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Biol Psychiatry. 2015 Apr 1;77(7):668-76. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.08.013. Epub 2014 Aug 26.

Sexual orientation modulates endocrine stress reactivity.

Author information

1
Centre for Studies on Human Stress, Fernand-Seguin Research Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Integrated Program in Neuroscience, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Electronic address: robert.juster@mail.mcgill.ca.
2
Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York.
3
Department of Psychiatry, University of Montreal, Montreal; Department of Psychology, Bishop's University, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada.
4
Department of Psychology, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
5
Department of Educational Psychology, University of Houston, Houston, Texas.
6
Center for Sexual Health, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
7
Department of Social Work, University of Quebec in Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
8
Centre for Studies on Human Stress, Fernand-Seguin Research Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Department of Neuroscience, University of Montreal, Montreal.
9
Centre for Studies on Human Stress, Fernand-Seguin Research Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
10
Centre for Studies on Human Stress, Fernand-Seguin Research Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Integrated Program in Neuroscience, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
11
Centre for Studies on Human Stress, Fernand-Seguin Research Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Department of Psychiatry, University of Montreal, Montreal.
12
Integrated Program in Neuroscience, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Douglas Institute, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Biological sex differences and sociocultural gender diversity influence endocrine stress reactivity. Although numerous studies have shown that men typically activate stronger stress responses than women when exposed to laboratory-based psychosocial stressors, it is unclear whether sexual orientation further modulates stress reactivity. Given that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals frequently report heightened distress secondary to stigma-related stressors, we investigated whether cortisol stress reactivity differs between LGB individuals and heterosexual individuals in response to a well-validated psychosocial stressor.

METHODS:

The study population comprised 87 healthy adults (mean age, 25 years) who were grouped according to their biological sex and their gendered sexual orientation: lesbian/bisexual women (n = 20), heterosexual women (n = 21), gay/bisexual men (n = 26), and heterosexual men (n = 20). Investigators collected 10 salivary cortisol samples throughout a 2-hour afternoon visit involving exposure to the Trier Social Stress Test modified to maximize between-sex differences.

RESULTS:

Relative to heterosexual women, lesbian/bisexual women showed higher cortisol stress reactivity 40 min after exposure to the stressor. In contrast, gay/bisexual men displayed lower overall cortisol concentrations throughout testing compared with heterosexual men. Main findings were significant while adjusting for sex hormones (estradiol-to-progesterone ratio in women and testosterone in men), age, self-esteem, and disclosure status (whether LGB participants had completed their "coming out").

CONCLUSIONS:

Our results provide novel evidence for gender-based modulation of cortisol stress reactivity based on sexual orientation that goes beyond well-established between-sex differences. This study raises several important avenues for future research related to the physiologic functioning of LGB populations and gender diversity more broadly.

KEYWORDS:

Cortisol; Gender diversity; Sex differences; Sexual orientation; Stress reactivity; Trier Social Stress Test

PMID:
25444167
PMCID:
PMC4434405
DOI:
10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.08.013
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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