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Ensuring Sexual Health in LGBTQ Addiction Recovery

Computer keyboard with a caps lock key labeled sexual health.

Have you found a substance abuse treatment program that acknowledges the importance of LGBTQ sexual health?

A holistic approach to substance abuse treatment considers the many factors that lead to both addiction and recovery. It also acknowledges the importance of targeted treatment. Not all addicts are the same; nor should all treatment plans be the same.

LGBTQ addicts face unique challenges on the recovery journey. One critical area of consideration? Sexual health. Here’s a closer look at the link between addiction and sexual health in the LGBTQ community.

What Is Sexual Health?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as a “state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.”  It comprises “a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”

LGBTQ Addiction and Sexual Health

People who identify as LGBTQ are at increased risk for several health and wellness challenges, including substance use and abuse, harassment and violence, and various behavioral health issues, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Furthermore, concurrent disorders, in which someone simultaneously has a substance use problem and a mental health problem, are also common in the LGBTQ community.

Sexual minorities with substance abuse issues are also at increased risk for various issues related to sex and sexuality, including compulsive sexual behavior, sexual dysfunction, sexual identity confusion, sexual anorexia, identity-related shame, sex or HIV-related anxiety, sexual abuse and assault, and sexual obsessions. LGBTQ youth are also at increased risk for sexual dating violence and are also more vulnerable to having been forced to have sexual intercourse.

Furthermore, due to risky sexual behaviors and intravenous drug use, HIV infection is also especially prevalent among gay and bisexual men as well as transgender women. (It is important to note that these risks derive from sexual behaviors, not sexual identity.)

The Treatment Imperative

Substance use treatment helps addicts overcome their addictions and move toward their health and wellness goals. A holistic treatment program, however, can play another, equally pivotal role in promoting sexual health. Not only is treatment associated with reduced drug use, but it’s also been linked with less risky sexual behavior within the LGBTQ community resulting in improved viral loads among those with HIV as well as reduced HIV transmission.

Two hands forming a heart.

The most successful LGBTQ treatment programs address holistic health, including sexual health.

Addicts whose sex lives and sexual performance has been impacted by substance use may wonder whether they’ll regain both libido and sexual function. Thus, any treatment program should incorporate this issue. Research also indicates that there is hope for healing, especially with psychological interventions for patients as well as counseling programs for couples. Conversely, failure to address these concerns can not only impede sexual health but also addiction recovery at large.

Unfortunately, sexual health often goes unaddressed. This phenomenon may be pronounced with LGBTQ patients for whom lack of knowledge and discomfort by providers can further interfere. “In order to provide culturally appropriate sexual health and wellness care it is important for providers to be respectful and non-judgmental, ask open-ended questions about sexuality and gender, and use inclusive language,” says Rainbow Health Ontario of the implications for treatment.

This also applies to addressing sexual health within the context of substance abuse treatment and LGBTQ addiction recovery. It’s important to note that the issue is much larger than merely STI risk, but should also include discussions of self-esteem, intimacy, sexual identity, sexual pleasure, and abuse or coercion. In some cases, addiction treatment may be the only conduit for these vital conversations. Leading St. Louis rehab center Harris House has been providing holistic substance abuse treatment for more than 20 years. To learn how more about LGBTQ addiction recovery at Harris House,  contact us today.

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