Sexual orientation and self-harm in men and women

Am J Psychiatry. 2003 Mar;160(3):541-6. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.160.3.541.


Objective: Recent studies of homosexual people have found higher rates of nonfatal suicidal behavior than among heterosexuals. The purpose of this study was to determine associations between self-harm and sexual orientation for men and women separately, defining sexual orientation by sexual attraction rather than by behavior.

Method: In a birth cohort of 1,019 New Zealand young adults eligible to be interviewed at age 26 years, 946 participated in assessments of both sexual attraction and self-harm.

Results: Both women and men who had experienced same-sex attraction had higher risks of self-harm. The odds ratios for suicidal ideation in the past year were 3.1 for men and 2.9 for women. Odds ratios for ever having deliberately self-harmed were 5.5 for men and 1.9 for women. Men with same-sex attraction were also significantly more likely to report having attempted suicide. In both sexes, a greater degree of same-sex attraction predicted increasing likelihood of self-harm, with over one-third of men and women with persistent major same-sex attraction reporting this. Men with even a minor degree of same-sex attraction had high rates of self-harm and resulting physical injury. One-quarter of deliberate self-harm among men and one-sixth among women was potentially attributable to same-sex attraction.

Conclusions: This study provides evidence of a link between increasing degrees of same-sex attraction and self-harm in both men and women, with the possibility of some difference between the sexes that needs to be explored further.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Comorbidity
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Homosexuality / psychology*
  • Homosexuality, Female / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / etiology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Suicide / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires