The Bear flag
A study has found that American men who identify as bears often have lower self esteem and engage in riskier sex than other gay men.
The research by academics at the University of Miami was published in the Clinical Journal of Nursing and aimed to highlight the issues facing this sector of the gay community.
Bear culture came to the fore in the 1980s and has grown in popularity around the world. The term has come to describe gay men who tend to be larger, hairier and embrace a more overtly masculine identity.
Unsurprisingly, the study found that bears have a higher body mass index (BMI) compared to other gay men.
Although it does come with some health risks, a heavier build is often a desirable physical trait for many bears, who stand out from the traditional gay stereotypes, said the researchers.
“It helps them to recognise one another, strengthen communal bonds, and promote a gay identity that is masculine, sexual, and mature…”
They wrote that lower self esteem usually emanated from earlier life experiences.
“Before discovering the bear community, members have described harassment and discrimination from both heterosexuals and homosexuals throughout their lifespan based on weight, which led to lower self-esteem.”
The researchers recommended that bears get tested more often for HIV and STIs because many tend to engage in riskier sexual practises such as barebacking and fisting.
Despite the challenges, the authors of the paper also highlighted the positive elements of being part of this community.
“Bear communities are pivotal for some members, offering a sanctuary for these men as a buffer against discrimination and a sense of belonging that was perceived as lacking in the mainstream gay community,” they said.
The researchers added: “Primary healthcare providers should assess the sexual habits of all patients and offer safer-sex education depending on the needs of each client.”