There’s a famous study, which many liberals are fond of, which involves putting a special cuff around the penises of homophobic young men. This cuff measures even tiny changes in the penile circumference. The homophobes are then shown homoerotic films; the cuff shows that their penises get bigger as they watch hot gay men doing what hot gay men do in such films. In contrast, a control group of non-homophobic men with cuffs around their dicks didn’t show any reaction to the hot gay men. The authors conclude that “Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.”
I most often see this study brought up by liberals and lefties when they’re arguing with a right-winger about some queer rights issue; the point is that homophobes are homophobic because they’re repressing secret gay desires. I don’t like the way it’s brought up in argument, because it’s usually used as a sort of neener-neener “you only say that because you’re a closet case” ad hom attack.
But I’m also bothered by the study’s methodology and interpretation. First of all, measuring sexuality by strapping a cuff around Mr. Happy – while ignoring what the subjects say about their subjective state of arousal – is a reductive and simplistic way of defining male sexuality.
Second of all, sexual excitement isn’t the only thing that can alter a penis’ circumference. The study authors themselves, towards the end of their study, acknowledge that their data could be explained by homophobes feeling anxious and threatened, rather than by secret gay desires:
Another explanation of these data is found in Barlow, Sakheim, and Beck’s (1983) theory of the role of anxiety and attention in sexual responding. It is possible that viewing homosexual stimuli causes negative emotions such as anxiety in homophobic men but not in nonhomophobic men. Because anxiety has been shown to enhance arousal and erection, this theory would predict increases in erection in homophobic men. Furthermore, it would indicate that a response to homosexual stimuli is a function of the threat condition rather than sexual arousal per se.
To me, that seems more likely than the theory that homophobes are mostly closet cases – even though the closet case theory is, I admit, more fun.