Skip to main content

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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  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.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bogaert, A. F., & Hershberger, S. (1999). The relation between sexual orientation and penile size. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 28, 213–331.

    PubMed  Article  Google 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.

    PubMed  Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Carrier, J. M. (1977). “Sex role preference” as an explanatory variable in homosexual behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 6, 53–65.

    PubMed  Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    PubMed  Article  Google 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.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Kippax, S., & Smith, G. (2001). Anal intercourse and power in sex between men. Sexualities, 4, 413–434.

    Article  Google 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.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Moskowitz, D. A., Rieger, G., & Roloff, M. E. (2008). Tops, bottoms, and versatiles. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 23, 191–202.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Puts, D. A. (2010). Beauty and the beast: Mechanisms of sexual selection in humans. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31, 157–175.

    Article  Google 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.

    PubMed  Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David A. Moskowitz.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Moskowitz, D.A., Hart, T.A. The Influence of Physical Body Traits and Masculinity on Anal Sex Roles in Gay and Bisexual Men. Arch Sex Behav 40, 835–841 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-011-9754-0

Download citation

Keywords

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