In recent years, bullying has made headlines with some tragic examples of how devastating teasing can be for a child or teen. Increased awareness has led to anti-bullying messages and campaigns in an effort to reduce bullying in schools and provide support for those who may be victims of it. Tyler Tulloch, now a PhD student at Ryerson suggests that the effects of bullying may extend well beyond adolescence, into adult years. With the support of a CIHR/CAHR Master’s Award, Tyler’s research looked at how a history of being teased, particularly for non-conforming gender presentation and social activity, affected adult high-risk sexual activity.
Tyler was particularly interested in how childhood teasing influences the sexual practices of gay and bi-sexual men. “Only in recent decades has the psychosocial wellbeing of sexual minorities been an acceptable topic of research. Research into gay men’s health issues is not very common in the field of psychology here in Canada” Tyler says, and it’s why he got into this area of study.
In Tyler’s research, high-risk sexual activity was determined by asking participants about their sexual partners (whose HIV status was known or opposite to their own) and whether they engaged in unprotected intercourse with these partners. The results of his study point to long term effects of bullying; “People who reported higher rates of being verbally teased in childhood had more high-risk sex partners in adulthood than those who reported lower rates of being verbally teased” Tyler explains. “I also found that people who reported higher rates of being teased for gender nonconformity in childhood, and who were also depressed, reported a greater number of high-risk sexual encounters.”
Drawing from his research results, Tyler points out that anti-bullying campaigns can have an un-intended but critical benefit: “By reducing childhood bullying, campaigns may have a far-reaching impact. They have potential to reduce high-risk sexual activity later in life that could place individuals at greater risk of contracting HIV.”
Tyler enjoys the interaction and community-based approach of his line of research, “The success of my work relies heavily on alliances with community members and community organizations” says Tyler “I value the collaborative nature of it.” The CIHR/CAHR Master’s Award supported Tyler as a student and as he admits, it really helped him focus on his work: “Being in a clinical psychology Master’s program is a bit like juggling, you’ve got so much going on. This funding provided peace of mind that allowed me to focus on my research wholeheartedly.”
Tyler will begin his PhD this year and is looking forward to exploring questions illuminated by his Master’s work, “I am now very interested in examining how people’s motivations for engaging in sex are associated with high-risk sexual behavior” says Tyler. “Some motivations for sex that have been associated with high-risk behaviour among heterosexual samples include having sex to enhance physical/emotional pleasure, improve self-esteem, or cope with negative emotions. I’m interested in examining this among gay and bisexual men.”
The Canadian Association for HIV Research is proud to support students like Tyler in their research through graduate research awards. Congratulations on completing your Master’s Tyler and good luck with your PhD!