Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 775–784 | Cite as

Physical, Behavioral, and Psychological Traits of Gay Men Identifying as Bears

  • David A. Moskowitz
  • Jonathan Turrubiates
  • Hector Lozano
  • Christopher Hajek
Original Paper

Abstract

The Bear community exists as a subculture in reaction to the larger gay community. It rejects the normative idealized male beauty revered by mainstream gay men. While qualitative data document such self-identifiers as masculine-acting gay men who weigh more and have more body hair, there has to date been no quantitative analysis of this group’s characteristics. In response, we conducted two large-scale studies of gay men identifying as Bears (n = 469) to survey their self-reported physical, behavioral, and psychological traits. Our studies indicated that Bears were more likely to be hairier, heavier, and shorter than mainstream gay men. They reported wanting partners who were hairier and heavier. They were less likely to reject sexual partners and the partners they did reject were more likely to be young or weigh too little (i.e., were not bearish). Bears were more likely than mainstream gay men to enact diverse sexual behaviors (e.g., fisting, voyeurism) and were comparatively more masculine. Bears had lower self-esteem but were no less (or more) hypermasculine than non-Bears. We concluded that Bears are intensely sexual. We speculate that Bears are viewed as less attractive than what is traditionally considered to be attractive. The partners they can attract may be limited and, in response to this limitation, they may be particularly attuned to seek out partners who will not reject them. This condition may produce the low self-esteem exhibited and may explain how the Bear culture developed to ensure that even the heaviest, hairiest, and/or shortest individual can partner. Future analyses of the community’s health are warranted.

Keywords

Bears Gay culture Gay and bisexual men Self-esteem Masculinity Obesity 

References

  1. Bancroft, J., Janssen, E., Strong, D., Carnes, L., Vukadinovic, Z., & Long, J. S. (2003). Sexual risk-taking in gay men: The relevance of sexual arousability, mood, and sensation seeking. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 555–572.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beren, S. E., Hayden, H. A., Wilfley, D. E., & Grilo, C. M. (1996). The influence of sexual orientation on body dissatisfaction in adult men and women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 20, 135–141.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Drummond, M. J. N. (2005). Men’s bodies: Listening to the voices of young gay men. Men and Masculinities, 7, 270–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Duncan, D. (2007). Out of the closet and into the gym: Gay men and body image in Melbourne, Australia. Journal of Men’s Studies, 15, 331–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Garner, D. M. (1997). The 1997 body image survey results. Psychology Today, 30, 30–46.Google Scholar
  6. Grov, C., Parsons, J., & Bimbi, D. (2010). Sexual compulsivity and sexual risk in gay and bisexual men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 940–949.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hennen, P. (2005). Bear bodies, bear masculinity: Recuperation, resistance, or retreat? Gender and Society, 19, 25–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Isay, R. A. (2009). Being homosexual: Gay men and their development. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  9. Johnson, C. (2001). Self-esteem comes in all sizes: How to be happy and healthy at your natural weight. Carlsbad, CA: Gürze Books.Google Scholar
  10. Kalichman, S. C., Weinhardt, L., DiFonzo, K., Austin, J., & Luke, W. (2002). Sensation seeking and alcohol use as markers of sexual transmission risk behavior in HIV-positive men. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 24, 229–235.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kaminski, P. L., Chapman, B. P., Haynes, S. D., & Own, L. (2004). Body image, eating behaviors, and attitudes toward exercise among gay and straight men. Eating Disorders, 6, 179–187.Google Scholar
  12. Kimmel, S. B., & Mahalik, J. R. (2005). Body image concerns of gay men: The roles of minority stress and conformity to masculine norms. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 1185–1190.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Leit, R. A., Pope, H. G., & Gary, J. J. (2001). Cultural expectations of muscularity in men: The evolution of Playgirl centerfolds. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 29, 90–93.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Manley, E., Levitt, H., & Mosher, C. (2007). Understand the bear movement in gay male culture: Redefining masculinity. Journal of Homosexuality, 53, 89–112.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Martins, Y., Tiggeman, M., & Churchett, L. (2008). The shape of things to come: Gay men’s satisfaction with specific body parts. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 9, 248–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Monaghan, L. F. (2005). Big handsome men, bears and others: Virtual constructions of ‘fat male embodiment’. Body & Society, 11, 81–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Morrison, M. A., Morrison, T. G., & Sager, C. L. (2004). Does body satisfaction differ between gay men and lesbian women and heterosexual men and women? A meta-analytic review. Body Image, 1, 127–138.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Mosher, D. L., & Sirkin, M. (1984). Measuring a macho personality constellation. Journal of Research in Personality, 18, 150–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Moskowitz, D. A., & Hart, T. A. (2011). The influence of physical body traits and masculinity on anal sex roles in gay and bisexual men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 835–841.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 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
  21. Moskowitz, D. A., & Seal, D. W. (2010). Revisiting obesity and condom use in men who have sex with men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 761–765.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nichols, M. (2006). Psychotherapeutic issues with “kinky” clients. Journal of Homosexuality, 50, 281–300.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Nordling, N., Sandnabba, N. K., Santtila, P., & Allison, L. (2006). Differences and similarities between gay and straight individuals involved in the sadomasochistic subculture. Journal of Homosexuality, 50, 41–57.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Olivardia, R., Pope, H. G., Borowiecki, J. J., & Cohane, G. H. (2004). Biceps and body image: The relationship between muscularity and self-esteem, depression, and eating disorder symptoms. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 5, 112–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Peeters, A., Barendregt, J. J., Willekens, F., Mackenbach, J. P., Al Mamun, A., Bonneux, L., et al. (2003). Obesity in adulthood and its consequences for life expectancy: A life-table analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 138, 24–32.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Peplau, L. A., Frederick, D. A., Yee, C., Maisel, N., Lever, J., & Ghavami, N. (2009). Body image satisfaction in heterosexual, gay and lesbian adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 713–725.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 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
  28. Sandnabba, N. K., Santtila, P., & Nordling, N. (1999). Sexual behavior and social adaptation among sadomasochistically-oriented males. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 273–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Santtila, P., Sandnabba, N. K., Alison, L., & Nordling, N. (2002). Investigating the underlying structure in sadomasochistally oriented behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31, 185–196.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Tafarodi, R. W., & Swann, W. B. (2001). Two-dimensional self-esteem: Theory and measurement. Personality and Individual Differences, 31, 653–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory of inter-group behavior. In S. Worchel & L. W. Austin (Eds.), Psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 7–24). Chicago: Nelson-Hall.Google Scholar
  32. Weiner, D. U. (2009). Sexual identity development and self-esteem as predictors of body image in a racially diverse sample of gay men. Journal of Homosexuality, 56, 1011–1029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wright, L. (1997). The bear book: Readings in the history and evolution of a gay male subculture. New York: Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  34. Yelland, C., & Tiggemann, M. (2003). Muscularity and the gay ideal: Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in homosexual men. Eating Behaviors, 4, 107–116.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. Moskowitz
    • 1
  • Jonathan Turrubiates
    • 2
  • Hector Lozano
    • 2
  • Christopher Hajek
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Epidemiology and Community HealthThe New York Medical College, School of Health Sciences & PracticeValhallaUSA
  2. 2.Department of CommunicationUniversity of Texas at San AntonioSan AntonioUSA

Personalised recommendations