Nearly half of all men in a new study about intimate partner violence among gay male couples in the US have reported being victims of abuse.
The study from the University of Michigan shows that in addition to universal stressors – finances, unemployment, drug abuse – that both heterosexual and male couples share, experiences of homophobia and other factors unique to male couples also predict abuse among them.
The study is one of the few that looks at violence from the perspective of both members of male couples (abuser and victim), said Rob Stephenson, U-M professor of nursing and director of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities.
Most studies examining domestic violence look at female victims in heterosexual couples or have only asked questions of one member of a male couple.
Nearly half (46 percent) of the 320 men (160 couples) in the study reported experiencing some form of intimate partner violence in the last year—physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse and controlling behavior.
“If you just looked at physical and sexual violence in male couples, it’s about 25 to 30 percent, roughly the same as women,” said Stephenson. “We’re stuck in this mental representation of domestic violence as a female victim and a male perpetrator, and while that is very important, there are other forms of domestic violence in all types of relationships.”
The research is important because it debunks that stereotype, and accounts for controlling and isolating behaviors as well as physical abuse, Stephenson said.
Ultimately, violence links back to HIV prevention because men in abusive relationships may find it hard to negotiate for condom use or even when and how they have sex, Stephenson said. Nor is there good communication about HIV status and HIV prevention in abusive relationships.
His study makes a strong connection between internalised homophobia and violence, Stephenson said. A gay man who’s struggling with his identity might lash out at his partner with physical or emotional abuse as a stress response behavior, similar to heterosexual couples, where an unemployed man lashes out at his female partner because he feels inadequate, he said.
Stephenson wants clinicians to start asking male couples about violence. Right now, the majority do not, he said. The study appears in the July edition of American Journal of Men’s Health.