New research suggests that sexual promiscuity negatively impacts social responses toward both gay and straight men. The study, published in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinities, found that women are more likely to seek to avoid gay men described as promiscuous compared to gay men who are not described as promiscuous.
“Perceptions of masculinity, and stereotypes toward gay men, are multifaceted,” said study author Corey Cook, an assistant professor of psychology at Pacific Lutheran University.
“I was interested in knowing what happens when some of these perceptions overlap; for example, does perceived sexual promiscuity (which is associated with traditional ideas of masculinity, but also used as a justification for antigay prejudice) affect perceptions of gay and straight men similarly? These kinds of comparisons can help us understand where these prejudices come from, and hopefully help us find ways to reduce them.”
In the study, 354 heterosexual undergraduate students were randomly assigned to report their social attitudes towards either gay men, straight men, gay men who are sexually promiscuous, straight men who are sexually promiscuous, gay men with very feminine qualities, straight men with very feminine qualities, gay men with very masculine qualities, or straight men with very masculine qualities.
To assess their attitudes, the participants were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I would like for a member of this group to work in the same place as I do” and “Members of this group are the kind of people that I tend to avoid.”
The researchers found that both female and male participants reported greater social distancing toward gay men than toward straight men. Women also reported greater social distancing toward sexually promiscuous gay men than gay men in general. Men, however, showed no difference in attitude between sexually promiscuous gay men and gay men in general
In addition, Cook and his colleagues found that women reported greater social distancing toward sexually promiscuous straight men compared to all other groups.
“One important implication of this research is that attitudes based on sexual behavior can be more nuanced than we often think. Research consistently finds that heterosexual women are generally more accepting of gay men than heterosexual men are. My findings suggest that this is not the case when gay men are explicitly labeled as sexually promiscuous,” Cook told PsyPost.
“Additionally, heterosexual women and men respond negatively toward straight men labeled as sexually promiscuous. This is interesting because heterosexual men have traditionally used ‘sexual prowess’ as a way to boost their status; my research suggests that this tactic might not work as well as men think.”
In a second experiment with 500 participants recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, the researchers found evidence that women’s negativity toward sexually promiscuous gay men was related to concern for disease threats. But perceived disease threat only explained some of the relationship.
“One major caveat to these findings is that our data do not fully explain why women responded so negatively toward targets labeled as sexually promiscuous. What is it about sexual promiscuity that elicited such negative reactions from women in our studies?” Cook said.
“Also, what perpetuates this “masculine” norm among men if both men and women respond negatively to sexual promiscuity? I hope my findings are interesting enough to motivate other researchers to explore these questions in ways I haven’t yet thought of.”
“I think the timing of this research is fortuitous. We are at a point culturally when people are beginning to ask very important questions about traditional ideas of gender, sex, and sexuality. Maybe findings such as these can help us think of ways to redefine masculinity and help us find healthier ways of perceiving sexuality,” Cook added.
The study, “You Don’t Know Where He’s Been: Sexual Promiscuity Negatively Affects Responses Toward Both Gay and Straight Men“, was authored by Corey L. Cook and Catherine A. Cottrell.