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Soc Sci Med. 2012 Jun;74(11):1783-90. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.11.011. Epub 2011 Dec 16.

Gender, health behavior, and intimate relationships: lesbian, gay, and straight contexts.

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Department of Sociology, University of Cincinnati, 1018 Crosley Tower, Cincinnati, OH 43221, USA.


Many studies focus on health behavior within the context of intimate ties. However, this literature is limited by reliance on gender socialization theory and a focus on straight (i.e., heterosexual) marriage. We extend this work with an analysis of relationship dynamics around health behavior in 20 long-term straight marriages as well as 15 gay and 15 lesbian long-term cohabiting partnerships in the United States (N = 100 individual in-depth interviews). We develop the concept of "health behavior work" to align activities done to promote health behavior with theories on unpaid work in the home. Respondents in all couple types describe specialized health behavior work, wherein one partner works to shape the other partner's health behavior. In straight couples, women perform the bulk of specialized health behavior work. Most gay and lesbian respondents-but few straight respondents--also describe cooperative health behavior work, wherein partners mutually influence one another's health behaviors. Findings suggest that the gendered relational context of an intimate partnership shapes the dynamics of and explanations for health behavior work.

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