Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 835–841 | Cite as

The Influence of Physical Body Traits and Masculinity on Anal Sex Roles in Gay and Bisexual Men

  • David A. Moskowitz
  • Trevor A. Hart
Original Paper


Sociological, psychological, and public health studies document that many gay and bisexual men may self-label by their anal penetrative role (i.e., bottom or exclusively receptive; top or exclusively insertive; or versatile, both receptive and insertive during anal intercourse). Yet, what orients men to think of themselves as tops, bottoms or versatiles is poorly understood. We surveyed 429 men engaging in same-sex anal intercourse to investigate the degree to which anal penetrative self-identity was concordant with actual penetrative behavior. Additionally, the roles of masculinity and physical body traits (e.g., penis size, muscularity, height, hairiness, and weight) were tested as correlates of anal penetrative identity and identity-behavior concordance. Tops and bottoms showed a high degree of concordance between identity and enacted behavior; however, only half of versatiles reported concordant identity and behavior (i.e., wanting to be versatile and actually reporting versatile behavior). Generally, tops reported larger penises than bottoms. They also reported being comparatively more masculine than bottoms. Versatiles fell somewhat between the tops and bottoms on these traits. Of the six independent variables, penis size and masculinity were the only two factors to influence concordance or discordance between identity and penetrative behavior. Our study suggests that the correlates of gay men’s sexual self-labels may depend on objective traits in addition to the subjective pleasure associated with receptive or insertive anal intercourse.


Anal penetrative role Tops Bottoms Versatiles Penis size Masculinity Gay and bisexual men 



Special thanks to J. Michael Bailey, Ph.D., and Gerulf Rieger, Ph.D. Data collection for this article was supported, in part, by center grant P30-MH52776 from the National Institute of Mental Health (PI: J. A. Kelly) and by NRSA postdoctoral training grant T32-MH19985 (PI: S. D. Pinkerton).


  1. Bailey, J. M., Kim, P. Y., Hills, A., & Linsenmeier, J. A. W. (1997). Butch, femme, or straight-acting? Partner preferences of gay men and lesbians. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 960–973.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bogaert, A. F., & Hershberger, S. (1999). The relation between sexual orientation and penile size. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 28, 213–331.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Campbell, C. A. (1995). Male gender roles and sexuality: Implications for women’s AIDS risk and prevention. Social Science and Medicine, 41, 197–210.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carballo-Diéguez, A., Dolezal, C., Nieves, L., Diaz, F., Decena, C., & Balan, I. (2004). Looking for a tall, dark, macho man…sexual-role behavior variations in Latino gay and bisexual men. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 6, 159–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carrier, J. M. (1977). “Sex role preference” as an explanatory variable in homosexual behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 6, 53–65.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Drummond, M. J. N., & Filiault, S. M. (2008). The long and short of it: Gay men’s perceptions of penis size. Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, 3, 121–129.Google Scholar
  7. Filiault, S. M., & Drummond, M. J. N. (2007). The hegemonic aesthetic. Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, 3, 175–184.Google Scholar
  8. Gil, S. (2007). A narrative exploration of gay men’s sexual practices as a dialectical dialogue. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 22, 63–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Grov, C., Parsons, J. T., & Bimbi, D. S. (2010). The association between penis size and sexual health among men who have sex with men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 788–797.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hart, T. A., Wolitski, R. J., Purcell, D. W., Gómez, C., & Halkitis, P. (2003). Sexual behavior among HIV-positive men who have sex with men: What’s in a label? Journal of Sex Research, 40, 179–188.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kippax, S., & Smith, G. (2001). Anal intercourse and power in sex between men. Sexualities, 4, 413–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Knussmann, R., & Sperwien, A. (1988). Relations between anthropometric characteristics and androgen hormone levels in healthy young men. Annals of Human Biology, 15, 131–142.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Moskowitz, D. A., Rieger, G., & Roloff, M. E. (2008). Tops, bottoms, and versatiles. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 23, 191–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Moskowitz, D. A., Rieger, G., & Seal, D. W. (2009). Narcissism, self-evaluations, and partner preferences among men who have sex with men. Personality and Individual Differences, 46, 725–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Puts, D. A. (2010). Beauty and the beast: Mechanisms of sexual selection in humans. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31, 157–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Rieger, G., Linsenmeier, J. A., Gygax, L., & Bailey, J. M. (2008). Sexual orientation and childhood gender nonconformity: Evidence from home videos. Developmental Psychology, 44, 46–58.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sanderson, T. (1994). A-Z of gay sex. London: Other Way Press.Google Scholar
  18. Symons, D. (1981). The evolution of human sexuality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Veall, M., & Zimmerman, K. (1996). Pseudo-R2 measures for some common limited dependent variable models. Journal of Economic Surveys, 10, 241–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Wegesin, D., & Meyer-Bahlburg, H. F. L. (2000). Top/bottom self-label anal sex practices, HIV risk and gender role identity in gay men in New York City. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 12, r3–r62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Wei, C., & Raymond, H. F. (2010). Preference for and maintenance of anal sex roles among men who have sex with men: Sociodemographic and behavioral correlates. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi: 10.1007/s10508-010-9623-2.
  22. Weinrich, J. D., Grant, I., Jacobson, D. L., Robinson, S. R., McCutchan, J. A., & The HNRC Group. (1992). Effects of recalled childhood gender nonconformity on adult genitoerotic role and AIDS exposure. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21, 559–585.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of CommunicationUniversity of Texas at San AntonioSan AntonioUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyRyerson UniversityTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations