Use of the term homophobia was recently discarded by the Associated Press due its assessment that the suffix "-phobia" inaccurately suggests that people have an irrational fear of homosexuals. But fear does, indeed, seem to play a large role in negativity towards gay and bisexual men and women, according to a new study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Specifically, fear of getting hit on.
“Our paper demonstrated robustly that perceptions of unwanted sexual interest by certain sexual orientation groups predict sexual prejudice quite well among college students," lead author of the study, Angela G. Pirlott of University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire explained to PsyPost.
The study asked 533 heterosexual college students to report (on a scale of 1 to 9) their own sexual interest for groups of students (same sex, opposite sex, and bisexual), as well as the extent they believed different sexual orientations would be interested in having sex with them.
The study found that "straight men perceive gay and bisexual men to direct unwanted sexual interest, but not lesbians or bisexual women; and straight women perceive lesbians, bisexual women and bisexual men to direct unwanted sexual interest, but not gay men." Here's a graph of the results:
But here's the thing: most women are already used to experiencing unwanted sexual advances from people who they are simply not attracted to. Perhaps this isn't a usual occurrence for heterosexual men, which would explain why they seem to fear it most.
The authors admit in their conclusion that the design of their study cannot "conclusively rule out the reverse causality hypothesis that sexual prejudices cause perceptions of unwanted sexual interest." In other words, that decades of stereotypes that gay men are preying, hypersexual, and obviously into their back hair have led even the youngest men to believe this must be the case. The authors also take into account that the subjects young age might also lend them to "especially stigmatize those whose sexual orientations are perceived violate gender norms."
Then, of couse, there's always this rational fear: