Why gay porn is helping to fuel body dissatisfaction for gay men

Why gay porn is helping to fuel body dissatisfaction for gay men

Why gay porn is helping to fuel body dissatisfaction for gay men

Updated 17 October 2017, 13:00 AEDT

Men are resorting to drastic measures to live up to an unrealistic body-image ideal with pornography fuelling their desire for perfection, says new research.

Men are resorting to drastic measures to live up to an unrealistic body-image ideal, with pornography fuelling their desire for perfection.

Gay men especially are vulnerable to body dissatisfaction which can bring with it a psychological disorder called muscle dysmorphia — the flipside of anorexia — a condition characterised by obsessive worrying over a perceived small body.

Research shows that users of Australia's most commonly injected drug — anabolic steroids — often showed signs of muscle dysmorphia.

Dr Scott Griffiths, an early career fellow from the National Health and Medical Research Council, said while not all steroid users had a psychological disorder, it was definitely a "red flag" for the screening of muscle dysmorphia.

Although there are no prevalence statistics for muscle dysmorphia, Dr Griffiths said half the men with muscle dysmorphia used steroids.

Dr Griffiths said usage of steroids was alarming.

''It's ahead of methamphetamine and heroin and all the others," Dr Griffiths said.

"It's not like we've had a current explosion of athletes in the country, we just have more and more men who are unhappy about their appearance, and a lot of those will have muscle dysmorphia."

Pressure in the gay community

Dr Griffiths said there had been numerous studies on the effect of idealised images of women on the female population.

But he said the use of pornography among men, especially gay men, had not been so well researched.

Dr Griffiths and his associates recently released the results of a nationwide survey of 2,733 gay men across Australia and New Zealand and found that increased pornography use was associated with body dissatisfaction.

"The more you are exposed to pornography, the more likely you are to have eating disorder symptoms,'' Dr Griffiths said.

He said those surveyed said dissatisfaction included concerns about height, muscularity and body fat and also more frequent thoughts about steroid use.

Idealised masculine imagery

The hypothesis of the survey included the distinction between amateur pornography with more "regular people" to more professional pornography characterised by unrealistic bodies.

"The strength of that relationship [between anabolic steroid use and pornography] is stronger if you're watching more professional than amateur pornography," Dr Griffiths said.

He said the pressure was greater in the gay male community as it was widely acknowledged appearance and bodily standards were of more importance compared to the heterosexual community.

"In part, it might reflect that men more than women place a premium on attractiveness as an indicator of preference," Dr Griffiths said.

"Attractiveness ranks relatively higher for men than it does for women."

Peter, a regular gym goer, agreed that there was a lot of pressure in the gay community to conform to an idealised masculine image.

"Anyone would know that a lot of the gay community here in Australia and pretty much all over the world, is very aesthetic,'' he said.

''It's all about body image, body type, what he looks like, muscles all that sort of stuff.

"Part of me is trying to fit into that."

Peter said single gay men often used dating apps such as Grindr, but 40 per cent of the images on the site were of faceless, buffed torsos.

"They would receive a lot more attention than a photo with a face," said the 39-year-old.

Steroid use comes with a cost

Peter admits to watching amateur gay porn every day when he was younger, and said he struggled to look at himself in the mirror.

When Peter finally came out in his late 20s after years of suppressing his identity because of his strict Greek background, he found it liberating.

But he also discovered a new kind of stress — the pressure in the male, gay community to look a certain way.

It continues to this day.

For the past three to four years he has upped the ante in his weightlifting regime, including a six-month stint a year ago injecting prescribed anabolic steroids.

"I went to that extreme of paying five to six hundred dollars for a four to five-week cycle and injecting myself, or getting my partner to inject me, to help gain mass and be who I wanted to be," he said.

"No matter how many times people say, 'You look amazing, you look pumped' — it's still in my head that I'm that skinny person."

While Peter's weight increased so did his confidence, but steroid use came with a cost.

"After your cycle, there is a come down period which means mentally you drop back to a level that you were prior or perhaps even worse," Peter said.

Under the supervision of a clinical doctor, a cocktail of drugs was also injected as a precaution to counter the physiological side effects, such as lack of testosterone production and a build-up of estrogen.

While he eventually stopped taking the steroids, partially for financial reasons he said he would "never say never".

Peter is still battling with the need to get bigger in an effort to leave the young skinny boy behind.

But he has also started seeing a therapist.

"My therapist digs deep and finds these issues that I need to deal with," he said.

"I found what has worked for me is to focus on me being happy personally and looking at my own reflection rather than getting that validation from the community, and that's a big thing that's taken me a long time to understand."