INTRODUCTION

"We live, I regret to say, in an age of surfaces."

'The Importance of Being Earnest'. Oscar Wilde.
 

This website is a adaptation of an unpublished CD ROM that was an outcome of my doctoral research project undertaken at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia finishing in 2001. I 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.
 

THE INDEX IS THE MAIN NAVIGATION PAGE FOR THE WEBSITE - GO TO THE INDEX

How to navigate the website is located at the bottom of this page. The interactive Site Map is located here. Last updated July 2006. Contact bunyanth@netspace.net.au. Best viewed at 1024 x 768 pixels.
 

Main 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.
  • Eye-Pressure:
Looks at how our vision of other gay men may affect our attitudes towards them.
  • Pressure Suit:
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.
  • Eth(n)ical Press:
Looks at the morals and ethics used to justify sexual identities and interactions.
  • Rubber Press:
Examines some of the issues surrounding safe sexual practices in gay men.
  • Femi-nancy Press:
Examines the feminine side of masculinity.
Investigates the photographic representation of the muscular male body in the media.
  • Re-Pressentation:
Investigates alternative ways of imag(in)ing the male body.
  • Future Press:
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.

 

In 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 ROM (originally 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'.

While 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.

Although 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.

I 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.
 

 

 

EPILOGUE

Since 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 infections.

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.

 

NAVIGATION

  • The index is the main navigation page of the website. Sub pages include a menu on the left hand side for easy navigation. The Site Map can be found here.
  • To use text and image links click on words that are underlined in blue in the text. To return to place of origin click on symbol next to photo or text.
  • To use theoretical and bibliographic text and image links, including project notes, click on words that are italicised and underlined in the text. To return to place of origin click on symbol next to photo or text.
  • To use photographic acknowledgement links click on symbol next to the image. To return to place of origin click on symbol next to text.