Hyper-Masculinity in Gay & Bisexual Men Increases Psychological Distress

“Gay and bisexual men experience numerous negative health conditions, including high rates of mental health problems,” said Beth N. Fischgrund of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, and lead author of a new study examining masculinity and mental health in gay and bisexual men. “Empirical studies show that a strong adherence to masculine norms is correlated with poor health outcomes, such as mental health problems and risky sexual behaviors.” National studies have shown that gay men are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety as heterosexual men, and that suicide rates for these men are nearly double those of other men.

The way gay and bisexual men perceive their masculinity has a significant impact on mental health. “Society’s messages about sexuality are not the only cultural attitudes that sexual minority men are confronted with; cultural attitudes also delineate what it means to be a man,” said Fischgrund. She added that some men may exhibit hyper-masculine behaviors when they feel their masculinity is being threatened. “Gay men who endorse hyper-masculine norms might then experience identity incongruence when they are presented with general society’s norms that differ and contradict their own. In these situations, the more integral the hyper-masculine norms are to a man’s identity, the more psychological distress he may experience.”

For her study, Fischgrund recruited 311 gay and bisexual men, nearly a third of which reported an HIV positive status. “Among these gay and bisexual men, those who adhered to norms that incorporate an interpersonal aspect of masculinity (i.e., conceptions of masculinity as social behavior or as sexual  behavior) endorsed higher levels of mental health distress than did men who adhered to norms that focus on the intrapersonal aspects of masculinity (i.e., conceptions of masculinity as physical appearance),” said Fischgrund. “Additionally, men who did not know their HIV status endorsed higher levels of depression.” She emphasized the importance of her findings. “Specifically, designing programs that center on altering the social and sexual masculine norms within the gay male community are needed to decrease the mental health burden of gay and bisexual men, which has been shown to be associated with HIV risky behaviors.”

Fischgrund, B. N., Halkitis, P. N., & Carroll, R. A. (2011, October 24). Conceptions of Hypermasculinity and Mental Health States in Gay and Bisexual Men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024836

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Chad G

    October 28th, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    I suppose if these are men who are living their lives trying to show others that they are something that they are not that would have a huge impact on the mental health of anyone. You are lying to yourself and to others around you, and that could take a toll on anyone. That is why now is the time to come out and come clean. If you are gay, then live that life and be proud. Those who really love you will not be the ones who will abandon you.

  • Arnie

    October 28th, 2011 at 9:23 PM

    ^^Exactly. If they try to show themselves as something they are not fully like it is bound to put a lot of mental stress on them and this can lead to numerous problems down the road. I know people are not fair but folks, Just be yourselves.

  • Jeanette

    October 29th, 2011 at 6:28 AM

    Gay men are especially prone to having to hide thier true selves. We have placed that expectation on them as a society. We all know that there are many many people who are still very uncomfortable with seeing homosexuality and seeing these couples happy with one another. It is like we have gotten to the point that we are ok with what anyone does behind closed doors but we do not want to see this out in the general public. But look at what this is costing a mjor segment of our society! Why wouldn’t you rather just see couples happy and in love no matter who their partner is? I know that I sure would.

  • w arthur

    October 29th, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    imagine yourself in a marathon.youre running at a pace youre comfortable with.and then you realize people are just calling you SLOW and so you start to sprint.soon youre huffing n puffing.

    who are you running for?yourself or for others??

    the choice is yours-if you want to put burden and pressure onto yourself because of what others say,then that is not a very wise thing to do,is it?!

  • Jacob

    July 28th, 2012 at 11:10 PM

    Genius illustration

  • Leif

    October 30th, 2011 at 5:32 AM

    Maybe they act this way because they have picked up on that they have a better chance getting ahead in life by acting straight than they do if they are open with their homosexulaity.

  • Gail Shotts

    October 30th, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    So some gay men exaggerate their masculine traits? That’s interesting. I’d never heard of hyper-masculinity before now. That demolishes the ignorant stereotype that all gay men are more feminine in their demeanor then! I know several gay men and none of them fit the feminine mold.

  • Jacob

    July 28th, 2012 at 11:12 PM

    Appreciated when things like that r stated, thank you Gail.

  • u.n.

    October 31st, 2011 at 12:00 AM

    Trying to stray too far from your instinctive gender role can place a lot of stress on you for a while. Even though it’s completely meaningless in these modern times, the instincts remain, but what can you do about it honestly? Nothing. The sooner you flip society the bird and say “Don’t tell ME what to do!” the better.

  • renaldo h.

    October 31st, 2011 at 12:12 AM

    I know a guy who’s gay and for the first time in my life I heard the term “bear” to describe a certain group of gay men. Bears are big, strong looking men with bushy beards. I guess hyper-masculinity would refer to them then. They are anything but feminine looking.

  • BBV

    October 31st, 2011 at 12:24 AM

    Funny how many straight people think they have the gay community all figured out and they can tell who’s gay or straight at a glance LOL. Your “gaydar” is malfunctioning, ladies and gentlemen. I doubt you’d have spotted me. I’m 6’3″ and 180 pounds, not a skinny little waif nor male model material. I am not effeminate at all and like to talk sports as much as the next (straight) guy.

    If you saw me on a dark night you’d be worried that I was going to kick your butt. I’m told that’s the look I have. Don’t worry, I’m a pussycat and not that kind of guy. ;)

  • Jacob

    July 28th, 2012 at 11:14 PM

    And it just goes to show sports interests range widely among orientations. Rock on!

  • fawn

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:26 AM

    Forcing people to accept traditional gender roles is part of the reason those of different identities and orientations are so stressed out. Society puts a COMPLETELY imaginary ideal on everyone else and unfairly calls out the ones who go against it, making their lives are more arduous than necessary. As the article says, it makes you do stupid things.

  • jerry z.

    November 5th, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    You could say to some men after an argument with retail staff that a REAL man would walk back into that store and knock him out. Before you know it, some poor guy has a bloodied nose and the cops are on the way because they felt they had something to prove. Some men are considered more “manly” than others, and some less “manly”. However that doesn’t give anyone the right to point it out and take advantage of it or else, as was said, make you make an ass of yourself.

  • A.L. Powers

    November 5th, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    @Gail: The stereotype of gay men being feminine means that no man on the planet can enjoy cooking, gardening, fashion, or anything stereotyped as being womanly without being branded gay by someone, somewhere.

    So, the big question is: who’s going to call David Beckham-world class soccer player, style king and father of four-and tell him no more modeling gigs or fragrance endorsements then for him and Victoria? ;)

  • Abigail B.

    November 5th, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    Many assume I’m gay because of my job. I am married to a woman. I’m a male fashion designer. I have two kids. I hunt, drive a four-wheel, have worked in construction, and I was in the Army for six years. They can’t reconcile all that with me being a straight man. Newsflash! Your sexual orientation isn’t determined by your career choice!

  • Grero

    April 9th, 2013 at 4:51 PM

    It’d be nice if the study distinguished between men who are *acting* masculine and those who are masculine. Why would there be distress if that’s what you are?

    ~Grero –

  • John W.

    July 9th, 2015 at 4:37 AM

    The only attributes of a true man are Physical strength and aggressiveness. This comes only by high levels of testosterone. Low testosterone = low aggressiveness = low sex drive and eventually erectile dysfunction. In fact the society is turning us males into females from each successive generation by making us “soft”. Infertility rates are high with low testosterone and the human species will face its doom due to this ‘politically correct’ attitude

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