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Promiscuity stereotypes affect support/opposition to gay rights, according to study

The support or opposition of some people to gay rights is still hinged on stereotypical representations of members of the gay community, says a study.


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The support or opposition of some people to gay rights is still hinged on stereotypical representations of members of the gay community. This was the finding of a study – “The effect of the promiscuity stereotype on opposition to gay rights” – published in PLoS One.

In this study, researchers D. Pinsof and M.G. Haselton noted that opposition to gay rights is still prevalent in many countries around the world; and “recent correlational research suggests that opposition to gay rights may be driven by an interaction between one’s own short-term mating orientation (i.e. willingness to engage in casual sex) and representations of gay people as sexually promiscuous.”

So the researchers experimented by manipulating representations of gay men by randomly assigning participants to read one of two versions of a fictitious newspaper article – one containing faux scientific evidence confirming the stereotype that gay men are promiscuous, and the other containing faux scientific evidence refuting the stereotype.

“We found that the manipulation interacted with short-term mating orientation (STMO) to predict opposition to gay rights, such that low-STMO individuals (i.e. more averse to casual sex) exhibited more support for gay rights when assigned to read the stereotype-refuting article compared to the stereotype-confirming article,” the researchers reported.

More sex positive people (or those high-STMO individuals/less averse to casual sex) were reportedly “not significantly influenced by the manipulation”.

According to the researcher, this study may have important implications for the study of antigay attitudes, considering that earlier researches have indicated that anti-gay attitudes are associated with: higher religiosity, higher disgust sensitivity, and a lower frequency of contact with homosexual people.

“The ideas guiding our research may provide a parsimonious explanation for all three of these relationships,” they said.

First, “recent research suggests that the primary function of religious institutions across cultures is to facilitate sexually conservative mating strategies—as distinct from promoting other kinds of nonsexual moral concerns. Thus, to the extent that homosexuality is viewed as antithetical to the mating strategies promoted by religious institutions, religious individuals may be especially inclined to disapprove of homosexuality and oppose gay rights.”

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Second, “higher disgust sensitivity in the sexual domain is related to more sexually restricted (i.e. low STMO) mating strategies and may represent the affective component of such mating strategies. Thus, disgust sensitivity may be indirectly related to antigay attitudes by virtue of the role it plays in facilitating sexually restricted mating strategies.”

And lastly, “limited contact with homosexuals may increase the extent to which individuals rely on the promiscuity stereotype in judging same-sex romantic relationships. Increased contact with homosexuals may therefore provide stereotype-refuting information that reduces antigay prejudice. If this is the case, one might expect the relationship between homosexual contact and antigay prejudice to be particularly pronounced among low-STMO individuals, and to be mediated by representations of gay people as promiscuous.”

Pinsof and Haselton highlighted the relevance of good media representation as a tool to increase acceptance of homosexuality. “For instance… legalizations of gay marriage could have led to increases in media depictions of committed, family-oriented gay couples, and this could have initiated a positive feedback loop leading to greater acceptance of homosexuality…”

But they said that the extent that extent media depictions of committed gay couples can alter representations of gay men and lesbians—and thereby increasing support for gay rights—is an additional question for future research.

“One implication of the ideas guiding this research is that antigay attitudes are far from inevitable. If antigay attitudes are contingent on specific mating strategies interacting with specific mental representations, both of which may be capable of undergoing rapid change, then antigay attitudes may be more of a product of cultural and ecological circumstances than an immutable feature of human nature. Thus, the ideas guiding this research may provide a reason for gay rights activists to be optimistic about the continuing decline of opposition to gay rights,” the researchers ended.


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