Prevalence of Heterosexual Men Who Kiss other Men
One of our primary research questions is the prevalence of same-sex kissing among straight men in this U.S. sample. Descriptive survey data revealed that 38% of the 442 heterosexual men reported having kissed another man on the cheek and 9% on the lips. There was substantial variability in the frequency of these behaviors, with the number of cheek kisses for each participant ranging from 0 to 30, and the number of lip kisses ranging from 0 to 5. To get an overall sense of whether the men in this sample were kissing other men, we conducted one-sample t-tests comparing the average number of cheek and lip kisses to a null value of zero. As expected, mean levels of kissing were significantly greater than 0 for the cheek, t(442) = 15.44, p < 0.001, and for the lips, t(439) = 6.26, p < 0.001.
We noted slight differences in rates of reported kissing between the surveys and the in-depth interviews. 9% of heterosexual men reported kissing or being kissed by another man on the lips in surveys, whereas 13% reported kissing in the interviews. A similar trend emerged for reports of kissing on the cheek: 38% of those surveyed indicated that they had kissed or been kissed on the cheek by a heterosexual male friend, compared to 53% of those undergoing in-depth interviews. Averaging across the two methodologies, 10% of self-identified heterosexual undergraduate men in our sample reported kissing or being kissed by another man on the lips, and 40% reported kissing or being kissed by another man on the cheek.
Attitudes Towards Gay Men
We examined participants’ feelings toward gay men in terms of explicit attitude ratings and self-reported number of gay friends. To begin, we conducted a one-sample t test on mean ratings of attitudes toward gay men, comparing the mean to the midpoint of the scale to determine whether participants’ attitudes were generally positive or negative. The mean rating of attitudes toward gay men was significantly above the midpoint of the scale (M = 3.11, SD = 0.88, t(409) = 13.66, p < 0.001), indicating that participants reported relatively favorable attitudes toward gay men. Descriptively, 74% of participants reported ‘somewhat positive’ or ‘entirely positive’ attitudes toward gay men. Furthermore, participants in this sample had an average of more than four gay friends (M = 4.25, SD = 11.31), with 80% of the sample reporting at least one gay friend. It seemed likely that the variables tapping explicit attitudes toward gay men and total number of gay friends were closely related, such that participants who had more gay friends probably had more favorable attitudes toward gay men. To test this hypothesis, we regressed Attitudes Toward Gay Men onto Number of Gay Friends. As expected, participants who reported having more gay friends reported marginally more favorable attitudes toward gay men in general, B = 0.0029, SE = 0.0017, z = 1.73, p = 0.084.
Data from in-depth interviews confirmed these findings. Of the 75 men interviewed, only one offered disparaging remarks about gay men, and two reported too little contact with gay men to draw strong conclusions. Conversely, unlike heterosexual men of the previous generation (Plummer 1999), most men maintained friendships with gay men.
There was evidence that social contact with gay men promoted inclusivity toward gay men for these participants (see Pettigrew 2008). Corey said, “I have lots of gay friends. In fact the closet friend I have is Gabriel, and he’s gay… I share everything with him.” Rob even grew emotional when discussing his gay male friend:
I was at a party my freshman year, sitting talking to one of my close gay guy friends and I told him my whole life story, including some bad stuff that happened in the past. After, I said to him ‘the support you show me is why I will always support gay rights. I want to stand up and be counted.’
Six of the 75 men interviewed said that their best friend or a close friend was gay. This type of positive social interaction among gay and heterosexual men occurred even on conservative campuses. Charles, who we interviewed at a small, politically conservative campus in the American South, said:
Me and Austin have roomed together in college for the past 2 years. I don’t really see him as ‘gay’ anymore. I kind of forget that some people might think it’s strange that we share a room. I’d never swap him for anyone though.
Previous work in the U.K. (Anderson et al. 2012a, b) and Australia (Drummond et al. 2014) found that homosocial kissing occurred at higher rates among men who: (1) were involved with either a fraternity or an all-male competitive sport; (2) had more positive attitudes toward gay people; and (3) consumed alcohol. We sought to replicate and extend these findings to undergraduates in the U.S.
To explore links between fraternal affiliations and same-sex kissing, we regressed both of the kissing variables (cheek and lips) individually onto Membership in a Fraternal Organization. Compared to men who were not in a fraternal organization, those who were in a fraternal organization reported significantly more kissing on the lips, B = 0.007, SE = 0.003, z = 2.29, p = 0.022, but not on the cheek, B = 0.008, SE = 0.006, z = 1.35, p = 0.178.
The increased rate of homosocial kissing among members of fraternal or sports organizations was something that participants also noted during interviews. Evidencing this, Jordan said, “I guess I see it [same-sex kissing] much more between men on the sports teams; I mean everyone knows that they do that kind of thing.” Derek agreed, saying, “A few of the guys in the frat have been known to kiss each other when drunk, it’s become pretty normal now. We all know who the kissers are! [laughs]” Alan also identified the normalcy of same-sex kissing in sport teams and on fraternities: “After scoring a goal it’s kinda expected that you’ll receive a lot of high fives, hugs and maybe a kiss.”
We then tested whether participants’ broader attitudes toward gay men were associated with reports of same-sex kissing by regressing both of the kissing variables (cheek and lips) individually onto Attitudes Toward Gay Men. Compared to participants with less favorable attitudes toward gay men, those with more favorable attitudes toward gay men reported significantly more kissing on the cheek, B = 0.008, SE = 0.002, z = 5.21, p < 0.001, and marginally more kissing on the lips, B = 0.007, SE = 0.004, z = 1.82, p = 0.069.
Interviews with men who kissed other men explained that this form of tactility was an expression of affection for a close friend (see also Anderson et al. 2012a, b). University men often kissed in public venues like dance clubs and house parties. Tom, a biology student at a university located in the American South, said, “Me and my friend were drinking and dancing in a bar and we kissed on the lips. It was just in the moment of ecstasy. It’s not really an issue in these kinds of places.” Exemplifying the possible influence of alcohol on cross-cultural rates of kissing (see Peralta 2007), survey participants who reported having kissed another man on the lips indicated that this behavior occurred in the context of alcohol about 10% of the time (M = 10.29, SD = 28.44). While similar effects have not been quantified in other research, alcohol consumption emerged as a dominant theme in British men’s kissing narratives (see Anderson et al. 2012a, b]).
Alex, a computer science student from the Midwest, agreed. “You don’t really see it on the college campus. It’s more in the bars and clubs we frequent. But I’ve been kissed by enough guys on nights out to know that it happens!” Pat, enrolled in a university on the West Coast, shared similar experiences, “Just before I took the first shot on my birthday one of my friends gave me a kiss on the cheek, so I grabbed his face and kissed him back.”
Participants in our study stated that they did not consider their kissing a sexual act. Instead, participants likened these brief kisses to a strong embrace and described it as a demonstration of affection for a close friend in particular contexts. Highlighting this, when asked about why he kisses his friend, one participant said, “I kiss him because I love him. I’m not attracted to him like that, but I do love him.” And when another was asked about who is worthy of being kissed, he said, “I guess just my really close friends, the guys I’m closest to.”
Kisses occurred in various locations, but most often in public spaces like bars, dance clubs, and fraternity parties. Alcohol was frequently involved but not always. A few of the participants suggested that they kissed a friend in a private space, such as a dorm room, but this was exceptionally rare. Still, when asked if the kisses were performed any different in private, no participant indicated that they were. James said, “It doesn’t matter where you kiss him, the point is you’re doing it to show your love.”
Thus, our U.S. sample contextualized same-sex kissing as associated with membership in a fraternal organization, having positive attitudes toward gay men in general, and alcohol consumption away from campus. These acts were not described as sexual or romantic in nature, framed instead as expressions of friendly affection. These findings provide a framework for understanding how, when, and why heterosexual men choose to engage in tactile behaviors with one another.
Men Who do Not Kiss Other Men
In addition to examining prevalence and context of same-sex kissing among young men in the U.S., we also investigated the reasons why men did not kiss other men. Analysis of interview data highlighted three themes: (1) kissing is reserved for romantic relationships only; (2) heterosexual men do not kiss other men; and (3) kissing another man is associated with being gay.
The predominant reason that men gave for not kissing another man is that they view kissing as something that should be reserved only for sexual relationships. One participant from the Midwest said,
I consider it to be an intimate thing, something I’d only do with a significant other. That crosses boundaries that aren’t anything to do with gay. I wouldn’t even do it with a female friend because that’d just be weird.
Another participant said, “The lips is a little weird. It’s too personal for me, something saved for a girlfriend. Most of my friends would be the same. It wouldn’t start a fight but it wouldn’t be acceptable.” A participant from the West said, “I don’t mind kissing guys on the cheek when playing sports, like after we win or something, but on the lips is more a thing that should be kept for my girlfriend.” Another participant who had never kissed a male friend added, “It’s not that I’m against it. It’s just not for me. Kissing anyone [casually], even a girl, it’s just not who I am.” For these participants, kissing remained a sexual endeavor.
Others remarked that they do not engage in same-sex kissing because they had no desire to do so. When pressed for details, one participant articulated that, “…it’s just not part of our culture.” Another said, “It’s fine that they do that in England, but guys just don’t do that here.”
Five of the undergraduates (7%) expressed that they do not kiss other men because they associated it with gay identity. One student said, “Kissing [guys] on the lips is more towards homosexual or the gay place, and I’m not gay so I don’t like doing that. I don’t enjoy that.” Another participant, who said he kisses male friends on the cheeks but not the lips, said, “It’s too gay for me.” Three other men said that they feared that being kissed or kissing another guy might compromise their heterosexual identity. These three men espoused a more aggressive disposition, one said, “I’m not gay. That shit isn’t for me.” This may be evidence of personal homohysteria for these participants, but it could also be because kissing is coded as a form of sexual desire rather than homosocial (non-sexual) intimacy. Nonetheless, 89% of the men we interviewed did not discuss either personal or social regulation of masculinity related to same-sex kissing. This suggests, at least indirectly, that homohysteria was not a particularly strong reason for heterosexual men to avoid same-sex kissing contact with one another.