UK Researcher: One Third of US High School Football Players Have Had Sex with Men

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Oct 29, 2007
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One third of former high school football players have had same-sex sexual experiences, according to a new study.

Sociologist Dr. Eric Anderson, studying American men who had played football in high school, said that out of 47 men surveyed, 19 had participated in sexual conduct with others of their gender.

Sexual contact was defined to mean behavior specifically meant to sexually excite others, and ranged from kissing to oral sex. The behavior also ranged from threesomes with one woman and two men present, to encounters involving only two men.

The study was controlled to exclude mock-sexual horseplay, or "hazing."

The men surveyed ranged in age from 18-23 years and all had become cheerleaders at college after failing to make the college-team cut.

The men attended colleges in the South, Midwest, West, and Northwest.

Dr. Anderson claimed that his study shows a declining stigma surrounding homosexuality, leading to greater honesty from the men he polled.

Wrote Anderson in the study, which is titled Being Masculine Is Not About Whom You Sleep With: Heterosexual Athletes Contesting Masculinity and the One-Time Rule of Homosexuality, "The evidence supports my assertion that homophobia is on the rapid decline among male team sport athletes in North America at all levels of play."

The journal Sex Roles is slated to publish the study in January.

Continued Anderson, "These findings differ from previous research on North American men who have sex with men, in several ways."

Specified Anderson, "First, previous research describes heterosexual men in heterogeneous group sex as men symbolically engaging in sexual practices with other men. However, I find informants actually engage in sexual activity with other men. But this does not mean that they are gay."

Added Anderson, "Second, my informants do not feel that their same-sex sex jeopardizes their socially perceived heterosexual identities, at least within the cheerleading culture. In other words, having gay sex does not automatically make them gay in masculine peer culture."

Anderson, who is at the University of Bath in England, said that the American situation mirrors that among athletes in Britain, and he accounts for the men’s greater willingness to be forthcoming about their same-sex encounters to greater levels of communication between gays and heterosexuals, as well as to less negative depictions of homosexuals in media such as television.

Anderson also cited an ebb in the influence of religious fundamentalists for the social shift, according to Science Blog.

Anderson addressed the question of whether the men now being involved in cheerleading (often stereotyped as a woman’s pursuit) had biased his sample, saying that it had not because the men he surveyed uniformly thought of themselves a masculine.

Anderson was the first coach in American high school athletics to be openly gay, the article said, but he left the profession following an attack on one of his pupils. The attack reportedly was perpetrated because of a perception that the victim was gay.

Anderson also left the U.S., taking a position with the Department of Education at the University of Bath, where he researches sports sociology. Anderson has authored a book on the subject, titled In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity.

Said Anderson, "Men have traditionally been reluctant to do anything associated with homosexuality because they feared being perceived gay."

Continued Anderson, "There has been pressure on them to conform to the notion that being male is about having traditionally masculine traits, in terms of dress, behaviors and sexual activities."

Added Anderson, "But as more men are open about their varieties of sexuality, it becomes less stigmatized to be gay or to have sex with men. It is increasingly not a problem to act in otherwise non-traditional ways."

Anderson went on, "I see this in other areas of my research too, including how men behave in straight nightclubs, where I find that university-aged men dance as much with each other than with women, and how heterosexual men are increasingly free to wear clothing styles or colors that once were taboo for them."

Said Anderson, "This isn’t something that would have happened ten or twenty years ago. Times are changing and they are changing rapidly for men of this age."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • Anonymous, 2007-11-01 10:20:33

    "The men surveyed ranged in age from 18-23 years and all had become cheerleaders at college after failing to make the college-team cut." Way to skew the headline of the story. Very irresponsible. The real story is about Male Cheerleaders, not football players.

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