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Greater practitioner support needed for ‘sexting’ teenagers

A research uncovers a disparity between gendered perceptions of sexting, and what the perceived risks and consequences are.

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A new study published in the Journal of Youth Studies highlights a need for practitioners to discuss with teenagers safe ways to engage in so-called ‘sexting’, the sending of self-made, sexually explicit images sent via mobile phone or computers. The research uncovers a disparity between gendered perceptions of sexting, and what the perceived risks and consequences are.

Author Joris Van Ouytsel, together with his co-authors at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, questioned teenagers aged between 15 and 18 years old on which social media applications they most commonly used for sexting, what motivated them to engage in this sexual behavior, and the perceived consequences of sending a sexually explicit photograph via digital media. A total of 57 adolescents (66.67% females) were recruited in two secondary school in Flanders, Belgium and invited to participate in 1 of 11 focus groups. These focus groups were part of the research of the Teen Digital Dating Study, a larger study of the effects of digital media on adolescents’ sexual and romantic relationship experiences.

When asked which social media applications were the most popular for sending sexually explicit photographs, the respondents mentioned smartphone applications such as Snapchat and WhatsApp. Facebook was seen as “not safe” due to being too “open” and too “direct” as the photographs could be accessed and shared more easily. The participants noted that one of the major advantages of Snapchat over other applications is that “you can send it and it disappears immediately. So that’s ideal”. However, some respondents were also aware that Snapchat is not free of risks and that it could still be exposed to others (e.g., by taking screenshots).

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Although the respondents mentioned positive motivations for engaging in sexting, such as love or romantic interest, they also observed that some girls felt that they had to send sexting photographs for negative reasons, such as the fear of losing their boyfriends or because their romantic partners would plead or insist.

Across all focus groups, the greatest risk associated with sexting behavior was the chance that the sexually explicit photographs would be forwarded to others. In 10 of 11 focus groups, respondents identified boys and not girls as the most likely to distribute a sexting photograph. It was also indicated that they thought there were almost no harmful consequences for leaking a sexually explicit photograph of a boy as opposed to a sexually explicit photograph of a girl.

The findings from this study lead to several implications for discussing sexting with adolescents, such as highlighting the need for sexting prevention efforts to focus on how adolescents cope with pressure, and subtle manipulation to engage in sexting. This could be tied in to a broader discussion about gender equality within sexual and romantic relationships, both online and offline.

Health & Wellness

OTC medications commonly used in cases of attempted suicide by self-poisoning in youth

It is vital that parents, teachers and other trusted adults start conversations about mental health early, and pay even closer attention during the school year, as rates of anxiety and depression are shown to increase during that time. Warning signs can often be detected and support is available for young people in crisis.

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A study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Central Ohio Poison Center found rates of suicide attempts by self-poisoning among youth and adolescents are higher in rural communities, higher during the academic school year and involve common medications found in many households.

The study, published online in Clinical Toxicology, expands on previous research that evaluated the incidence and outcomes from intentional suspected-suicide self-poisoning in children and young adults ages 10 to 24 years old from 2000-2018. In that 19-year time frame, there were more than 1.6 million intentional suspected-suicide self-poisoning cases in youth and young adults reported to US poison centers. The majority of cases were female (71%), and involved a pharmaceutical (92%).

“While most of these cases involved medications, with adolescents, any available medication can be a potential hazard,” said Henry Spiller, MS, D.ABAT, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s, and co-author of the study. “It’s not so much a matter of substance type, but rather a matter of access to the substance. Any type of medication can be misused and abused in ways that can unfortunately lead to very severe outcomes, including death.”

The two most common substance groups in all age groups were over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics – such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin – followed by antidepressants. In youth and adolescents 10-12 and 13-15 years old, ADHD medications were common, and had the highest risk of serious medical outcomes. Opiates only accounted for 7% of cases with serious medical outcomes.

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“Because medications are so readily available in homes, many families do not take precautions to store them safely. Our findings suggest this is a big problem,” said John Ackerman, PhD, clinical psychologist and suicide prevention coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s, and co-author of the study. “Medications can be part of effective treatment, but they require an extra layer of care. The answer is not to stop prescribing medications to those who stand to benefit, but rather to emphasize the practice of safe storage and vigilance when administering any kind of medicine, especially when children and teens live in the home.”

The study also found that places with a lower population per square mile (rural areas) had a greater number of reported cases with all outcomes and serious medical outcomes. Results also revealed there was a significant decrease in the number of cases in school-aged individuals during non-school months of June through August (27.5% decrease in 10-12-year-olds; 27.3% decrease in 13-15-year-olds; and 18.3% decrease in 16-18-year-olds), compared with school months September through May.

This issue is worth highlighting for the LGBTQIA community because 50.8% of transmasculine adolescents between the ages of 11 and 19 have attempted suicide at least once, while 41.8% of nonbinary adolescents – those who don’t identify as exclusively male or exclusively female – have attempted suicide.

Nationwide Children’s Big Lots Behavioral Health experts recommend that parents check in with their children regularly, and ask them directly how they are doing and if they have ever had thoughts about ending their life. These direct questions are even more critical if warning signs of suicide are observed. Medications should be stored up, away and out of sight, preferably in a locked cabinet. Administration of medicine should always be supervised.

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“It should concern us that youth in rural areas are about twice as likely as those living in urban areas to die by suicide. Although we are in dire need of more research to help us understand what places some people at more risk than others, available evidence indicates that include increased social isolation, stigma, access to lethal means and lack of appropriate mental health resources may play a role in this disparity,” said Ackerman. “It is vital that parents, teachers and other trusted adults start conversations about mental health early, and pay even closer attention during the school year, as rates of anxiety and depression are shown to increase during that time. Warning signs can often be detected and support is available for young people in crisis.”

Dr. Ackerman recommends parents start now to increase the dialogue and have important conversations as a family.

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Health & Wellness

Study provides insights on treatment and prognosis of male breast cancer

Factors associated with worse overall survival were older age, black race, multiple comorbidities, high tumor grade and stage, and undergoing total mastectomy. Residing in higher income areas; having tumors that express the progesterone receptor; and receiving chemotherapy, radiation, and anti-estrogen therapy were associated with better overall survival.

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Male breast cancer (MBC) comprises one percent of all breast cancer cases, yet no prospective randomized clinical trials specifically focused on MBC have been successfully completed. Some studies suggest that the incidence of MBC may be rising, however, and there is an increasing appreciation that the tumor biology of MBC differs from that of female breast cancer.

To examine how MBC has been treated in recent years, and to identify factors associated with patient prognosis, a team led by Kathryn Ruddy, MD, MPH, and Siddhartha Yadav, MBBS, at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, analyzed information from the National Cancer Database on men diagnosed with stage I-III breast cancer between 2004 and 2014.

A recent analysis reveals that treatment of male breast cancer has evolved over the years. In addition, certain patient-, tumor-, and treatment-related factors are linked with better survival. The findings are published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

For this study, a total of 10,873 patients with MBC were included, with a median age at diagnosis of 64 years. Breast-conserving surgery was performed in 24% of patients, and 70% of patients undergoing breast conservation received radiation. Forty-four percent of patients received chemotherapy, and 62% of patients whose tumors expressed the estrogen receptor received anti-estrogen therapy. During the study period, there was a significant increase in the rates of total mastectomy, contralateral prophylactic mastectomy, and post-breast conservation radiation, as well as an increase in the rate of genomic testing on tumors and the use of anti-estrogen therapy. Tamoxifen is the standard anti-estrogen medication recommended for treatment of hormonally sensitive MBC, but this study was not able to assess specific medications used.

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Factors associated with worse overall survival were older age, black race, multiple comorbidities, high tumor grade and stage, and undergoing total mastectomy. Residing in higher income areas; having tumors that express the progesterone receptor; and receiving chemotherapy, radiation, and anti-estrogen therapy were associated with better overall survival.

The study “highlights unique practice patterns and factors associated with prognosis in MBC, furthering our understanding of the treatment and prognosis of MBC,” said Dr. Ruddy. “The racial, economic, and age-related health disparities we found could inform future efforts to target interventions to optimize outcomes in men with breast cancer.”

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Health & Wellness

Fathers may protect their LGB kids from health effects of discrimination

LGB individuals who report being discriminated against but who feel close to their fathers have lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of inflammation and cardiovascular risk, than those without support from their fathers.

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This is assuming members of the LGBTQIA community have accepting fathers, of course.

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals who report being discriminated against but who feel close to their fathers have lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of inflammation and cardiovascular risk–than those without support from their fathers, finds a new study from researchers at NYU College of Global Public Health.

The findings, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, suggest that fathers can play a role protecting against the negative effects of discrimination and, surprisingly, mothers may not play the same role. More generally, the study illustrates how prolonged exposure to stress can hurt sexual minorities.

LGB people experience stress and discrimination related to their sexual orientation, including dealing with stigma, microaggressions, and the process of coming out. Research shows that prolonged or repeated exposure to stress, including discrimination, leads to the production of inflammatory proteins such as CRP and raises one’s risk for heart disease.

“I’m interested in understanding how discrimination gets under the skin and is linked to poor health outcomes,” said Stephanie Cook, assistant professor of biostatistics and social and behavioral sciences at NYU College of Global Public Health and the study’s senior author. “What factors make people more resilient and can protect them from these health effects? We know that social support can act as a buffer, but wanted to better understand the role parents play in how their children experience discrimination and its health effects.”

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In this study, the researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Adults 24 to 33 years old were surveyed about their sexual orientation, how close they felt with their mothers or mother-figures and fathers or father-figures, and whether they felt discriminated against or treated with less respect than others in their day-to-day lives. The researchers focused on 3,167 adults describing their relationships with their fathers and 3,575 describing their relationships with their mothers. Blood samples were used to measure CRP levels.

The researchers found that when LGB people felt discriminated against in their day-to-day lives but described being close to their fathers, they had lower CRP levels than other sexual minorities who were discriminated against but did not have close relationships with their fathers.

Relationships between LGB people and their fathers can act as either a buffer or an additional source of stress. On one hand, positive social support from a father appears to protect sexual minorities from harmful experiences related to discrimination. On the other, poor social support from one’s father–for instance, fathers who do not accept their children’s sexual orientation after they come out–may lead to exacerbated stress and less ability to shield against harmful experiences related to discrimination.

Interestingly, the researchers found that closeness with mothers did not act as a buffer for LGB or heterosexual individuals who experienced discrimination.

“We often talk about the importance of support from mothers and how mothers can help buffer the negative effects of discrimination on health broadly. But this study suggests that we’ve been neglecting the role of fathers, and their role is really important when it comes to their LGB children,” said Cook, who leads the Attachment and Health Disparities Research Lab at NYU College of Global Public Health.

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“If we’re trying to understand the effects of discrimination on sexual minorities and figure out what we can do to intervene or prevent these outcomes, we should look beyond support from just peers and mothers to include fathers in our efforts,” said Erica Wood, a research scientist in the Attachment and Health Disparities Research Lab at NYU College of Global Public Health and the study’s first author. “For instance, professionals can work with fathers who reject their children because of their sexual identity to show them the importance of the father-child relationship in reducing the negative effects of stress.”

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Health & Wellness

Gender identity conversion efforts associated with adverse mental health outcomes

Reported exposure to conversion efforts before the age of 10 also was associated with greater lifetime odds of suicide attempts.

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“Conversion efforts” to try to change a person’s gender identity to match their sex assigned at birth were associated with increased likelihood of adverse mental health outcomes, including suicide attempts.

This is according to a study helmed by Jack L. Turban, M.D., M.H.S., of the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

The study, tiled “Association Between Recalled Exposure to Gender Identity Conversion Efforts and Psychological Distress and Suicide Attempts Among Transgender Adults”, and which appeared in JAMA Psychiatry, involved nearly 28,000 transgender adults from across the US. This observational study is based on the results of a survey distributed through community outreach to transgender adults in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, some territories and overseas U.S. military bases.

Of 27,715 transgender adults who responded, 19,741 (71.3%) reported having spoken to a secular or religious professional about their gender identity, and of these, 3,869 (19.6%) reported exposure to gender identity conversion efforts.

That exposure was associated with severe psychological distress during the previous month and prior suicide attempts during their lifetime compared with transgender adults who reported talking about their gender identity with a professional but weren’t exposed to conversion efforts.

Reported exposure to conversion efforts before the age of 10 also was associated with greater lifetime odds of suicide attempts.

Limitations of the study include its inability to determine causation; it didn’t capture conversion efforts by others such as family members; and it’s possible that some adults with worse mental health might have sought conversion therapy.

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The study findings support that gender identity conversion efforts should be avoided in children and adults. Professional organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, have called conversion therapy for gender identity unethical and ineffective, and some countries have already outlawed the practice.

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Pregnant trans men at risk for depression and lack of care, Rutgers study finds

Older transgender men who become pregnant need better mental health care than female counterparts.

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Transgender men who become pregnant are at increased risk for depression and difficulty getting medical care due to a lack of knowledge among health care providers, a Rutgers study reports.

The study, published in the journal Maturitas, examined health care research on transgender men who become pregnant at or after age 35 to determine their medical and mental health needs.

“Despite the increased visibility of transgender people — there are about 1.4 million who have transitioned in the United States — medical providers are largely unprepared to care for them and most have had limited educational opportunities,” said lead author Justin Brandt, an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Transgender men who have transitioned hormonally and are taking testosterone but retain their female reproductive organs have the potential to become pregnant. Since the U.S. medical system has been tracking these patients as female, no data exists on how many transgender men give birth each year, but Brandt said the number is likely higher than people realize. While some plan to become pregnant, the research suggests that unintended pregnancies occur in up to 30 percent of transgender men.

According to the U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly 40 percent of its 28,000 respondents reported attempting suicide — nearly nine times the national average. That risk can be increased in transgender men with the unwanted physical changes resulting from pregnancy, according to Brandt. “The process of transitioning is long and arduous, and pregnancy, which is regarded as a feminine condition, forces these men to almost fully transition back to their sex assigned at birth, which can worsen gender dysphoria,” he said.

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Surveys used to screen pregnant and postpartum females for depression are not designed to assess the impact of pregnancy on gender dysphoria in transgender men.

The study also found that nearly 25 percent of transgender people reported negative health care experiences in the last year. This correlates with the finding that about 44 percent of pregnant transgender men seek medical care outside of traditional care with an obstetrician. Rather, they may seek out non-physician providers, such as nurse midwives, with 17 percent delivering outside of hospitals — a higher rate than with women.

Although data is limited on how transgender men give birth, the review found that 64 percent had vaginal births and 25 percent requested cesarean delivery.

The report also noted that transgender men who requested cesarean deliveries reported feeling uncomfortable with their genitalia being exposed for long periods of time while those who went through labor reported that the process of giving birth vaginally overcame any negative feelings that they had with the female gender that they had been assigned at birth.

“Although Rutgers physicians have not yet had a pregnant transgender male patient, our healthcare professionals are trained and ready,” Brandt said.

The researchers also found that about 51 percent of transgender men breast or chest fed their infants even if they had breast surgery.

Brandt recommended that transgender men planning to conceive should visit their doctor before becoming pregnant to address routine issues, such as folic acid supplementation and screening for genetic disorders, and to be counseled on the risks of advanced-age pregnancy, such as infertility, miscarriage, gestational diabetes and pre-term delivery. Transgender men also likely will need to update health screenings that could have lapsed during transition, such as pap smears and, when indicated for those who have not had chest surgery, mammograms.

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After delivery, Brandt said doctors should address long-acting and reversible methods of contraception if the individual is at risk for unplanned pregnancy. “Transgender men who intend to restart testosterone after delivery may decide to defer contraception since they perceive that their male hormone therapy induces a state of infertility, which is not always the case,” he said.

Co-authors included Amy Patel, Ian Marshall and Gloria A. Bachmann at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

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Health & Wellness

Little link found on popper use and dependency; no correlation with mental health or psychological stress

A survey of more than 800 men aged 18 to 35 found little evidence of typical dependency characteristics, including health, social, legal and financial problems, and no correlation between popper use and mental health or psychological stress.

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Young gay and bisexual men are frequent users of alkyl nitrites, or poppers, but few show signs of addiction, risky consumption habits or other psychosocial problems. This is according to ‘Harmless? A hierarchical analysis of poppers use among young gay and bisexual men’, by Dr Daniel Demant and Dr Oscar Oviedo-Trespalacios, and published in Drug and Alcohol Review.

A survey of more than 800 men aged 18 to 35 found little evidence of typical dependency characteristics, including health, social, legal and financial problems, and no correlation between popper use and mental health or psychological stress.

The study is particularly noteworthy considering some efforts to control popper use and distribution – e.g. in Australia. Dr. Daniel Demant, public health researcher at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), who conducted the study, said that the decision by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to step back from prohibiting poppers is commendable. The TGA, instead, elected to classify them as a Schedule 3 drug, available over the counter in pharmacies from February 2020.

An interim decision by the TGA in 2018 recommended poppers be classed as a prohibited substance, in the same category as methamphetamine and heroin, which would have made “overnight criminals” of the estimated 100,000 plus Australian users.

“What we see with this research is that poppers are a very commonly used drug in the LGBT community, both recently and over their lifetime,” Demant said. “Most of the users are already oppressed or marginalized based on their social identity as gay or bisexual men. This creates a question as to whether there would have been a discriminatory element in banning a substance with such a low risk profile.”

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Demant added that banning a substance that is used by so many people would create a “new class of criminals, basically overnight.”

Currently, poppers are available on prescription from pharmacies, but they are more commonly bought illicitly, in sex-on-premises venues and LGBT bars. A vial containing 25-30mL of the clear, strong-smelling fluid, possibly labelled as “VHS tape cleaner”, “leather cleaner” or “room deodorizer”, sells for up to $50 (or equivalent in countries like the Philippines), despite costing a couple of cents to manufacture.

The new TGA decision to regulate poppers rather than banning them hopefully paves the way for some measure of quality control as well as the removal of the “extreme profit margin” that exists now, Demant said.

Demant said that with poppers becoming a pharmacy-only medicine, safety standards would have to be met and pharmacy staff could provide guidance in cases where poppers might react badly with users’ other medications, particularly Viagra.

“We could stop pretending that poppers are sold for anything other than getting people high. And once we do offer it in pharmacies, we would have something made to the highest standards for people to use,” Demant ended.

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