Many health and medical researchers recognize the connection between inequality and health. That is, poverty, prejudice, and discrimination contribute to disparities in quality of life, illness, and access to health care. Sexual health is no exception.
Inequality Produces Health Disparities
As we have noted in a number of earlier posts at Kinsey Confidential, disparities in health and well-being exist, largely as a product of various forms of inequality. For example, mental health researchers have documented the negative impact of homophobic and transphobic prejudice and discrimination on the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
In terms of sexual health, researchers have found higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, among marginalized groups — women, sexual minorities, and people of color in particular. The greater exposure of marginalized groups to STIs is partly the product of prejudice in terms of attractiveness. For example, researchers have found Black bisexual and gay men and plus-size adolescent girls to be at greater risk for STIs because they have less power – or perceive themselves as having less power – in sexual relationships to assert safe sex practices. Inequality has also been linked to disparities in sexual satisfaction.
Disparities In Health Care
The link between health and inequality is also present in disparities in access to and quality of health care. For example, many researchers and advocates have argued that the response to address HIV/AIDS was slow in general and in particular communities because of racist and homophobic prejudice.
Two recent studies have found racial and class disparities in sexuality-related health care. The first, a study of health care providers’ recommendations for intrauterine contraception for women, found lower rates of such recommendations for low socioeconomic status (SES) white women compared to high SES white women, as well as lower rates for low SES white women compared to low SES Black and Latina women. The second study, an examination of hospital emergency room visits, found that nearly all Black teens were asked about their sexual histories – a practice to address potential risk for STIs – yet, only 62% of white teens were asked.
Indeed, in order to effectively address disparities in health and well-being, it is critical to recognize how health is linked to inequality.