Straight White American College Students' Attitudes Toward a Self-Identified Straight, Not Gay or Gay Man Who Has Sex with Men: Incongruent Sexual Orientation Identity Diminishes Perceived Psychological Health

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Robert W. Mitchell ORCID iD icon



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This study examines how participants view men who have sex with men (MSM) based on their sexual orientation identity (SOI) and sexual position identity (SPI). White heterosexual male (n = 93) and female (n = 210) American college students read one of six scenarios about an ordinary man named John who has sex with men. In the scenarios, John’s SOI and SPI were manipulated, in that he considers himself gay, straight or not gay, and thinks of himself as either a top or a bottom. Participants rated their attitudes towards John’s psychology, social character, HIV vulnerability and status as gay. Men were less interested in being friends with John and found him less interesting than women did, and agreed more that, if they were John, they would think of themselves as gay. Participants agreed for all SOIs that, if they were John, they would think of themselves as gay, though they agreed more strongly when John’s SOI was gay than otherwise. Compared to their ratings for gay John, participants rated straight and not gay John as more conflicted about his sexuality, in need of counselling, irresponsible and unpredictable. John’s SPI had almost no influence on any attitudes towards John. Findings suggest that, if MSM identify themselves as straight or not gay, people not only think that they are gay, but also experience them as more psychologically unhealthy than if they identify themselves as gay. These attitudes suggest that, because people commonly use SOIs to make predictions about sexual orientation, incongruence between a man’s SOIs and his sexual orientation implicates psychological difficulties.

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Psychology & Sexuality