"There are many valid reasons for doing qualitative research ... [one reason] for choosing qualitative methods is the nature of the research problem. For example, research that attempts to understand the meaning or nature of experience of persons with problems such as chronic illness, addiction, divorce, and the act of “coming out” lends itself to getting out into the field and finding out what people are doing and thinking.”
One of the main reasons for undertaking this research project was that I wanted to know how other gay men lived with their bodies, how their appearance affected their self-esteem, how the appearance of the muscular mesomorphic body image affected their self-esteem,2 and whether their own appearance/self-esteem and desire3 for the muscular mesomorphic body image in a sexual partner affected what they did in sex. I wanted to ask questions of people to find out what gay men were doing and thinking in regards to body image, self-esteem and unsafe sex. As Strauss and Corbin say in the above quotation, I wanted “to understand the meaning or nature of experience” of gay men to test my theoretical hypothesis: namely that body image does affect self-esteem and that body image/self-esteem and desire for partners body image do affect safe sexual practices in gay men. This was one of the reasons that I choose to undertake qualitative research as opposed to quantitative research. One of the other reasons in deciding to undertake qualitative research as opposed to quantitative research is that, according to M.Q. Patton, it promotes creative thinking. Patton notes that behaviours he found useful for promoting creative thinking include,
“(a) being open to multiple possibilities; ...
Creative thinking (and the behaviours Patton notes that are necessary to promote it), engage with my own personal philosophies, namely an openness to new ideas, a holistic approach to life and an acknowledgement of multiple perspective’s in self, identity and creative thinking. These personal philosophies helped ground the development of the interview questions. The use of qualitative research allowed me to creatively use my perceptions, intelligence and artistic training in a multi disciplinary way to develop ideas, investigate areas of major concern and develop my evolving theory. The questions used in my qualitative research were formulated and structured so that the answers would illuminate areas of interest pertaining to the present investigation, so as to enhance the development of my evolving theory.5 The questions were focused on the need to uncover evidence to support my evolving theory. Hopefully the answers would reveal the respondents perspective’s, hopes, fears, and desires in relation to body image, self-esteem and sexual practices that would support this evolving theory.
Here I must stress that I am not a trained social researcher. I initially undertook the development of the research questions intuitively, asking questions that I would have asked of myself. I was then assisted in the formulation and development of the interview questions by Dr. Damien Ridge (one of my consultants on this project) who suggested various alterations and amendments to the questions, and by reading “Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory,” by Anselm Strauss and Juliet Corbin.6 In this section I have used quotations from this book and others to substantiate and support personal observations, analyses and theory.
In the development and formulation of the interview questions I decided to explore four different but related areas of interest that I felt had particular relevance to my evolving theoretical hypothesis:
1. Body image desire
2. Body image perception and self-esteem
4. Body image, self-esteem and (un)safe sex
The answers to these questions would be critical to the evolution of my theoretical hypotheses. The questions were finally formulated in the form below. Although originally conceived to be asked, questions in italics were deleted as they duplicated other more focused questions that covered the same territory, but I offer them here as evidence of the process that took place in the development of the interview questions.
Body Image Desire
Can you tell me about the some of your early experiences looking at the bodies of men. Where did you find the first images of men that you were attracted too?
Can you tell me what was your ideal body type:
features do you find attractive in a man.
Before you started to associate with the gay community can you tell
me your idea of the image of a gay man.
Body Image Perception and Self-esteemHow do you feel about your own body? How do you think other men feel about your body?
Have you changed the type of body you want? Do you want this body type in yourself or just in others?
Has how your body looks ever affected your ability to get the men you want?
Have you ever wanted to change the way your body looks? Why? If you did, how would you go about that?
Have you ever been ignored or neglected by someone who had a really good body? How did you feel and react?
It has been suggested that when someone feels bad about themselves because of their body image, they can get depressed. Do you agree?
When you see images of gay men in magazines what do you of them? What kind of lifestyle do you think they have? Are you envious?
Can you tell me of any stories of love or rejection that have happened due to your looks.
Body Image, Self-esteem and (Un)safe Sex
Can you tell me about you own experiences of sexual encounters with a person with a body you find attractive and one that you don’t. Can you paint me a picture of the smells, the surroundings and the emotions involved?
Did you do anything differently because he had a good body/bad body that you wouldn’t normally do? Anything else?
If a guy with the body from hell (ie. a really good body), wanted to fuck you/be fucked without a condom how would you weigh up the scene?
I undertook interviews in Melbourne with 31 gay men of various ages, body types, ethnicities, masculinity, class and sexual experience and proclivities from 02/08/1997 to 23/09/1998. The respondents that took part in the interviews were gathered from gay venues including sex venues, editorials in local gay newspapers, word of mouth through friends and anyone who was interested in telling their story. The interviews took place in the computer room at my residence in Prahran, the respondents answers being typed directly into Microsoft Word documents that were then security coded so that only I had access to them. The room has a safe and intimate environment and I felt that this environment was preferable to a metaphorically cold office space (for example) to conduct the interviews, because I wanted my respondents to feel at ease enough to talk about their personal life histories. The interviews usually took about one and a half to two hours and were quite fluid in nature. I allowed myself and the respondents time to elaborate on stories and discuss ideas and their perceptions and reactions to the questions. I did not lead the respondents answers but asked additional questions where illumination of certain points of interest seemed necessary. In the later interviews I tested some of my assumptions and ideas that I had formulated from earlier interviews with their interpretation of the same phenomenon. As Strauss and Corbin have noted,
“Another analytic strategy is to occasionally check out assumptions, and later hypotheses, with respondents what you think you are finding in the data and ask them whether your interpretation matches their experiences with that phenomenon - and if not, then why.”7
1. Strauss, Anselm and Corbin, Juliet. Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1998, p.11.
“I think that self-esteem is an overall evaluation, either positively
or negatively, of self worth.”
Throughout the website and the Thesis notes (including the development of interview questions, the analysis of data, and the development of evolving theory) I have used the above quotation as the basis for my definition of the term ‘self-esteem’. I think that positive self-esteem can be a condition of happiness in all aspects of the self. Self-esteem can be divided into overall (or global) self-esteem, and local self-esteem (self-esteem that is based on such localised issues as body image, for example). Overall self-esteem can affect levels of local self-esteem and vice versa. Self-esteem is also, “Built at an early age through both reflected appraisal and social comparison.” (Wankel, Leonard. “Self-Esteem and Body Image. The Research File: Information for professionals from the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute,” in Canadian Medical Association Journal. 153, (5). September 1st, 1995, p.607. See below.)
of Self-Esteem: “Self-esteem
is formed at an early age, through reflected appraisal and social comparison.
In the process of reflected appraisal, children gain information about
their competencies and acceptability through the reactions of others (especially
people who are highly valued). Children also evaluate themselves by comparing
their own characteristics and abilities with those of others.
3. “When we consider desire in Freudian terms, as emotional energy being attached to an object, its gendered character is clear. This is true for both heterosexual and homosexual desire ...”
Connell, Bob. Masculinities. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995, p.74.
Throughout the CD ROM, website and the Thesis notes (including the development of interview questions, the analysis of data, and the development of evolving theory) I have used the above quotation as the basis for my definition of the term ‘desire’. As Bryan Turner has said, “Human agents live their sensuous, sexual experience via the categories of a discourse of desire which is dominant in given societies ...” (Turner, Bryan. The Body and Society. Oxford: Blackwell, 1984, p.14, quoted in MacSween, Morag. Anorexic Bodies: A Feminist and Sociological Perspective on Anorexia Nervosa. London: Routledge, 1993, p.117).
In homosexual society I believe the dominant discourse of desire is the emotional attainment, possession or consumption of the phallus like muscular mesomorphic body in self or others. This desire is based upon the gender of masculinity. As Brian Pronger has noted, “Although it would be quite wrong to say that all homosexual men are attracted to a certain type of man, that is, attracted to the same degree of masculine expression, masculinity is the source of homoerotic desire. The desire for male bodies, after all, is an attraction to the physical sign of masculinity.” (Pronger, Brian. The Arena of Masculinity: Sports, Homosexuality, and the Meaning of Sex. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990, p.130.)
The body constitutes itself on a dimension of masculine desire - some gay bodies are marked by a lack of such a masculine muscular mesomorphic body in which case they are incomplete, deficient and limited whilst others are marked by the production of such a body in which case they become the complete, heroic, desirable fantasy form. (See Frank, Arthur. “For a Sociology of the Body: An Analytical Review,” in Featherstone, Mike and Hepworth, Mike and Turner, Bryan (eds.,). The Body. London: Sage Publications, 1991, p.51). If gay men choose to identify with the desire for the heroic, masculine male then, as Judith Butler has observed, “Identifications ... can ward off certain desires or act as vehicles for desire ... identification is the site at which this ambivalent prohibition and production of desire occurs.” (Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p.100).
4. Patton, M.Q. Qualitative evaluation and research methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1990, pp.434-435, quoted in Strauss, Anselm and Corbin, Juliet. Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1998, p.12.
“A good question is one that leads the researcher to answers
that serve the developing formulation. Many questions can be asked, and
just as many can lead the researcher down a subsidiary path, one that
might be interesting but not in the service of the evolving theory. In
fact, some questions can lead the researcher astray, off in directions
that have little or no bearing on the present investigation.”
6. Strauss, Anselm and Corbin, Juliet. Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1998, p.45.
7. Ibid., p.45.