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New Study Suggests That Homophobia Stems From 'Fear Of Unwanted Sexual Advances'

SPPSHomophobia, along with bigotry and prejudice in general, has never been known as a particularly intellectual process. However, thanks to a recent study published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal, we may have new insights into the origins and inner-workings of homophobia and sexual prejudice. 

Previous analysis might have blamed homophobia on religious or conservative conditioning, or latent homosexuality. This new study, conducted by Angela G. Pirlott of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Steven L. Neuberg of Arizona State University, now indicates that homophobes could also be doing what they do because they are "avoiding unwanted sexual interest." Pirlott, the lead author of the study, explained the origins of their work in an interview with the Huffington Post

"We began exploring the idea of a 'sexual interest mismatch' -- that the sexual interests of the perceivers and their perceptions of the sexual interests of the different sexual orientation groups differed...In particular, that some sexual orientation groups might be perceived as directing unwanted sexual interest toward them."

The three-part study sampled 533 heterosexual students, and asked them to rate their sexual interest towards six different classifications of people: straight men, gay men, bi men, straight women, lesbians, and bi women. Pirlott then explained the rest of the process in an interview with PsyPost:

“We then assessed their perceptions of the extent to which each of the those six target groups were interested in heterosexual men and women. Using a difference score in which we subtracted perceptions of target sexual interest from perceived sexual interest, we determined which groups were perceived to direct unwanted sexual interest.”

Westboro Baptist ChurchIn other words, the researchers did not explicitly ask the students if they were homophobic or prejudiced. Rather, the researchers framed their questions in a way that would allow them to infer said information based on the data that they collected. Using this methodology, Pirlott and Neuberg found that students who carried homophobic beliefs or sexual prejudices tended to direct them towards those groups that could potentially direct unwanted sexual attention towards them. Prejudiced straight men usually felt intimidated by gay men and bisexual men, but not lesbians or bisexual women. Prejudiced straight women were usually intimidated by lesbians and bisexual women, but not gay men. As Pirlott herself stated, "The patterns of prejudices map on nearly perfectly with perceptions of unwanted sexual interest."

Those familiar with the "gay panic defense" may not be very surprised at such results. Neuberg, who has studied the psychology of bias for years now, was also quick to note, though, that this new study does not necessarily prove a direct cause-effect relationship between homophobia and unwelcome sexual advances. Rather, this study simply gives us more insight into a relationship between the two, given that the study did find a strong correlation between the two. Pirlott also hopes that this study will help draw attention to some other possibly inaccurate hypotheses for homophobia, such as gender-role violation, threats to sexual identity, and threats to a person's religion and/or beliefs. 

You can find the full published study HERE

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  1. And yet it's always the fugly straight guys that seem terrified of being hit on. It's like, dude, if girls won't, gays sure as hell won't.

    Posted by: Mikey | Jul 10, 2013 2:26:27 PM

  2. Oh so the homophobes are now the victims of prospective sexual advances.

    But why are most of the people who ’fear of unwanted sexual advances’ are conservatives and religious nuts?

    This study failed.

    Posted by: AndyTowlette | Jul 10, 2013 2:30:35 PM

  3. It is the other way around, they are upset and fearful that we won't make a pass at them.

    Posted by: Monrocsol | Jul 10, 2013 2:33:59 PM

  4. May I just point out the GLARING problem with this study (and forgive me if they actually did go over this)...

    They ASKED them what their orientation was. The studies which actually tested it found 80% of so-called straight homophobes were actually queer as f*ck.

    Posted by: Michael | Jul 10, 2013 2:39:41 PM

  5. It's the "fear of" part that's important. The sexual advances are happening in their heads, not in their lives. This doesn't say anything about gay people, only about the irrational perceptions of homophobes.

    Posted by: Ernie | Jul 10, 2013 2:47:52 PM

  6. OK, I didn't read the entire study but from the summary here I'm just not seeing much significance to it.

    Posted by: Butch | Jul 10, 2013 2:49:37 PM

  7. I wonder if they used the same survey with Nazis they would find out that Nazis suffered from Jew panic. If they asked racists the same questions, would they find racists suffer from "Black" panic. The problem with studies like this is the researchers were proving a hypothesis, a theory, so they framed the questions to fit into their heterosupremacist mold.

    Gay bashers are heterosupremacists who bash gays because they think their heterosexuality gives them the authority to decide who is human enough for human rights.

    Posted by: QueeRevolutionary | Jul 10, 2013 2:51:06 PM

  8. "Oh so the homophobes are now the victims of prospective sexual advances."

    The study says they are *afraid* of being the victims of sexual advances, not that they are in fact the victims of anything. Which is pretty pathetic if you think about it, acting out irrationally because you're afraid something might be happening when in fact nobody cares about you at all. Life as a bro is hard.

    Posted by: Mousie | Jul 10, 2013 2:52:32 PM

  9. Homophobia is a mental disease.

    Posted by: Rad | Jul 10, 2013 2:54:33 PM

  10. This study wasn't asking the correct questions...homophobic men normally look at women as objects and overtly sexualize they assume that gay men do the same thing to them and it terrifies them. It's projection at its finest. Terrified of what they are doing to others.

    Posted by: Bill | Jul 10, 2013 2:58:28 PM

  11. This might also explain the ageism, body facism, and racial separation socially in the gay community as well. Maybe a lot of young gay men avoid other gay men of certain age, ethincity, or body type, because they might be perceived as directing unwanted sexual interest toward them.

    Posted by: Frank | Jul 10, 2013 3:01:17 PM

  12. Maybe that should read, "having the potential to direct unwanted sexual interest toward them."

    Posted by: Frank | Jul 10, 2013 3:02:49 PM

  13. This is the old dropped soap theory. I believe gay panic is a real phenomena, although it's not legally defensible. But it's still based on perception, which ultimately points to latent attraction as the root of homophobia.

    Posted by: Kev C | Jul 10, 2013 3:06:36 PM

  14. But how does this explain the homophobia that a parent might have for their own child. Surely they're not suggesting that the root of a homophobic parent's fear is of unwanted sexual advances from their own child?

    Try again...

    Posted by: Kieran | Jul 10, 2013 3:12:26 PM

  15. Wouldn't this phenomenon also account for homosexuality?

    Posted by: MateoM | Jul 10, 2013 3:26:02 PM

  16. I believe their fear is based in part that they will feel unable to decline the sexual advance and will, in turn, need to face up to feelings they have internally. Straight men who are 100% comfortable being straight are not offended or in danger when another man finds him attractive. Channing Tatum comes to mind...

    Posted by: Tophier Verdugo | Jul 10, 2013 3:27:56 PM

  17. Hogwash. Homophobia is rooted in an insecurity with respect to one's own sexual orientation. Real straight men are not afraid of teh gays and they don't spend a second thinking about what we get up to in bed.

    Posted by: Jeff | Jul 10, 2013 3:28:37 PM

  18. Homophobia means a FEAR of homosexuality but I feel we need a new word to describe HATRED of homosexuals.

    Posted by: shanestud | Jul 10, 2013 3:45:11 PM

  19. after reading stories, the abstract, and part of the study, i think that the 'methodology' has some questionable flaws in it. the population is not really that big and the questions were asked verbally. in addition, there appears that there could be some preconceived notions of the outcomes by the researchers. i also don't see a control group of lgbtq included in the study.**

    the important thing, though, is it can possibly be used to give some credence to the 'panic defense' at trial.

    **we've all been 'hit on' by members of the opposite sex, so our responses needed to be used for comparison. personally, i've responded with something like, 'Thank you & I'm very flattered, but.... & I use a number of responses depending on how much tension needs to be defused. my favorite is 'you have the wrong equipment. they laugh & usually respond with 'too bad'. it doesn't really bother me. well, except, i wish it was more men than women.........

    Posted by: mike/ | Jul 10, 2013 3:51:23 PM

  20. Oh, puleeeeze, Mary. Has any gay on this site ever "FREAKED OUT" because a hetero person hit on them?

    Gimme a f'n break already.

    Posted by: Pete N SFO | Jul 10, 2013 3:53:37 PM

  21. Homophobes are paranoid delusional. They imagine all sorts of unreal sh*t - from imaginary come-ons, imaginary rapes to imaginary religious crusades - and then react to what they imagined. They imagine good-looking straight guys are gay and are trying to seduce them. It's like Joan of Arc 247 in their brain. Homophobes are mentally unstable.

    Posted by: Kev C | Jul 10, 2013 3:58:51 PM

  22. In other news, water is wet and the sun rises in the east.

    Fearing sexual advances doesn't make much sense. You would fear what it might do to your reputation or might fear how you might respond to the advance though.

    Posted by: anon | Jul 10, 2013 4:00:12 PM

  23. By this same theory, gay men would be heterophobic against straight women. Last time I checked, the only gay man that hates women is Rick/Jason, and not because he's afraid of their advances.

    Posted by: MateoM | Jul 10, 2013 4:08:13 PM

  24. Can you say FAIL!
    Homophobia is LEARNED behavior.
    Irrational fear is the lamest of excuses ever.

    Posted by: JONES | Jul 10, 2013 4:24:56 PM

  25. This is the kind of thing women go through all the time, I mean the unwanted sexual commentary that always gets thrown at them. Its the idea that straight men are afraid will have this thrown at them and it terrifies them as much as it freaks out and scares women when it happens to them. I mean thats what I got from it at least

    Posted by: Ben | Jul 10, 2013 4:41:25 PM

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