Previous research indicates that some homophobic men’s views can be explained as an unconscious or forced self-denial about being attracted to the same sex, although results have been inconsistent. New research just published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine overcomes problems with previous research and adds to the evidence that shows that many homophobic men have homosexual desires, whether they know it or not!
Until now, the strongest support for homophobic men being attracted to men was a study where 54% of the homophobic men that were tested, but not non-homophobic men, became physiologically aroused (i.e., had increase in penile tumescence) while watching explicit erotic homosexual videotapes.
However, penile tumescence is not a perfect measure of male sexual interest and may signal anxiety.
Moreover, another homophobia study suggested this to be the case, where defensive homophobic men have a phobic-like aversion to homosexual stimuli. However, the tests they used were not designed in a way that could truly reveal an unconscious sexual attraction towards other men, and certainly wouldn’t see through a secretly gay homophobe’s self-denial.
Thus the present study turned away from penile tumescence tests and instead used well-used measures of sexual interest that does not rely on genital sexual arousal, or on conscious input that could help hide homosexual attraction.
Using eye-tracking technology, men with low and high levels of homophobia had their viewing time of homosexual vs heterosexual photographs compared with their ratings of such images. In addition, a manikin task was used to assess impulsive, unconscious tendencies towards homosexual images.
The manikin task provided an indirect measure of impulsive approach and avoidance behaviors towards homosexual and heterosexual images. During the task participants were asked to move a computerized manikin towards a homosexual image and away from a heterosexual image on the screen, and vice versa. Button pressing reaction times were used to identify a natural impulse toward homosexual images, signifying attraction, or a natural impulse to avoid homosexual images.
As with other studies, men low in homophobia were pretty straightforward: they viewed homosexual images less than heterosexual ones, rated heterosexual images as the most attractive and had low impulsive approach tendencies toward homosexual stimuli.
Men with high levels of homophobia on the other hand, were a mixed bag.
The major finding of this study was that:
Men high in homophobia looked significantly longer at homosexual than at heterosexual photographs, but only when they had a high impulsive tendency toward homosexual stimuli. This result indicates that some men high in homophobia indeed have a sexual interest toward homosexual stimuli, whereas others do not.
In other words, for some homophobic men, the more homophobic their personal views were, the less time they spent viewing homophobic images and displayed an impulsive or latent tendency to avoid such photographs. However, for other homophobic men, the more homophobic their views were, the more time they spent viewing homophobic images, which was related to an impulsive or latent attraction towards such images.
Importantly, other research has confirmed that some homophobic men get more angry and anxious after viewing homosexual images. Ironically, such stress makes controlling and overriding any latent impulses more difficult, which may have exposed their unearthed sexual desires in the study.
The next step forward in research is to start studies with larger numbers of men that combines both genital and non-genital measures of sexual interest, as well as stress responses.
Until then, the present evidence implies that for some, homophobia may in reality be an external manifestation of repressed same-sex sexual desires.
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Barlow, D., Sakheim, D., & Beck, J. (1983). Anxiety increases sexual arousal. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 92 (1), 49-54 DOI: 10.1037/0021-843x.92.1.49
Cheval, B., Radel, R., Grob, E., Ghisletta, P., Bianchi-Demicheli, F., & Chanal, J. (2016). Homophobia: An Impulsive Attraction to the Same Sex? Evidence From Eye-Tracking Data in a Picture-Viewing Task The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13 (5), 825-834 DOI: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.02.165
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