Given the impact of gender on health, healthcare decisions, and treatments for illness, as well as the increased inequities encountered by non-white men and women, messages about health and health risks are affected by purposeful assumptions about gender identity. While the term sex denotes the biological sex of an individual, gender identity is about the psychological, cultural, and social assumptions about a person associated with that person because of his or her sex. Gender and health are intimately connected in a number of ways, and such connections can differ based on race, ethnicity, age, class, religion, region, country, and even continent. Thus, understanding the myriad ways that notions of gender affect the health of females and males is fundamental to understanding how communicating about risks and prevention may be tailored to each group. Gender role expectations and assumptions have serious impacts on men’s health and life expectancy rates, including self-destructive behaviors associated with mental health and tobacco use, self-neglecting behaviors linked to the reluctance of men to seek treatment for ailments, reluctance to follow a physician’s instructions after finally seeking help, and risk-taking behaviors linked to drug and alcohol use, fast driving, guns, physical aggression, and other dangerous endeavors. Because gender role expectations tend to disfavor females, it is not surprising that gender generally has an even greater impact on women’s health than on men’s. Even though biological factors allow women, on average, to live longer than men worldwide, various gendered practices (social, legal, criminal, and unethical) have serious impacts on the lives and health of women. From sex discrimination in research and treatment regarding issues linked to reproductive health, depression, sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, the sex trade, and normalized violence against women (such as rape, female genital mutilation, forced prostitution/trafficking, and domestic violence), women’s lives across the globe are severely affected by gender role expectations that privilege males over females. While some general consistencies in the relationships between gender, women, and health are experienced worldwide, intersections of race, ethnicity, class, age, country, region, and religion can make for very different experiences of women globally, and even within the same country. The recent years have seen an increasing call to reconsider the binary means by which we have defined sex and gender. Advances in our understandings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and transgendered individuals have challenged traditional notions and definitions of sex and gender in important and complex ways. Such an important shift warrants a stand-alone discussion, as well as the recognition that sexual orientation should not be automatically linked to discussions of sex and gender, given that such categorization reifies the problematic sex/gender binaries that ground sexist and homophobic attitudes in the first place.
E. Michele Ramsey
Haley Kranstuber Horstman, Alexie Hays, and Ryan Maliski
The parent–child relationship is one of the most influential, important, and meaningful relationships in an individual’s life. The communication between parents and children fuels their bond and functions to socialize children (i.e., gender, career and work, relationship values and skills, and health behaviors), provide social support, show affection, make sense of their life experiences, engage in conflict, manage private information, and create a family communication environment. How parents and children manage these functions changes over time as their relationship adapts over the developmental periods of their lives. Mothers and fathers may also respond differently to the changing needs of their children, given the unique relational cultures that typically exist in mother–child versus father–child relationships. Although research on parent–child communication is vast and thorough, the constant changes faced by families in the 21st century—including more diverse family structures—provides ample avenues for future research on this complex relationship. Parent–child communication in diverse families (e.g., divorced/stepfamilies, adoptive, multiracial, LGBTQ, and military families) must account for the complexity of identities and experiences in these families. Further, changes in society such as advances in technology, the aging population, and differing parenting practices are also transforming the parent–child relationship. Because this relationship is a vital social resource for both parents and children throughout their lives, researchers will undoubtedly continue to seek to understand the complexities of this important family dyad.
Queer healthcare communication spans different literature and topic areas. The medicalization of queer bodies has historically and continues to influence how queer individuals interact and communicate within healthcare settings. Further, heterosexism is rampant within medical institutions that perpetuate the idea that all patients are heterosexual. Because of the influence of heterosexism, medical schools are designed to ignore queer bodies. If queer bodies are acknowledged, they are positioned as something exotic and not presented as a typical patient. Heterosexism is further communicated in patient and provider interactions by providers assuming their patients’ heterosexual identity and assuming all queer patients are promiscuous. In turn, queer patients may make decisions about their healthcare based on providers’ heterosexist attitudes. Providers who practice medicine have also demonstrated their limited knowledge about queer patients and how to care for them. The literature on discrimination of queer patients focuses more on how providers have used both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. In looking at queer discrimination, queer invisibility demonstrates more covert functions of healthcare communication. Due to the invisibility of queer patients, disclosure becomes a site of interest for researchers. While some queer patients try to seek out queer-friendly providers, researchers have given recommendations on how healthcare providers can improve their queer competency. Finally, some notable topics within queer healthcare communication include queer pregnancy, HIV, and why transgender identity should be a separate topic as transgender people have their own healthcare needs.
Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz and Shui-yin Sharon Yam
The history, principles, and contributions of the reproductive justice (RJ) framework to queer family formation is the nexus that connects the coalitional potential between RJ and queer justice. How the three pillars of RJ intersect with the systemic marginalization of LGBTQ people—especially poor queer people of color—helps clarify how the RJ framework can elaborate the intersectional understandings of queer reproductive politics and kin.
Although communication scholars have been exploring the role of partner communication in sexual health promotion since the 1960s, the term safer sex, and its corollary safer sex communication, emerged in the late 1980s in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was and still is disproportionately affecting queer individuals. Numerous studies, along with some meta-analyses, point to the protective potential of safer sex discussions, defined here as the communicative management of health concerns with sex partners. Despite scholarly agreement regarding its importance, the term safer sex communication has received little explication, and much of what is known about it comes from studies with predominantly heterosexual samples. A review of the literature on queer safer sex communication points to some key issues related to age, race, trauma history, place, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and suggests important considerations for future research efforts.
Davi Johnson Thornton
Communication studies identifies bodies as both objects of communication and producers (or sites) of communication. Communication about bodies—for example, gendered bodies, disabled bodies, obese bodies, and surgically modified bodies—influences bodies at the physical, material level by determining how they are treated in social interactions, in medical settings, and in public institutions. Communication about bodies also forges cultural consensus about what types of bodies fit in particular roles and settings. In addition to analyzing the stakes of communication about bodies, communication studies identifies bodies as communicating forces that cannot be accounted for by standards of reason, meaning, and decorum. Bodies are physical, material, affective beings that communicate because of, not in spite of, their messy, ineffable status. Moreover, communication is an embodied process that involves a range of material supports, including human bodies, technological bodies, and other nonhuman physical and biological bodies. Investigating bodies as communicating forces compels an understanding of communication that is not exclusively rational, meaning-oriented, and nonviolent.
L. Brooke Friley and Maria K. Venetis
For individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, disclosing sexual orientation and/or gender identity can be a complex and risky conversation. However, in the medical context this conversation frequently becomes a central part of communication between patient and provider. Unfortunately, this conversation can also become a barrier that prevents patients from receiving or even accessing necessary medical care. LGBTQ+ individuals have reported experiencing significant discrimination in day-to-day life, and more specifically in patient–provider interactions. This discrimination leads LGBTQ+ individuals to avoid seeking necessary medical care and also frequently results in unsatisfactory care and poor health outcomes. This is of concern as LGBTQ+ individuals present with significantly higher rates of health issues and overall higher risks of cancer, chronic illnesses, and mental health concerns. Unfortunately, many medical providers are unequipped to properly care for LGBTQ+ patients and lack opportunities for education and training. This lack of experience leads many providers to operate medical offices that are unwelcoming or even inhospitable to LGBTQ+ patients, making it difficult for those patients to access inclusive care. This can be of particular concern when the patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity becomes relevant to their medical care, as they may feel uncomfortable sharing that information with a provider. Patient self-disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity to a medical provider not only can contribute to a more positive relationship and improved quality of care but also can improve the psychological outlook of an LGBTQ+ individual. However, potential stigmatization can lead to the concealment of sexual orientation or gender identity information. These acts of concealment serve as intentional mechanisms of impression management within the patient–provider interaction. When LGBTQ+ patients do discuss their sexual orientation or gender identity with a provider, it is most often because the information is directly relevant to their health and disclosure, and therefore becomes essential and often forced. There are instances where LGBTQ+ patients are motivated to disclose to a provider who they believe will respond positively to information about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity may be direct in that it is clear and concrete. It may also be indirect in that individuals may use particular topics, such as talking about their partner, to broach the subject. Participants may also use specific entry points in the conversation, such as during taking a medical history about medications, to disclose. Some individuals plan and rehearse their disclosure conversations, whereas others disclose when they feel they have no other choice in the interaction. Increasing inclusivity on the part of providers and medical facilities is one way to promote comfortable disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, updating the office environment and policies, as well as paperwork and confidentiality procedures, can also promote safe disclosure. Finally, improvements to training and education for healthcare professionals and office staff can dramatically improve interactions with LGBTQ+ patients. All of these efforts need to make integration of knowledge about how LGTBQ+ individuals can disclose comfortably and safely a central part of program design.
Marya Gwadz and Amanda S. Ritchie
It is well documented that African American/Black and Hispanic individuals are underrepresented in biomedical research in the United States (U.S.), and leaders in the field have called for the proportional representation of varied populations in biomedical studies as a matter of social justice, economics, and science. Yet achieving appropriate representation is particularly challenging for health conditions that are highly stigmatized such as HIV/AIDS. African American/Black, and Hispanic individuals, referred to here as “people of color,” are greatly overrepresented among the 1.2 million persons living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Despite this, people of color are substantially underrepresented in AIDS clinical trials. AIDS clinical trials are research studies to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of promising new treatments for HIV and AIDS and for the complications of HIV/AIDS, among human volunteers. As such, AIDS clinical trials are critical to the development of new medications and treatment regimens. The underrepresentation of people of color in AIDS clinical trials has been criticized on a number of levels. Of primary concern, underrepresentation may limit the generalizability of research findings to the populations most affected by HIV/AIDS. This has led to serious concerns about the precision of estimates of clinical efficacy and adverse effects of many treatments for HIV/AIDS among these populations. The reasons for the underrepresentation of people of color are complex and multifaceted. First, people of color experience serious emotional and attitudinal barriers to AIDS clinical trials such as fear and distrust of medical research. These experiences of fear and distrust are grounded largely in the well-known history of abuse of individuals of color by medical research institutions, and are complicated by current experiences of exclusion and discrimination in health care settings and the larger society, often referred to as structural racism or structural violence. In addition, people of color experience barriers to AIDS clinical trials at the level of social networks, such as social norms that do not support engagement in medical research and preferences for alternative therapies. People of color living with HIV/AIDS experience a number of structural barriers to clinical trials, such as difficulty accessing and navigating the trials system, which is often unfamiliar and daunting. Further, most health care providers are not well positioned to help people of color overcome these serious barriers to AIDS clinical trials in the context of a short medical appointment, and therefore are less likely to refer them to trials compared to their White peers. Last, some studies suggest that the trials’ inclusion and exclusion criteria exclude a greater proportion of people of color than White participants. Social/behavioral interventions that directly address the historical and contextual factors underlying the underrepresentation of people of color in AIDS clinical trials, build motivation and capability to access trials, and offer repeated access to screening for trials, hold promise for eliminating this racial/ethnic disparity. Further, modifications to study inclusion criteria will be needed to increase the proportion of people of color who enroll in AIDS clinical trials.
Kami J. Silk and Daniel Totzkay
The Breast Cancer and Environment Research Program (BCERP) is a transdisciplinary program of research created to investigate environmental exposures and their relationship to breast cancer with a particular focus on puberty as a potential window of increased susceptibility to environmental exposures. A transdisciplinary approach has a strong focus on translating scientific findings into usable health practices as well as health prevention messages so that current research informs practice as well as communication to the lay public. BCERP engaged in communication science to develop health messages for lay audiences, health professionals, and outreach organizations. The precautionary principle, used as a primary guide in regards to message translation and dissemination, yields a useful discussion of the BCERP organizational structure. An exploration of formative communication science efforts in BCERP, areas of sensitivity for creating BCERP messages, and resources created for BCERP toolkits serves to illustrate and describe this one approach to designing health and risk messages.