data from the Healthy Young Men’s (HYM) study which follows a cohort of 448 young MSM of color in Los Angeles. This study assessed experiences of discrimination, experiences of sexual racism, psychological symptoms, and stressful life events, among other items. Layland said HYM provides a unique opportunity to help a highly marginalized population. “This data set is unique because it includes only young men of color and is focused on unpacking their health and experiences, rather than setting them up for comparison to white young men. I work to identify modifiable targets for individual intervention to reduce mental health and substance use disparities impacting young MSM of color. The HYM study allows researchers to investigate factors that uniquely impact young sexual minority men of color during the transition to adulthood.

“Trait mindfulness is a person’s tendency to be aware of and attentive to their emotions and thoughts in a given moment. We expected mindfulness to moderate the association between sexual racism and mental health by reducing people’s tendency to fixate or dwell on past or future experiences of sexual racism.” Layland explained. “In this study, we examined whether mindfulness as an individual trait could modify the relationship between sexual racism and mental health or suicidality.”

The authors found that sexual racism was associated with greater odds of psychological symptoms, serious suicidal thoughts, and self-injury. Their results suggest that mindfulness protected against self-injury and potentially depression related to sexual racism, but mindfulness did not protect against suicide attempts. Severely stressful life events were also strongly related to psychological symptoms and suicidal thoughts suggesting a need to consider how severe stressful life events and sexual racism combined may contribute to negative health outcomes among MSM of color.

Layland was surprised by some of the findings. “We expected sexual racism to be associated with depression and anxiety, but we were surprised how consistently it was related not only to psychological outcomes but also to behaviors like non-suicidal self-injury.”

“This paper is the first of several HYM papers in process that underscores the complexity and severity of sexual racism as a correlate of health risk among young sexual minority men,” Layland continued. “I hope this research is combined with other studies that demonstrate the link between sexual racism and adverse health outcomes. While many people maintain that sexual and romantic exclusion is merely a preference, research demonstrates its correlation with other forms of racism and suggests sexual racism is associated with many health concerns. This study will inform future, community-level interventions to educate MSM in order to shift attitudes and actions related to sexual racism. Similar work has been successful with reducing HIV stigma among gay and bisexual men. Our research and future evidence-based intervention have the potential to support change by reducing racism among MSM and creating a safer, healthy community for MSM of color.”

References:

Hidalgo, M. A., Layland, E., Kubicek, K., & Kipke, M. (2019). Sexual Racism, Psychological Symptoms, and Mindfulness Among Ethnically/Racially Diverse Young Men Who Have Sex with Men: a Moderation Analysis. Mindfulness, 11(2), 452-461.

Diaz, R. M., Ayala, G., Bein, E., Henne, J., & Marin, B. V. (2001). The impact of homophobia, poverty, and racism on the mental health of gay and bisexual Latino men: Findings from 3 US cities. American Journal of Public Health91(6), 927.

Wong, C. F., Weiss, G., Ayala, G., & Kipke, M. D. (2010). Harassment, discrimination, violence, and illicit drug use among young men who have sex with men. AIDS Education and Prevention22(4), 286-298.

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