What kind of porn do gay men watch most often? According to Pornhub’s stats from last year, “straight guys” was the single most-viewed category on its gay site. The word “straight” was also among the top five searches made by visitors. Generally speaking, the porn they've searched for consists of a mix of straight men having sex with other men, and straight men masturbating.
Now, this isn’t to suggest that all men who sleep with men are into straight guys. As tantalizing as Pornhub’s annual insights are, we shouldn’t draw sweeping conclusions about what any group of people want on the basis of what happens on a single porn site.
That said, these stats do tell us that a lot of gay men seem to be eroticizing heterosexual men. So why is that? Here’s a look at the major theories.
The attraction to masculinity
Research into the partner preferences of gay men suggests that, on average, they tend to be drawn to masculinity. For example, gay men tend to be attracted to masculine-looking faces and to other signs of masculinity, such as muscularity. Gay men also rate prospective partners who describe themselves as masculine more favorably than those who describe themselves as feminine. This preference for masculinity is strongest among gay men who identify as masculine. This helps explain why “Masc4Masc” is such a common term on gay dating and hookup sites.
Study after study has found that gay men are less gender-conforming than straight men on average, meaning that they’re less likely to adhere to strict ideas of what boys and men are “supposed” to act like. To be clear, there is wide individual variability—but if gay men tend to be attracted to masculinity and straight men as a group are more likely to conform to masculine gender roles, then it’s not hard to see why so many gay men would be searching for porn featuring straight guys.
“Gay men have fetishized straight men to some degree based on seeing them as more masculine,” says Joe Kort, a gay sex and relationship psychotherapist who works primarily with an LGBTQ+ client base.
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Some psychologists believe gay men’s apparent attraction to masculinity stems from a general tendency for people to eroticize traits that are different from their own—the “exotic becomes erotic” theory, as it’s known. The basic idea is that the people you feel most different from in childhood become the target of your later sexual attractions, with gender non-conformers tending toward same-sex attractions and gender conformers tending toward opposite-sex attractions.
The evidence for this, though, has been elusive. Also, there are other possible explanations. For example, maybe gay men’s preference for masculinity stems from a general societal devaluing of femininity or internalized homophobia.
“Since many gay men grew up in places where effeminacy was devalued and masculinity was privileged, it can become almost instinctual to dislike or feel disgusted by displays of effeminacy,” says New York-based sex therapist Zach Rawlings, who also identifies as gay and works with members of the LGBTQ+ community.
This explanation makes sense in light of the finding that attraction to masculinity is strongest among gay men who see themselves as masculine—many of whom also describe themselves as “straight-acting.” This suggests that some of these guys aren’t entirely comfortable with their own sexuality.
The attraction to BDSM
I surveyed more than 4,000 Americans about their sexual fantasies for my book Tell Me What You Want, and one of the things I discovered was that LGBTQ folks fantasized more often about BDSM than did heterosexual persons. This heightened interest in dominance-submission dynamics could explain, in part, the appeal of “straight guy” porn, because this genre features a lot of BDSM themes.
Some of these videos feature straight men in very dominant roles where, for example, they may have rough sex with another man or get “serviced” by a submissive male partner. By contrast, other videos feature straight men taking on submissive roles, where sex may be forced on them by another man and, sometimes, they are tied up and/or humiliated in the process.
Seeing straight men in submissive roles might also be appealing because it offers some gay men the opportunity to “overcome their feeling of being disempowered and unwanted by straight men,” Kort says. “It may allow them to feel powerful over straight men.”
From this perspective, the appeal of “straight guy” porn may not really be about gay men finding heterosexual men to be inherently erotic, but rather it may stem from the fact that this type of porn often happens to be about power and control. This can also help to explain why “daddy” was the third most-viewed category on Pornhub’s gay site—“daddy” porn is big on power and BDSM themes, too.
Wanting what you “can’t have”
For some gay guys, watching straight men have sex with other men may be exciting because it’s taboo. When we’re told we can’t have something (or someone), we come to want it even more.
Taboos are one of the most popular themes in our sexual fantasies and most men, regardless of sexual orientation, have occasional fantasies about “forbidden fruit,” or people that our culture or society considers to be off-limits. Straight men definitely fall into the “forbidden fruit” category for gay men.
In addition, there is some excitement to be had simply in watching people who are “breaking the rules.” In a lot of these videos, the straight men are not only pushing the boundaries of their sexual orientation, but they’re often also cheating on their girlfriends or wives at the same time.
The search for acceptance
Yet another possibility is that fantasizing about straight men may be a way that some gay men feel acceptance. As Rawlings told me, “many gay men have experienced great rejection from and have felt second class to straight men. Sexual fantasies involving straight men can represent a sort of acceptance by the very people who have been their aggressors for much of their life.”
Kort echoed this sentiment: “Gay men are disenfranchised by straight men even today and kept outside their fraternity. These fantasies may give gay men the feeling that they are a part of their lives.”
When it comes to explaining the appeal of any kind of pornography, there’s usually never a simple answer. Our sexual interests are complex and different people may be attracted to the same things for very different reasons. This means that rather than just one of the above explanations being right and the others being wrong, it’s possible—and quite likely—that they all explain a piece of the erotic puzzle.
Justin Lehmiller, PhD is a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the blog Sex and Psychology.