A new study from Indiana researchers tells us what most even minded people will already have assumed to be true: that sex and romance in gay relationships are closely linked.
The research, published this month in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, is based on an Internet survey of almost 25,000 self-identifying gay and bisexual men from the United States and delves into a question that science actually has little concrete data on: whether sex and romantic love are linked among same-sex partners in the same way that it is for straight people.
The data was actually obtained by approaching men on gay-interest social and dating websites. Such websites have earned a reputation as “hook-up” sites, so we might have expected this to bias the results in favor of casual sex with less of a romantic component, but that’s not what happened.
The researchers discovered that an overwhelming number of gay and bisexual men — some 92.6% — reported that at the time of their last sexual encounter, they were in fact in love with their partner.
This isn’t surprising as the closely linked nature of sex and romantic feelings has been well documented among opposite sex partners, but this is among the first research papers to tackle whether the same is true among same-sex couples. So why does this even matter and why is it worth highlighting today?
The researchers do a good job of contextualizing this, with Debby Herbenick, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, quoted as saying:
“This study is important because of myths and misunderstandings that separate men from love, even though the capacity to love and to want to be loved in return is a human capacity and is not limited by gender or sexual orientation.”
Indeed, the very kinds of “myths and misunderstandings” that Herbenick touches upon are still being used in court documents to prop up gay marriage bans. A ready example comes from Utah where the state’s newly hired outside counsel filed its 120-page brief with the 10th District Court of Appeals this month in which it attempts to build a strawman that only opposite sex relationships can provide the best environment for child rearing. We know that, while not explicitly mentioned in the brief, all of these kinds of arguments are underpinned by the notion that gay men in particular don’t have romantic relationships but are only interested in sexual gratification.
The research also provides some insight into the role age plays in feelings of love among same-sex sexual partners. For instance, men who said they were in love with their sexual partner were most commonly between the ages of 30 to 39. Younger men were more likely to be unsure about whether they loved their partner or not. On the other end of the scale, older men were more likely to be sure. Of those men, those who did love their partner reported an enhanced sexual experience when compared to those who were not in love at the time of their sexual encounter.
Lastly, more than 90% of men in the study reported that their feelings of love (or not) were matched by their partner’s feelings. This was interesting for researchers in this study because the idea of matching someone else’s feelings — in effect, being clear about whether the encounter might serve a longer-term relationship or be just a one-off — is something that even among straight couples science hasn’t yet probed.
To be sure, this research isn’t particularly surprising, but as with previous research in this vein it is necessary to keep examining questions like these that on the surface may seem foregone conclusions precisely because it is only with the weight of real data that we can most effectively continue to shut down anti-gay rhetoric. You can argue opinions, but facts are facts.
So, while anti-gay forces like Utah’s administration busy themselves with things like the debunked Regnerus parenting study to try to support gay marriage bans and anti-gay laws, we can continue to turn to reputable research that time and again shows that love and sex between same-sex partners is, well, really very ordinary.
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