Dr. Gordon explores why fewer men are willing to identify as gay & bisexual in places less tolerant of homosexuality.
It seems that intolerance of homosexuality does contribute to how men express their same-sex interests. This past weekend, The New York Times published an article titled: “How Many American Men Are Gay?” which took a look at the percentage of self-identified gay men in the United States. The writer, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, collected reports of homosexual interests among men from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census, Gallup, Facebook, Match.com, Craigslist, Google searches, and Rocket Tube (an adult website) searches. What he found tells an interesting story about the differences of how men across the country report and express their same-sex interests.
For starters, according to data from Facebook, Gallup, and the U.S. Census, states that are the least tolerant and most stigmatizing of homosexuality (e.g. Mississippi) seemingly have less gay men among their populations than states that are the most accepting of homosexuality (e.g. California). For example, according to Facebook data, men in California are 3 times are likely to be interested in the same-sex (3% of the male population) than men in Mississippi (1% of the male population). You can see a parallel trend in the (below) graphic from OkCupid, which asked straight-identified users how open they’d be to a same-sex sexual encounter. The map reveals that individuals in states more tolerant of homosexuality expressed more openness to a same-sex encounter than individuals from less tolerant states. Data from the Census, Gallup, and Match.com reveal similar disparities in the willingness of individuals to disclose a gay sexuality identity and/or same-sex interests in high vs. low tolerant states.
Why might these differences exist? Is it possible that gay and bisexual men simply choose to congregate in more tolerant states? To address these questions, Stephens-Davidowitz took a look at the percentage of high school-aged males that expressed an interest in men on their Facebook profiles, since young men of this age can’t move across the country at will. The results from this analysis also showed that young men in more tolerant states were significantly more likely to express same-sex interests than young men in less tolerant states. Since there is no evidence to suggest that a man in (say) California is more likely to be born gay or bisexual than a man in (say) Mississippi, the most likely explanation is that men in less tolerant states are more hesitant to reveal their same-sex interests than men in more tolerant states.
How do we test this theory? Well, porn, of course! Stephens-Davidowitz took a look at the search trends of the adult website RocketTube.com. What he found was that across all states about 5% of total searches were for gay/male pornography. This suggests a relatively equal percentage of male gay/same-sex interest across the country, regardless of state.
Continuing his research using behavioral measures of sexual interest, Stephens-Davidowitz took a look at “casual encounter” posts on Craigslist. What he found was that the percentage of ads from men seeking casual encounters with other men tends to be much higher in less tolerant states. Among the states with the highest percentages of male-seeking-male ads were Alabama, Kentucky, and Louisiana.
What does all of this mean? It seems that living in a place that is less tolerant and more stigmatizing of homosexuality makes it more likely that a gay or bisexual man will hide his sexual identity. In those states more accepting of homosexuality, we see that men of all ages are more likely to share their sexual identity in public ways, like on their Facebook, Match.com profile, or even to the Census Bureau. Whereas men in less tolerant areas are less likely to disclose their sexual identity. Yet, apparently gay and bisexual men in less tolerant states are not altogether denying their same-sex interests—in fact, men in these states may be equally (and in some cases more) likely to fulfill their same-sex interest in more private (secret?) ways, through gay/male pornography and online hook-ups.
What we don’t know, is how much psychological strain is placed on these men because of their felt need to keep their same-sex interests private. Some of these men may-well be completely happy keeping their sexuality to themselves. Others, however, may be keeping their interests in men secret to avoid scrutiny from others—or perhaps even themselves. In some cases these men may feel pressure to date or marry women to further conceal their sexual orientation. In his article, Stephens-Davidowitz notes that the Google search query: “Is my husband gay?” is searched significantly more frequently in states less tolerant of homosexuality.
This research highlights how this type of intolerance can restrict men from being open about their sexual identities. For some, this may mean inwardly or outwardly limiting a bisexual, curious, or fluid sexual-identity. For others, it may mean hiding or denying the entirety of a gay sexual-identity.
Let me know what you think?