I really, really hate it when the argumentum ad hominem gets paraded in clinical dress. For example, “Opponents of gun control are compensating for feelings of sexual inadequacy” or “Opponents of gun laws are all drug abusers.” I’m even uncomfortable for “homophobia” as a parallel label to “racism” or “sexism” or “anti-Semitism,” because it converts a belief system into a diagnosis; might as well call gun-control advocates “ballistophobes.”

Another example: the belief that opponents of gay rights are fighting their own homoerotic impulses. Talk about a cheap shot!

But I really, really, really, utterly, totally hate it when one of those cheap-shot arguments proves to be … ummmmm … well … true. Or at least supported by actual scientific evidence.

Simple experiment done by Henry Adams, Lester Wright, and Bethany Lohr back in 1996: Give a group of men who self-report as straight in terms of both arousal and behavior a questionnaire designed to elicit their level of homophobia. Then expose all of them, in random order, to straight, lesbian, and gay-male porn, while measuring arousal in terms of penile tumescence. Run a cross-tab. (Better, run a regression. But these author didn’t.)

Bingo! Straight men who report high levels of anti-gay bias are much more likely to be aroused by gay-male porn; the average increase in diameter watching two guys getting it on is more than twice as great among straight men who report hostility toward gays as for straight men who don’t. Reactions to the other two videos were pretty much identical.

Not my field, so I don’t know what’s happened since in terms of research. But this result seems pretty much iron-clad. Color me surprised.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.