live, I regret to say, in an age of surfaces."
Importance of Being Earnest'. Oscar Wilde.
website is a adaptation of an
unpublished CD ROM
that was an outcome of my doctoral research project
undertaken at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia finishing in 2001.
have adapted the CD ROM so that the information can be available
to other researchers and a
wider audience; six other chapters remain to be added to the website. This is an academic research
project, the images and texts used under "fair use" to critique and ground an academic argument. No breach of
copyright is intended. Please note
that this website contains photographs of the naked male body. Before undertaking a study of this website I
would suggest that the viewer read the Thesis notes section 'Defining
Orthogonality'. The term "orthogonality" is critical
to understanding the outcomes of the research project.
INDEX IS THE MAIN NAVIGATION PAGE FOR
THE WEBSITE - GO TO THE INDEX
to navigate the website is located
at the bottom of this page. The interactive Site Map is located
updated July 2006. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best viewed at 1024 x 768 pixels.
sections of the website include:
Examines the history of photographic images of the muscular male body.
Personal stories of men talking about being gay, body-image, self-esteem and sex.
Looks at how our vision of other gay men may affect our attitudes towards them.
Examines the 'lifestyles' that gay men adopt within the community to be successful.
Investigates the development of gym culture, its masculinity, images and 'lifestyle'.
This chapter gives information on the sexual habits and habitats of gay men.
Looks at the morals and ethics used to justify sexual identities and interactions.
Examines some of the issues surrounding safe sexual practices in gay men.
Examines the feminine side of masculinity.
Investigates the photographic representation of the muscular male body in the media.
Investigates alternative ways of imag(in)ing the male body.
Examines possible future representations of the gay male body.
Includes the Introduction, Orthogonality, Interview questions, Interview data, Evolving Theory, research at The Kinsey Institute, The One Institute, Minor White Archive and Conclusion.
undertaking this research I set out to explore my field of
research (namely the link between self-esteem, body image
and unsafe sex), using a wide range of research methods to
gather raw data, methods that included focus groups, 31
in-depth interviews with
gay men, image collections, bibliographic and theoretical
research. The artistic content of the CD
the background images) has
been adapted for this website and appears at the bottom of
each page, or under my name within the website's pages. The
artwork illuminates the empirical data, evidencing the feelings
and desires, the aesthetic and emotional responses and tendencies
that were evoked by the data collected, the artistic content
working in conjunction with the text. The issues discussed
cover a broad range of concerns, from the desire for intimacy & connection in gay men to the taboo of condom free anal
sex, from the history of muscular male body images to their
affect on the self-esteem of gay men. In a gay subculture
based on youth and beauty what happens if your body image
doesn't fit the 'ideal' of the muscular, smooth, white male?
How does this image affect your self-esteem? What sacrifices
will you make to 'have' a body like that yourself? What are
you prepared to do to have sex with a person who does possess
such a body? Will you have unsafe sex? Because gay men, culturally,
are predisposed to worship their own bodies & the bodies
of other men how does this then explain their potentially
self destructive behaviour in having sex without a condom?
I have no objections to gay men having masculine muscular
bodies and I do not deny that there is a hierarchical 'order
of desirability' in gay male society, as in most societies.
What I am concerned about are the psychological and physiological
problems that arise when gay men find it so necessary to chase
after such an 'ideal'.
there was a reasonable amount of academic research material
into the link between body image and self-esteem (See Mishkind
et al in the thesis notes; see also
Kiley, Dean. "Coming Over All Queer: Theory, Ageing and Embodied
Problematics," in Antithesis.Vol.7, No.1. Melbourne:
Melbourne University Press, 1995) there was very little, if
any, academic research material into the link between unsafe
sex, body image and self-esteem. Although
not academic research, and not specifically linking unsafe
sex, desire for the muscular
mesomorphic body and levels of self-esteem together, other
important reading material included Michelangelo
Signorile's book 'Life Outside: The Signorile
Report on Gay Men: Sex, Drugs, Muscles, and the Passages of
Life' which examines the whole culture of the 'Cult of
Masculinity', the circuit parties, drugs, muscular bodies
and provides empirical evidence of unsafe sex linked to desire
for muscular mesomorphic bodies.
this research project has no scientific or sociological basis
in objective fact, I believe that the research has established
that physical appearance (body image) does affect self-esteem
in gay men, and that levels of self-esteem (both high and
low) are equally likely to affect what gay men will do to
have sex with a man who possesses their body image 'ideal',
an image which is usually constructed on the signifier of
the muscular mesomorphic body as the epitome of that 'ideal'.
14 respondents to the interview questions stated that they
had unsafe sex with a body image 'ideal' (predominantly the
muscular mesomorphic body type), some with a conscience about
their actions, some with no care or concern for their own
safety and the possible consequences of their actions. 3 respondents
said they had been tempted to have unsafe sex with a body
image 'ideal' but didn't carry through with it. 2 respondents
reported contracting the HIV virus after having unsafe sex
with a man who fitted their body image 'ideal'. Whilst noting
that the interviews do not provide a large quantitative scientific
study with a statistical analysis I nevertheless believe that
the empirical data collected from the interviews is no less
valuable an insight into the sexual phenomenology of gay men,
establishing how a particular group of gay men experience
their sexual needs and feeling. This data, coupled with the
bibliographic and theoretical research including research
at The Kinsey Institute and The One Institute/International
Gay and Lesbian Archives (IGLA) at University of Southern
California, provides a unique resource for the general public
and future researchers.
suggest that further research would be desirable into the
construction of the stereotypical 'ideal' of the muscular
mesomorphic body image, and the positioning and placement
of this image within certain valued individual and cultural
disciplinary systems. The outcomes of this future research
may provide greater information on the ability to change the
semiotic language of these systems in order to open up to
gay men a greater range of body images that they can find
desirable as fantasy figures. I also suggest the commissioning
of a qualitative study of gay men to further qualify the conclusions
of the current research project. The results of the current
research project would benefit from further research based
on a larger qualitative study focused on the sexual habits
of gay men which could examine the linkage between self-esteem,
body image and unsafe sex in a statistical format.
completing my doctorate in 2001 the research has been stored
at RMIT University Library in Melbourne
and very few people have seen it. In 2005 I decided to remedy
this situation by adapting the research and making it into a
website. Whilst the research is 5 years old little research
has been undertaken in these areasin the intervening years.
HIV sero-conversion rates have risen substantially
within the gay community in Australia and around the world but
the disease seems to have been forgotten by all but those that
work to prevent the disease from spreading within the community
and throughout the world, as though 'out of sight, out of mind'
is good enough. Today, young gay men in Western countries have
little exposure to men living with the disease on a day to day
basis, or of actually seeing a gay man ill with HIV/AIDS. In
talking to gay men throughout the gay community there seems
to be a perception that combination medications, whilst not
offering a cure to the disease, make the quality of life reasonable
if one does dontract the disease. This perception negates the
often debilitating side effects that these medications have
as well as leaving men with living with HIV open to opportunisitc
Combination treatments have increased the quality of life
of people living with HIV, and friends are now living for
many years with a reasonable level of T-cells and low viral
loads. We are thankkful. But the questions posed by this research
still remain - are gay men contracting HIV because of a desire
for sex with a body image ideal (combined with other micro
and macro conditions). I believe the answer is still yes.
As far as I am aware no further research has been undertaken
on the link between physical appearance, self-esteem and unsafe
sex in gay men throughout the world. When I presented the
ten posters I had developed as outcomes of this research project
(see the Rubber Press
chapter) to the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men's Health Centre
in Melbourne they commented that the posters where too hard
hitting and not inclusive enough. This is political correctness
at it's worst - doing nothing for fear of offending someone.
Whilst the posters may have needed a revision in design I
continue to believe that this is what is needed - a hard hitting
campaign within the gay community to make gay men, especially
young gay men, aware of some of the issues surrounding body
image, self-esteem and unsafe sex including the use of drugs
within the gay community. I hope that in the future such issues
will finally be addressed.
Dr. Marcus Bunyan, Melbourne, 2006.