Silva, Tony J. Forthcoming. “Straight Identity and Same-Sex Desire: Conservatism, Homophobia, and Straight Culture.” Social Forces.

This paper uses the 2013-2015 NSFG, a representative US-based dataset of individuals 15-44, to explore predictors of straight identification among all women and men and among subsets with substantial same-sex activity and/or attraction. After controlling for attractions and sexual practices, homophobia predicted straight identification in all groups. Among both groups of women, one femininity attitude and motherhood also predicted straight identification. One attitude reflecting alignment with normative masculinity significantly predicted straight identification among men with substantial same-sex activity and/or attraction. This paper also uses two waves of Add Health, a representative survey of young adults, to examine change to sexual identity over six years. Results show that among individuals who changed sexual identities between waves, heightened religiosity and political conservatism across waves was associated with increased odds of changing to a straight identity for women, but not men. This suggests but does not prove a directional association between attitudes and identification for some individuals. Latent class analyses also found distinct groups of straight-identified men and women with substantial same-sex activity and/or attraction, indicating that it is a heterogeneous population in terms of attitudes, including homophobia. This suggests that straight identification is due partly to embeddedness in straight culture and enjoyment of straight privilege, not simply homophobia. While impossible to determine causality, the results show that straight identification is strongly related to non-sexual social factors, including religiosity and attitudes about sexuality and gender, in addition to attractions and sexual practices. The results also suggest that homophobia is related to identity formation for women, as well as men, but that there is substantial within-group variation.

Silva, Tony J., and Rachel Bridges Whaley. 2018. “Bud-Sex, Dude-Sex, and Heteroflexible Men: The Relationship between Straight Identification and Social Attitudes in a Nationally Representative Sample of Men with Same-Sex Attractions or Sexual Practices.” Sociological Perspectives 61 (3): 426–43. 

We examine the relationship between straight identification and nonsexual social factors among men who are attracted to men and/or have had two or more male sexual partners. All data come from the 2011–2013 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), a nationally representative sample of Americans aged 15 to 44. We estimate that 7.4 percent of men, aged 15 to 44, are in this population, and that 52.4 percent identify as straight, demonstrating sexual diversity within heterosexuality and identity diversity among men with same-sex practices and/or attractions. Weighted logistic regression indicates that conservative attitudes about child rearing and gays/lesbians are associated with increased likelihood of straight identification. Latino and black men are not significantly more likely to identify as straight than white men. While impossible to determine causality, when put in dialogue with related qualitative studies, the results suggest that for men with same-sex sexuality, attitudes about sexuality and child rearing may affect the meaning-making processes that influence heterosexual identification.

Silva, Tony J. 2017. “A Quantitative Test of Critical Heterosexuality Theory: Predicting Straight Identification in a Nationally Representative Sample.” Sexuality Research and Social Policy. Published online first. 

Using Add Health, a US-based nationally representative survey, this study predicts the likelihood of identifying as straight among (1) individuals who reported same-sex attractions and/or sexual practices and (2) among those who reported neither, given that many respondents nonetheless identified as something other than straight. It also (3) predicts the likelihood of changing one’s sexual identity to heterosexuality across survey waves. Weighted logistic regression identifies political conservatism and religiosity as predictors of straight identification and changing to a straight sexual identity, even after controlling for attractions and sexual practices. The results suggest that individuals with same-sex attractions and/or sexual practices do not identify as straight simply because of limitations of well-known sexual identities (straight, bisexual, gay/lesbian), given that Add Health offered more nuanced options, such as mostly straight. Instead, the results suggest that non-sexual social factors, such as religiosity and conservative political attitudes—themselves shaped by patterned social forces—are keys to heterosexual identification and heterosexual identity change. This paper offers the first quantitative test of critical heterosexuality theory using a nationally representative sample, suggesting that the approach is theoretically generalizable beyond qualitative studies.

Silva, Tony J. 2017. “Bud-Sex: Constructing Normative Masculinity Among Rural Straight Men That Have Sex With Men.” Gender & Society 31(1): 51-73.

This study draws on semistructured interviews with 19 white, rural, straight-identified men who have sex with men to understand how they perceive their gender and sexuality. It is among the first to use straight men’s own narratives, and helps address the underrepresentation of rural masculinities research. Through complex interpretive processes, participants reworked non-normative sexual practices—those usually antithetical to rural masculinities—to construct normative masculinity. Most chose other masculine, white, and straight or secretly bisexual men as partners for secretive sex without romantic involvement. By choosing these partners and having this type of sex, the participants normalized and authenticated their sexual encounters as straight and normatively masculine. The participants engaged in bud-sex, a specific type of male–male sex that reinforced their rural masculinity and heterosexuality. The married men framed sex with men as less threatening to marriage than extramarital sex with women, helping to preserve a part of their lives that they described as central to their straightness. The results highlight the flexibility of heterosexuality; the centrality of heterosexuality to normative rural masculinity; how similar sexual practices carry different meanings across contexts and populations; and the social construction of masculinities and sexualities by age, race, gender, time period, and place.

Silva, Tony J. 2018. “‘Helpin’ a Buddy Out’: Perceptions of Identity and Behaviour among Rural Straight Men That Have Sex with Each Other.” Sexualities 21 (1–2): 68–89. 

I conducted semi-structured interviews with ten American rural, white, straight-identified men who have sex with men to understand how they perceive their sexual identity and sexual behaviour. All ten tell other people that they identify as straight, and eight actually identify as straight. I detail three main themes: changes to sexual attractions, reasons for identifying as straight, and the meanings attached to sexual behaviour with other men. Half of the participants reported experiencing major changes to their sexual attractions, challenging the assumption that male sexuality is static. They described several reasons for identifying as straight, demonstrating that attractions and behaviour are not the only bases for sexual identity. The participants also explained that they experience sex with men in a variety of ways, many of which reinforce their straight identity. The results indicate that heterosexuality is a performance, rather than a natural expression of sexuality, and that interpretations – not just attractions and behaviour – are central to being straight.