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Male dominance of discussions around steroid use may increase risk to women

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Women who use steroids may be at “higher risk” because discussions around the issue are often dominated by men, new research has revealed.

Led by the University of Stirling, the study – which investigated the role of gender on an online forum for steroid users – found that men’s voices were “overtaking” those of women, meaning it was difficult for them to come together as a community to share experiences.

Dr April Henning, Lecturer in Sport in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, presented the findings at an international symposium on doping – addressing use practices; prevention and treatment; and policy.

“Our research focuses on the experiences of women fitness doping users – those using image and performance enhancing drugs, mainly anabolic steroids in this study – and how they navigate an online space dedicated to their use,” said Dr Henning.

“Looking at the role that gender – specifically hegemonic masculinity – played in their experiences, we found that women’s voices were often drowned out by men’s, even in the part of the forum dedicated to women.

“The findings are concerning because, if women are struggling to come together to share their own embodied experiences, perceptions, advice and knowledge, they may be using these drugs with less knowledge and expertise – and less knowledge leads to a higher risk.”

Dr April Henning

Dr April Henning presented the findings of her research during a two-day symposium at the University of Stirling.

Dr Henning worked on the research alongside co-author Dr Jesper Andreasson, Associate Professor at Linnaeus University in Sweden. Their study – to be published in a peer-reviewed journal – focused on a ‘women and steroids’ forum and is one of the first to consider the situation of everyday women who choose to dope – not just bodybuilders or athletes.

They defined the male dominance of the online space as “cultural man-spreading” – adding that the phenomenon may put women off from engaging on the forum.

Dr Henning added: “Most harm reduction services target male users of image and performance enhancing drugs, therefore, understanding women and their patterns of use is key to reducing risk.”

The two-day international symposium, Image and Performance Enhancing Drugs (IPEDs) and Polydrug Use: Knowledge, Services and Gaps, was funded by the Wellcome Trust. It brought together experts in IPEDs and other substance use to build new research networks and collaborations.

The University of Stirling has been Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence since 2008 and is The Times / Sunday Times Good University Guide’s UK Sports University of the Year 2020. The University offers an unrivalled all-round environment for excellence in sport: education, research, participation, and performance.

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