Study: Guys Tell Homophobic Jokes Because They’re Insecure About Their Masculinity

Men may intentionally use anti-gay and sexist humor to make themselves feel butch.

Is the gay joke on the straight joker?

A new study published in the journal Sex Roles suggests that the more insecure straight men are about their masculinity, the more likely they are to make jokes at the expense of gay men, ThinkProgress reports.

Courtesy of Western Carolina University researchers, the study assessed how heterosexual men responded to various forms of humor when they felt their masculinity was being challenged. Those who worried more about appearing masculine were more likely to embrace anti-gay humor—and they even admitted it.

The participants in the study were told to imagine they were being hired as comedy writers. After personality tests determined whether they were better suited for “male-oriented” or “female-oriented” comedy, the men were asked to rate sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes.


The term “precarious manhood beliefs,” or PMB, measures how much men feel the need to conform to traditional masculine roles. Those with a high PMB are more likely to reassert their masculinity when they feel its in question.

Men with high PMB scores who were assigned “female-oriented” comedy, which was perceived as a threat to their masculinity, were significantly more likely to find the sexist and anti-gay jokes funnier.

Participants were also asked whether their responses to the various jokes would help a prospective manager judge their personality.

“When men who scored higher in precarious manhood beliefs experienced a threat to their masculinity, they believed their ratings of sexist and anti-gay jokes, but not anti-Muslim jokes or non-disparaging neutral jokes, would help their hypothetical manager form a more accurate impression of them,” the study explains.

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Lead researcher Emma O’Connor says the study is important because it helps explain “how disparaging humor is used as a way to express subtle prejudice and discrimination and how these men in particular may use expressions of prejudice as a way to defend and reaffirm their threatened masculinity.”

O’Connor points out that humor, which is often considered “a socially acceptable vehicle of expressing discrimination,” can ultimately foster continued discrimination against the LGBT community.

The study concludes that this discrimination can be reduced by figuring out how to better respond to anti-gay humor and by understanding what’s triggering it.

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