Is Homophobia Associated With Homosexual Arousal?

There are some studies that I wish I could agree with simply because I love the results so much. When a study seems to demonstrate something that I agree with, something that I support or have long suspected, there is a temptation to look past any criticism of the study itself and just hold it up and say, “See! Science has proven me right!”

As tempting as it is, however, it’s a very bad idea. Because I think of myself as a scientist, and as both a rational and a moral person, I cannot bring myself to do it.

With that introduction, let’s talk about the 1996 scientific study that appeared in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology called, “Is Homophobia Associated With Homosexual Arousal?

Is Homophobia Associated With Homosexual Arousal?

The basics of the study are simple to explain and easy to understand. The researchers recruited two groups of volunteer subjects. All of the subjects were men who described themselves as exclusively heterosexual. One group was made up of men who were homophobic, the other group was made up of men who were not. Just to be clear: there was no trickery or slight-of-hand when putting people into groups. The guys were simply given a questionnaire (called the Index of Homophobia), with questions like, “How comfortable would you feel in a room with homosexuals?” and they were given a score based on their answers.  It’s a very straight-forward (forgive the pun) test.

Penile PlethysmographEach subject was put in a room, attached to a device that measured changes in the girth of his penis, and shown porno clips.  (The science of measuring arousal by measuring changes in the size of a guy’s penis over time is called “plethysmography”—aren’t you glad you know that now?) Specifically, he was shown three different types of porn clip: guy-on-girl action; girl-on-girl action; and guy-on-guy action.

Naturally, all of the men gradually got more aroused over time while the porno clips were playing.  When the porn was guy-on-girl action, both the homophobic and non-homophobic groups were equally aroused.  When the porn was girl-on-girl action, both the homophobic and non-homophobic groups were equally aroused.  But when the porn was guy-on-guy action, the guys in the homophobic group became much more aroused than the guys in the non-homophobic group.

The result seems pretty transparent: guys who are homophobic get turned on by gay porn…. or at least, get more turned on by gay porn than non-homophobic guys.

Naturally, the gay community responded to this result with a combination of “well, duh!” and “ha, ha, I told you so.” Gay rights advocates in all communities have pointed to this as evidence of the “thing that people have suspected,” dating all the way back to Freud: that the people who are most enraged by Gay are suppressing and denying the Gay within themselves.

It makes sense. It’s consistent with intuition and casual observation and common experience. And for liberals like me, it is eminently satisfying in an odd karmic justice sort of way.

Unfortunately, it’s a bogus conclusion.

Human Sexuality Is Enormously Complex

People get turned on by all sorts of things. People can be turned on by the way someone looks. They can be turned on by what someone is doing. They can be turned on by a situation or scenario. They can even get turned on simply by the fact that they are looking at something that they think they should not be looking at.

I remember dating a guy, many years ago, who enjoyed watching straight porn. One evening he showed me one of his favorites, and I was a little baffled. The conversation went something like this:

Me: So… which guys in this movie do you think are hot?
Him: Oh, none of them. None of the guys are hot.
Me: So… are you turned on by the girls?
Him: No, I don’t really look at the girls.
Me: So… you’re not attracted to any of the people in the porn…. but you’re turned on by the porn?
Him: Yeah. I think the situation is hot.
Me: Oh! So you kind of imagine yourself in the situation…. as… like… one of the girls?
Him: No, I don’t really imagine myself as one of the girls.
Me: Then you see yourself as one of the guys, having sex with girls?
Him: No, I don’t really imagine myself in the situation at all.
Me: Oh. So you aren’t attracted to the people, and you don’t want to be in the situation… but you think it’s hot?
Him: Yeah… pretty much.

Let’s face it: human sexuality and arousal are enormously complex things. People can get turned on by power, by submission, by mind games, by narcissism, by fear, by tennis shoes, and by pretty much anything else under the sun, given the right circumstances. And sometimes people can even get turned on by the fact that they know that they should not get turned on.

So when someone happens to become aroused looking at a porn flick, how do you know what it is about the porn that is turning him on? Maybe Mr. Homophobic Dude was turned on watching guy-on-guy action because he was turned on by the naughtiness of it. Maybe he was turned on by something that the guys happened to be doing, rather than by the fact that it was guys who were doing it. Who knows? Maybe homophobic guys are just more likely to get turned on by being strapped to a plethysmograph.

Ultimately, the mere fact that a guy gets turned on while looking at guys having sex doesn’t mean that he is getting turned on by the guys. There are simply too many variables, and too many alternative explanations.

Could the study be changed, to rule out some of the other explanations and establish the result more scientifically?

To an extent, I think it could.

For example, one experimental manipulation that I would like to see is a condition where both the homophobic and non-homophobic groups are shown porn that features taboo or things that are broadly seen as socially unacceptable. It’s possible that homophobic guys simply have personalities that make them more aroused by taboo things in general.  The explanation of the result in the 1996 study, therefore, would not be that homophobic men secretly harbor homosexual desires, but rather that homophobic men (or perhaps even all men) are turned on by anything that they perceive as deviant. Homophobic men see gay male sex as deviant, and are therefore more turned on than men who do not see it as deviant. Having another test condition—for example, showing both groups pornography involving animals, or non-consensual sex—could either confirm or rule out this alternative explanation.

There may be other experimental conditions, as well, that eliminate other alternative explanations. But this is part of what the scientific process is supposed to tease apart, by performing additional studies over time. This is how normal science always progresses: one study reports a result, some clever person comes up with an alternative explanation, this prompts a new variation of the study that examines the alternative, and the process repeats.

The only thing that makes this instance of the scientific process different from any other is the amazing amount of social and political stigma and controversy attached to it. The people who want it to be true really want it to be true and will jump at any opportunity and publicize the hell out of it without waiting for a follow-up study; conversely, the people who want it not to be true will dismiss it as ridiculous and flawed also without waiting for (or doing) any follow-up study.

But I have confidence in science. Eventually, the real scientists will do the follow-up experiments. They will come up with the alternative explanations, and test those theories. And the results will eventually be clarified through good, solid, scientific method.

And in the mean time, the rest of us should all just chill the heck out.



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  1. Fumm says:

    A homosexual man can perfectly get sexually aroused to heterosexual porn because he is aroused by the man in it; not by the woman.

    In male homosexual porn there is no woman, so when a heterosexual man watches two guys doing it he will not feel sexually aroused because no woman is present; but homophobes get sexually aroused by the sight of two guys doing it.

    100% heterosexual men tend not to feel uncomfortable around homsoexual men; except for homphobes who certainly are finghting something inside them.

    • Greg Stevens says:

      You said: “In male homosexual porn there is no woman, so when a heterosexual man watches two guys doing it he will not feel sexually aroused because no woman is present;”

      Eh… it’s an interesting theory, and that’s the way a lot of people think about it. But as I tried to explain in this article, sexual arousal is a lot more complicated than that. People can be turned on by a SITUATION, even if they are not turned on by any of the people involved. Some people can get turned on by watching an act, no matter who is doing it. So I think it’s oversimplifying how sexuality and sexual arousal really work, to claim that it’s IMPOSSIBLE for a straight man to get turned on by a scene that has two guys in it. There are a lot of other factors that can be at play than just the physical appearance of the people themselves.

      • Berden1 says:

        Ok, but it is very unlikely that heterosexual men will get turned on by watching two men having sex. The situation you are describing is extremely exceptional.

        The fact is that every year these studies that analyse the correlation between homophobia and repressed homosexuality are released and they show more or less the same results, again, every year, that is, there is a STRONG correlation between the two phenomenons. The figure is usually 80% whereas the other 20% tends to be related to religious indoctrination of heterosexual kids/men (instilling hatred and acting on it as a moral act).

        In 2016 it cannot be denied that yeah, homophobia is most of the time repressed homosexuality, the anxiety to be thought of or be seen as homosexual which forces these men to act aggressively for everybody to think of them as heterosexual men so that they can aliviate the anxiety that suspision stirs up, the anxiety of not being an equal (read “heterosexual”), the anxiety of being seen as less than, being fought back, oucast, despised, etc.

        • Greg Stevens says:

          “The situation you are describing is extremely exceptional.”

          Maybe. Show me some data to back it up.

          “The fact is that every year these studies that analyse the correlation between homophobia and repressed homosexuality are released and they show more or less the same results, again, every year, …”

          Show me some examples.

          Look, what you are saying might be true, but I haven’t seen the data. You have an intuition that “it is very unlikely that heterosexual men will get turned on by watching two men having sex”, but for this to be actual science, you need to have data that show that.

          And the data in this particular experiment don’t show that: there is a confound, as I described in the article.

          If you think other studies have addressed that confound, it’s easy to convince me: just show me the data.

  2. icedinkeddy says:

    Dogs, cats, hamsters, fish, parrots – who do you prefer? Or perhaps what that odd animals – snakes, crocodiles, lizards, monkeys?

  3. Manu Costa says:

    Let me put this another way: why not impose Gays to watch heterosexual scenes and them measure their arousal? Oh, I don’t think so! Because this will prove they are heterosexual deviants, which is what they really are!

    They say “hey guys let’s make a study to prove that homophobes are closet homos…
    oh look! A vague correlation: let’s draw wild conclusions.”

    100% hetero men can be uncomfortable with homosexuals. That just means they find boys kissing boys a little bit gross. it’s not questionable until they start building a career or lifestyle around their dislike of homosexuals. Because the 100% hetero man isn’t going to be thinking about homosexuals very much, the same way I don’t spend too much time considering the vagaries of steaming horse shit or penile-vaginal intercourse. When you’re getting spooked by homosexual specters left and right, endangering your children and your sexuality with their rampant gayness it just sort of tells everyone what you spend a lot of time thinking about (rampant gayness).

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