Effects of Online Heterosexist Experiences on Physical and Mental Health in Sexual Minorities: An Examination of the Cognitive and Affective Mechanisms

J Interpers Violence. 2021 Jun 9;8862605211021962. doi: 10.1177/08862605211021962. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Cyber violence has emerged as a new source of minority stress over the past decade. Due to the anonymous and unrestrictive nature of the internet, cyber violence is even more blatant and pervasive than in person violence for sexual minority individuals. The present study aimed to examine whether and how online and offline experiences of heterosexism are related to physical and mental health. A total of 941 sexual minority individuals participated in a community-based online survey study. The findings indicated that online heterosexist experiences explained variance in physical and mental health, beyond the contribution of offline heterosexist experiences. Among sexual minority young adults, the effect of online heterosexist experiences on mental health was stronger than that of offline heterosexist experiences, whereas the association between online heterosexist experiences and health problems was not observed in the adult sample. The results of mediation analysis showed that heterosexist experiences were related to heightened expectations of rejection, which, in turn, were related to poor physical and mental health. The association of heterosexist experiences and mental health was also mediated by negative affect. Given the detrimental effect of online heterosexist experiences, effective interventions are needed to combat cyber violence motivated by sexual orientation and enhance the coping and confrontation strategies in response to harmful online content.

Keywords: and bisexual; gay; lesbian; mental health; minority stress; offline heterosexist experiences; online heterosexist experiences; physical health.