Paper: Sexual racism among gay men

“Sexual racism” is racial discrimination against potential sexual or romantic partners. Sexual racism is very common among gay & bi men. The hookup app Grindr is notorious for the many profiles that say upfront, “no femmes, no blacks, no asians.” I’ve also heard several terms for gay & bi men who prefer partners of a particular race–“rice queen” being particularly frequent in my area.

Normally, when I talk about gay & bi men, I avoid contrasting straight people, because sometimes straight people complain they have it just as bad, and what do I know? But when it comes to sexual racism, research backs me up in saying it really is worse for gay & bi men.

Many defend sexual racism by saying it is a personal preference. Some say that it is a preference determined by biology, similar to gender preferences. Others say that even if racial preferences are culturally determined, they aren’t amenable to moral condemnation because preferences too difficult to change.

I’m skeptical of these defenses, but I’ve never personally used any dating or hookup services. So today, instead of relying on my personal experiences, I’ll rely on social science. Today I’ll briefly discuss the paper, “Is Sexual Racism Really Racism? Distinguishing Attitudes Toward Sexual Racism and Generic Racism Among Gay and Bisexual Men“.

The main finding of this paper is that people who accept sexual racism tend to have more negative attitudes towards racial diversity. Acceptance of sexual racism doesn’t mean expressing racial preferences in dating, but means being fine with other people doing it. To some extent, I think the main finding is unsurprising, particularly when it is rephrased: People with more positive attitudes towards racial diversity will of course tend to have more objections to sexual racism. However, this paper provides plenty of other information of interest.

How many men explicitly have racial preferences in their sex/dating profiles?

According to this study, it is 15%, with 6% expressing a preference against a particular group, and 12% expressing a preference for a particular group, and 3% doing both. I should mention at this point that the sample is strongly weighted towards people who use online sex/dating services (95% using it at least weekly). The study consists of 2,177 Australian men recruited through ads on a sex/dating app, and through a Facebook page.

How many men are affected by this?

Of this sample, 96% have seen profiles with explicit racial preferences, and 58% feel that they personally have been discriminated against. Somewhere in here, there’s a joke about how #notallmen are responsible, but #yesallmen are affected.

Is sexual racism innate, or cultural?

If sexual racism were innate, you wouldn’t expect it to correlate with local cultural factors. I’m not sure about sexual racism, but acceptance of sexual racism is negatively correlated with education, negatively correlated with a gay identity, and positively correlated with living in an area with a higher density of same-sex households. The authors speculate that higher densities of same-sex households increases the likelihood that people have been exposed to critiques of sexual racism.  All these correlations are fairly small, with beta coefficients from 0.06 to 0.10.

More troubling, acceptance of sexual racism is correlated with more frequent use of sex/dating services. Possibly these sex/dating services reinforce people’s acceptance of sexual racism, or maybe people who have issues with sexual racism are chased away.

Overall, acceptance of sexual racism appears to be culturally influenced and amenable to social critique.  I am left unsure of the nature of sexual racism itself.  In any case, I’d be happy if people felt less comfortable about expressing their preferences in explicitly racialized terms.


  1. says

    @Marcus Ranum,
    This online survey is based on approximately 217,600% more data than my usual social commentary.

  2. Vivec says

    The paper acknowledges that the source of information isn’t ideal, and also states that it is limited in scope. What is with your weird thing against social sciences, even when they openly state that the weaknesses of their findings?

  3. Vivec says

    Hell, the weakness of surveys and cross-sectional studies is something we were taught in the first actual class on sociological study in my university. It’s not like this is some secret sociologists don’t want you to know ™.

  4. schini says

    I must say I’m not surprised, that the racism that actually exists, and which is at times hidden by conformance to social norms opposing it, shows itself in the dating game more openly.

    The question is, what can be done about it? It’s not as if you could easily make rules against it like say the rules against racial discrimination in the work place.

  5. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    when it comes to sexual racism, research backs me up in saying it really is worse for gay & bi men.

    No. Research backs up that it really is worse for a certain segment of gay & bi Australian men, assuming that trolling was not a significant portion of the responses to the online survey invites.

    This is a non-random sample. As such, it is not generalizable to any population P. The n of the study allows you to generalize only as far as n. Once you get to ~1.3*n, much less P, you’re outside of statements that can be empirically supported.

    Now, it may be that sexual racism is worse among/for GB men. I’m not saying it is the same or better compared to the population of all straight people. But as much as this study raises genuine concerns that sexual racism might be significantly worse in GB men’s communities, or at least some of those communities on its own it provides literally no rigorous or reliable or even merely empirical support for that proposition. We can only wonder how representative the sample is of some P or other and design new research to attempt to answer the distressing question about sexual racism (and acceptance thereof) among the P of all gay & bi men.

  6. says

    @Crip Dyke,
    I didn’t intend to cite this paper for the claim that sexual racism is worse for gay & bi men, and in fact this paper does not make any such claim–except in the introduction where it discusses prior literature. I was basically making an uncited statement, which I believe will be supported upon a more thorough search of literature.

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