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Young sex workers more prone to muscle dysmorphia, study shows.

Newswise — Using data from more than 900 participants in a large, diverse and national sample of Canadian adolescents and young adults from the Canadian Study of Adolescent Health Behavior, a new study published in the journal Sexual health researchers found a significant association between sex work and muscle dysmorphia.

Sex work, in its various forms, is highly stigmatized in Canadian society, and sex workers are often victims of harmful stereotypes. It is estimated that approximately 4% of Canadian adolescents are involved in the sale of sex services, and research has shown that those involved in sex work are at increased risk of addiction problems, poor mental health and physical harm. However, no known research has previously focused on the association between sex work and muscle dysmorphia.

“The association between sex work involvement and symptoms of muscle dysmorphia is likely complex and explained by multiple mechanisms,” says lead author Kyle T. Ganson, PhD, MSW, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash School of Social Work. “For example, engaging in the pursuit of muscularity through compulsive exercise may be a coping mechanism for the psychological distress and stigma associated with sex work.”

The authors also speculate that individuals involved in sex work may strive for a more muscular, leaner, and stronger body in order to adhere to socially desirable and attractive body ideals.

The authors conclude that although these findings detailing the relationship between lifetime involvement in sex work and symptoms of muscle dysmorphia are novel, further research is needed, particularly regarding the evolving nature of sex work using digital and online venues.

“These findings extend previous research that has described poor mental health, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder among individuals involved in sex work,” says Ganson. “Clinical and community health professionals should be alerted to these findings and consider screening for sex work and muscle dysmorphia symptomatology among youth.”

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