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Norway's Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Suicide Problems
A Summary of the Hegna et al. (1999) 
Study of 2987 Norwegian GLB Individuals.
Male Youth Prostitution in Oslo: For every "1" adolescent girl selling sex, there are 3.5 adolescent boys selling sex.

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The following summary was supplied by Kristinn Hegna in June, 2001. Related Information: "You can make a web page of the summary. My title and workingplace is: Researcher Kristinn Hegna, NOVA (Norwegian Social Research), P.O.Box 3223 Elisenberg, N-0208 Oslo, Norway. I am a sociologist. My co-authors are Research Fellow Hans Wiggo Kristiansen (social anthopologist, same address), and Research Fellow Bera Moseng (sociologist, same address). We cooperated and were all equal in the process... (my name is first for alphabetical reasons). " Related data in tables is available on the Main Page for Norway. Related statistical analyses - including items associated with suicidality - are being submitted for peer review and should eventually be published.

Summary


The NOVA report on living conditions and life quality among lesbian women and gay men has three parts: a review of existing Scandinavian research in the field (Part I), a survey of attitudes toward gays/lesbians in the population (Part II), and an empirical study of living conditions and life quality among lesbians and gays (Part III) based on questionnaires (N=2987) and life history interviews (N=23). This summary is based on Parts II and III of the report.
 

Public Attitudes

The attitude survey undertaken by the Markeds- og Mediainstituttet (MMI) on behalf of NOVA shows that Norwegian public opinion is still changing in its attitude towards lesbians and gays and their different forms of relationship. When compared to Scan-Fact’s 1983, 1989, and 1992 surveys, the MMI opinion poll shows that a bigger part of the population is now positively inclined towards the right of lesbians and gays to Christian marriage and to be ordained as priests in the Church of Norway. A similar positive change has taken place regarding the right of lesbians and gays to adopt children: in 1998 a quarter of the population reply that they are in favour, compared to less than a tenth in 1992.

In MMI’s opinion poll one out of ten reply that they have a close friend whom they know is lesbian/gay, whereas four out of ten have a lesbian/gay acquaintance. The poll shows how important openness and integration is to promote the understanding of the rights and living conditions of lesbians and gays. It is the men and women who report that they have close lesbian/gay friends who have the most favourable attitudes toward lesbians and gays. Negative attitudes toward the rights of homosexuals are more frequent among men than women, and more frequent among people aged 60 or above than in other age-groups.
 

The Composition of the Study Sample

The theoretical population in focus consists of self-acknowledged and self-identified lesbian women and gay men in Norway. Of the 2987 respondents to the questionnaire, 38 per cent are women. Two thirds of the sample are aged between 25 and 44. Just over half the sample live in the Oslo area, one quarter live in other large Norwegian cities, and one quarter live in smaller towns and rural areas.

Forty-nine per cent (49%) of the men and 41 per cent of the women are not regular participants in organised activities or societies for gays and lesbians. The sample consists mainly of persons who are either completely or partially open regarding their sexual orientation. Only 1 per cent of the women and 3 per cent of the men report that none among their heterosexual friends/colleagues know that they are lesbian/gay. With regard to general level of education, the sample average in the NOVA survey is substantially higher than the average in the population as a whole. The survey sample was obtained by distributing questionnaires via the monthly newspaper Blikk and the National Society for Lesbian and Gay Liberation (LLH), plus distribution through various private networks.

In spite of there being some discrepancies between respondents and the population as a whole on such variables as sex, age and regional distribution, it should be noted that the present survey compares favourably with previous ones by including a more representative sample of women, adolescents, older and elderly people, as well as people living outside the central areas of South Eastern Norway and in rural areas. There is a good breadth of respondents, and all important groups of lesbians/gays are represented.
 

Childhood, Adolescence and Early Adulthood

The life history interviews (N=23) show that the time of childhood does not present itself as particularly problematic for most lesbians or gays. It is mainly the process of clarification leading towards conceiving of oneself and/or one’s actions as lesbian or gay which presents itself as difficult. For the majority of those interviewed this process coincided with adolescence and early adulthood. Many gays or lesbians do, however, use a dispropor-tionately long time to get clear about their sexuality: three of the 23 people interviewed had spent more than 25 years. Problems of self-acceptance and self-understanding during the teens and twenties are partly due to public opinion, and partly to the fact that lesbians and gays experience a lack of concrete support and role-models.

The quantitative questionnaire survey shows that around one in three mothers and fathers had a predominantly negative reaction to being told that their daughter or son was lesbian/gay.

The questionnaire survey also shows that lesbians and gays as a whole are more open towards their parents and siblings today than they were 20 years ago. Men are slightly less open than women. Lesbians and gays with a low level of self-acceptance, persons aged less than 25, and persons aged over 50, stand out negatively with respect to their degree of openness towards their parental family. The interview survey indicates that openness may have been somewhat less important for older than for younger lesbians and gays as regards their self-image and life quality.
 

Family Ties and Social Networks

On the basis of the NOVA survey it can be concluded that lesbians and gays have a good relationship to their parental family. Only one in twenty report that they have a bad relationship with their nearest family or that they have broken off all contact with them. Compared to a survey made in 1978, a higher percentage of the lesbians and gays included in the NOVA survey report that they have a good relationship with their parental family.

As regards social networks the picture is more complex. In comparison with the population as a whole, a substantially higher share of lesbians and gays live alone or have only sporadic contact with their neighbours. One important positive result is that lesbians and gays included in the NOVA survey have good networks of friends. They have more intimate friendships, and have more frequent contact with their friends, than men and women in the population as a whole. It is lesbians and gays who have a good relationship to their parental family who are most frequently in contact with their homosexual / heterosexual friends.

Eight in ten men and nine in ten women reply that all/most of their heterosexual friends know that they are lesbian or gay. It is the young, the old, and lesbians/gays who live in small towns or rural areas who are least open toward their friends about their sexual orientation. One in three have mainly homosexual friends, one in three have mainly heterosexual friends, and one in three have roughly the same number of each. The youngest and persons living in rural areas most frequently report that they have more heterosexual than homosexual friends. The share of lesbians/gays with one-sided social networks is considerably lower than in the 1978 survey. Six in ten live what we call an integrating form of life, meaning that they have frequent contact with both heterosexual and gay/lesbian friends, and that they see their heterosexual and lesbian/gay friends at the same time.
 

Partnership and Children

Partnerships play a central role as an organising principle for emotional and sexual development among lesbian women and gay men. More than two thirds of women and half the men in the survey are in a stable relationship with another person of the same sex. The share of stable relationship is considerably lower among the young than in the other age-groups, and our evidence indicates that the main reason for this is that young people find it difficult to establish contact with a lesbian/gay community. A majority of those who are not in a stable relationship with a person of their own sex wish that they were in such a relationship. Around one in six men and one in ten women in the survey have never been in a stable relationship with a person of their own sex lasting more than three months. Around 40 per cent of the men and 25 per sent of the women have never been either in a stable relationship with a person of their own sex lasting more than two years, or in a gay/lesbian cohabiting relationship.

More than half the women and a third of the men in the survey live with a partner of the same sex. Women in a stable relationship are more likely to live with their partner than men. 12 per cent of the men and women in the survey have entered a Registered Partnership. Registered partners are not at variance with the sample as a whole with respect to their level of income or education, but appear to be more open about their sexual identity than the other participants in the survey.

To be in a stable relationship with a person of the same sex is important for the quality of life among lesbian women and gay men. Those among the respondents who are in a stable relationship are happier with their sexual life, have more frequent sex, and are more satisfied with life in general than persons who are not in a stable relationship. This difference is a feature of all the age-groups.

Thriteen per cent (13%) of the women and 8 per cent of the men in the NOVA survey have their own children. The majority of people with children report that the child originates from an earlier heterosexual partnership. One in ten women and one in a hundred men in the age-group 25-44 live with their own children. About one in three women and men in the age-group 16-34 who do not have their own children want to have children. Virtually all lesbian/gay respondents say that lesbians/gays should have the right to be foster parents and to adopt children. Almost three quarters of the respondents reply that they would wish to make use of their right to become foster parents if they were to be granted this right. Around half could imagine themselves making use of the right to adopt children.
 

Openness and Discrimination in Work and Education

When compared to the surveys undertaken during the 1970’s and 1980’s, our results indicate that there have been changes in a positive direction since then as regards the conditions of lesbians and gays in work and education. Around two thirds of the respondents report that all or most of their colleagues know that they are lesbian/gay. Women are somewhat more open than men, and there are fewer openly homosexual people among the young than in the other age-groups. 6 per cent of lesbian women and 8 percent of gay men report that nobody at their work/school knows about their sexual orientation. It is among young men that we find the biggest share of those who hide their sexual orientation. Openness is least common among women and men in small towns and in rural areas. There are also differences between professions regarding openness: among men there is least openness among manual and agricultural workers. Among women there is least openness among white collar workers.

Around one in five women and one in four men have experienced some form of discrimination in their place of work/study. Among the kinds of discrimination which occur in places of work/study, the biggest problems are posed by less tangible forms of intimidation and exclusion the existence of which is hard to prove. Reports of such discrimination is especially common among young lesbians and gays.
 

Violence, Harassment and Threats

Lesbian women are slightly more exposed to violence than women in the population as a whole. Younger lesbian women are especially exposed: one in ten among lesbian women under the age of 25 have been exposed to violence within the last year, compared to only one in twenty in the population as a whole. Among men the share of victims of violence is about the same in our survey sample as that reported in Statistics Norway’s 1995 general Survey of Level of Living.

As regards violent threats, however, there is a large discrepancy between our figures and the figures of the 1995 survey. Compared with the population as a whole, the share of people having been exposed to (at least one) violent threat during 1997 is over twice as high among lesbian women and four times as high among gay men. Especially the young in our survey stand out in a negative way: about five times as many gays/lesbians have been exposed to violent threats during the last year as compared to young women and men in the population as a whole.

Three quarters of the men and nearly two thirds of the women who experienced violent threats during 1997 say that (at least one of) the episodes of violence or threats were related to their sexual orientation. 20 per cent of lesbian women and 38 per cent of gay men report that they have been exposed to either violence or threats as a result of their sexual orientation at least once in their life.

Compared with the population as a whole (Statistics Norway’s 1995 survey), gay men are substantially more concerned about being exposed to violence or threats when going out alone. Gay men are more concerned about going out alone than are lesbian women. This fact contrasts sharply with the distribution between the sexes in the population as a whole, where women are far more concerned about this than men.
 

Physical and Mental Health

The lesbian women and gay men in the NOVA survey have a lower estimation of their own health than people of their own age in the population as a whole. The gap between lesbians/gays and the general population is particularly marked among the younger age-groups. The quantitative survey also reveals a much higher risk of psychological afflictions among lesbians and gays, in particular as regards nervousness, tension, melancholia and depression. A high frequency of such afflictions can be found particularly among young lesbians/gays. Lesbians/gays who conceal their sexual orientation have more psychological difficulties than those who have come out. Persons who integrate heterosexual and homosexual acquaintances in the same circle of friends have a better psychological quality of life than lesbians/gays who keep the heterosexual and gay/lesbian segments of their network of friends strongly separated (i.e. those who have what we have called a segregating form of life). Persons who are in a stable relationship to one person of the same sex or who live with a partner of the same sex are generally of better psychological health than lesbians/gays who are alone.

As regards thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts lesbian women and gay men are more exposed than the population as a whole. The share of people who have been plagued by thoughts of suicide during the last 14 days is 6-7 times higher among the women and men in the NOVA survey than among the population as a whole. 16 per cent of the men and 20 per cent of the women in the survey report that they have attempted to commit suicide at least once in their life. It is alarming that one in four men or women under the age of 25 in our survey report that they have made at least one attempt to commit suicide. A feeling of isolation and loneliness, a wish to escape from an intolerable situation, a feeling of powerlessness regarding the future, and a problem with accepting oneself as lesbian or gay were the four most common reasons given for attempted suicide.
 

Use of Intoxicants

Among the lesbians and gays in our survey there is a substantially larger share of people who frequently get intoxicated by drinking alcohol than in the population as a whole. There is also a smaller share of people who only rarely drink alcohol. Just as in the population as a whole it is more common to get intoxicated by drinking alcohol among men than among women, but the differential ratio between lesbians/gays and the general population is much greater among women (4:1) than it is among men (2:1). Seen in relation to the population as a whole, it is therefore worth noticing the high intoxication frequency among lesbian women, although gay men display a higher frequency than women in absolute terms.

The consumption of alcohol among lesbians and gays has two aspects. On the one hand, ordinary low frequency consumption appears tied to social fellowship, good networks and high quality of live. On the other hand, the people exhibiting a high intoxication frequency form an exposed group with a low quality of life. Similar patterns have been observed in several surveys of the general population in recent years.

Among the lesbian women in the NOVA survey there is a larger share of smokers than in the population as a whole. Among gay men there are no significant deviations from the population as a whole as regards smoking habits.

The use of illegal narcotic substances is clearly greater among lesbians and gays than among the rest of the population. The share of lesbians and gays (aged 18-24) in Oslo who have used cannabis during the last 12 months is twice as high as the comparative share of a representative sample of Oslo youth. 45 per cent of the lesbian women in this age-group had used hashish or other cannabis substances.

Male Youth Prostitution in Oslo

Report: Male Prostitution by ENMP) - "Most of the men in this project were between 18 and 30 years of age... The contacts in male sex work takes place in streets, parks, pubs, hotels and advertisements in special magazines. It is not organised, as far as we know. The boys and men doing sex work are a heterogeneous group. They are different in age, background, sexual experiences and preferences. Male sex workers may look upon themselves either homosexual or heterosexual... According to a study on all youngsters in all Oslo`s schools (N 10 810) we learned to know that some of them had experience from selling sex. 1.4 % of the adolescence in the age of 14-17 had ever sold sex. More than three times as many boys as girls had this experience."

Study published in 2003: "Children and adolescents who sell sex: a community study" by Willy Pedersen & Kristinn Hegna. Social Science and Medicine, 56: 135-147 (PubMed Abstract). The "1.4%" of adolescents who sell sex consisted of 0.6% girls and 2.1% boys, meaning that for every "1" girl selling sex in Oslo, there are "3.5" boys selling sex. - Pro-sentret: is run by the Municipality of Oslo. It is a service catering for women and men who have experiences in sex trade.Pro-sentret is a national centre of excellence on the topic of prostitution.


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