FOREWORD TO THE ENGLISH SUMMARY
to the qualitative nature of my study, it was difficult to translate
it into English. Translating the direct quotations from the interviews
without losing some of the original meanings and tones of the
interviewees would have been virtually impossible. Therefore the
English version of the study became more of a summary.
primary aim of my study was to try to "map" those aspects of the
experienced world of young gay men who are attracted to older
men that pertain to their preference for older men as sexual partners.
In this sense my research is mainly explorative in nature, since
to my knowledge the phenomenon has not been studied before. However,
I have made some comparison between my results and those studies
that have been made of age-different gay relationships. I also
wanted to see how much emphasis my interviewees put on the usual
stereotypical notions attached to age-different gay relationships
(for instance that the younger partner always searches for a father-figure).
The Gay World and the Bear Subculture
(1984) defines homosexuality basically as the expression of love
between two persons of the same sex. Classifying people as homo-
or heterosexuals in a black-and-white fashion is not very sensible
since most people are situated somewhere between these two extremes
(Ross, 1984). In the scientific literature the term ‘homosexual’
usually means someone who is mainly or exclusively drawn towards
persons of the same sex and who admits openly his preference to
himself and others (Ross, 1984). The most essential part of this
definition is the person 's own subjective feeling of what he is.
The Publication Manual of the American Psychiatric Association
(APA, 1994, 51) recommends the use of terms ‘lesbian’
and ‘gay man’ instead of ‘homosexual’
since they refer primarily to identities and the present-day communities
that have evolved on the basis of those identities. I have chosen
APA 's definition as the starting point for my study.
term “subculture” means the culture of a religious,
ethnic etc. group that differs from the mainstream culture (Tiainen,
1991). As a social and sexual minority, gay people make up their
own subculture within which one can also find many other "sub-subcultures"
such as sadomasochists and gender-blenders. In the 1990s a new
subculture has become visible within the gay world, namely that
of the "Bears". Most of my interviewees belonged to the Bear subculture.
A book entitled The Bear Book, edited by Wright (1997), is to
my knowledge the only scientific study of the Bear subculture.
In Finland there has appeared one article in the popular press
(Valtonen, 1999) concerning Bears.
subculture of gay men calling themselves Bears began taking form
in the 1960s and 1970s in various parts of the United States of
America (Wright, 1997, 21). The birth of the actual Bear movement
is dated to the year 1986 when the communication between self-identified
Bears became more concrete: parties started being held as well
as electronic discussion forums and a magazine BEAR, founded
in 1987 and still being published were created (Wright,
1997, 22). The Bear movement arrived in Finland in the mid-1990s
when Fin-Bears was founded in Helsinki and Nallekarhut was founded
in Turku (Valtonen, 1999).
physical and mental characteristics are associated to Bears and
generally these are considered equally important: physically,
Bears are usually large, hairy, bearded and often stocky and heavy-set;
mentally, Bears are warm-hearted, loyal, honest and straightforward,
and they like hugging a lot (Wright, 1997, 26 - 27). In real life,
one can find many different types of men among Bears, who nevertheless
have in common a certain "bear-like" attitude towards life
and social relationships (Valtonen, 1999). Usually younger, slimmer,
perhaps less hairy men, who like Bears, are said to be "Cubs",
while the term "admirer of Bears" is generally used to describe
anyone who likes Bears, whether or not he himself is a Bear (Wright,
myself took part in founding the Nallekarhut-group in Turku in
the autumn 1995 and I am still functioning as its leader. I started
studying Psychology the same autumn and already then I got the
idea of doing my Master’s Thesis on a subject matter that
is somehow related to the Bear phenomenon. I had noticed that
there were quite a lot of "Cubs" young men (including myself)
who search for the company of men much older, often heavy-set
and bearded, than themselves. I considered the phenomenon a cultural
anomaly, because clearly most people form a relationship with
a person who belongs to the same religion and age-group, and who
has approximately the same educational, ethnic and social background
(Greenberg, Bruess & Mullen, 1993, 415). An older man lusting
after younger men is considered fairly normal within the gay world
that generally adores youth and slim bodies, while a younger man
lusting after older men is quickly considered quite a freak indeed.
I wanted to start exploring the psychological dimensions of the
phenomenon and started my research in the autumn of 1997.
Age Preference Studies
the turn of the century, an early pioneer of the gay rights movement,
the German Magnus Hirschfeld (1868 - 1935), collected a huge amount
of material concerning homosexuality and other sexual variations:
for instance, he developed a questionnaire of 130 items, which
were answered by 10,000 men and women (Spencer, 1995, 325). Hirschfeld
divided gays into four groups on the basis of the information
he had gathered: paedophiles (who like pre-adolescent boys), ephebophiles
(who like youths between the ages of 12 and 20), androphiles (who
like 20 - 50-year-old men) and gerontophiles (who like men over
50 years old) (Hirschfeld, 1952, 227). According to Hirschfeld
(1952, 227), most gays are either ephebophiles (approx. 45 %)
or androphiles (approx. 45 %); the amount of paedophiles and gerontophiles
is much smaller, around 5 % each.
according to more recent studies (Hayes, 1995; Kenrick et al,
1995; Harry, 1982), there is usually only 5 years of age-difference
between partners in a relationship. The amount of couples who
have an age-difference of over 10 years is very small (Harry,
1982). Thus I decided to define the 'young gay man who is attracted
to older men' as someone who is searching for a man at least 10
years older than himself (cf. Kaslow, 1989). Compared to Hirschfeld 's
gerontophiles, I think this is a more flexible definition and
there are naturally also more gay men belonging to this category.
Studies of Age-Different Gay Relationships
general, studies of age-different gay relationships are very few
in number. Steinman (1990) has studied social exchange in age-different
gay relationships. He hypothesized that in an age-different gay
relationship the "exchange goods" offered by the older man would
be mainly external (money, power etc.), while the "exchange goods"
offered by the younger partner would be mainly internal (physical
attractiveness, sexual charisma etc.). The hypothesis was partially
invalidated by the research. About half of the studied couples
participated equally in taking care of daily purchases and neither
one was economically dependent on the other. In addition, the
internal characteristics (intelligence, social accomplishments,
wisdom acquired with maturity etc.) of the older man were very
often considered as attractive as the hypothesized material wealth
by the younger partner. Most of the younger men considered the
older men sexually exciting and in the majority of the studied
couples there was no significant difference in the amount of income
of the respective partners. If the younger partner earned less,
the older one usually demanded that the younger would not be dependent
on his income.
the age-different gay relationships the roles of "daddy" and "son"
or "teacher" and "student" assume often a central position (Lee,
1990). A dad-son-roleplay or sexual fantasy occurs also often
among male sadomasochists; the fantasy is usually structured in
the way that "dad" is the dominant and active partner while "son"
is submissive and passive (Sandnabba & Santtila & Nordling,
1999). Lee (1990) thinks that an age-different relationship probably
does not last long if the partners only carry out the roles of
"dad" and "son" or "teacher" and "student". The partners must
also be able to work out mutual roles of equal partners in order
that the dynamism of the relationship would be balanced.
to Harry (1982), most gay men are looking for an equal partner.
However, those who search for an older partner want him to be
the dominant one in the relationship.
Psychoanalysis and the Search for a Father-Figure
his work Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie (1905), Freud presents
the idea that the sexual impulse and its object should be separated
from each other (Freud, 1998/1905). Thus, one cannot say that
there would exist any natural object to the sexual impulse. Freud
thought that homosexuality cannot be explained as an inborn or
an acquired characteristic, but as a variation from man's natural
bisexuality (Freud, 1998/1905). Commentators have pointed out
that in his early thinking Freud placed both hetero- and homosexuality
on the same line and was of the opinion that they were both equally
natural dispositions of human sexuality (Domenici & Lesser,
1995, 1 - 2; Dannecker, 1981, 39).
the psychoanalytic thinking homosexuality has traditionally been
explained with the help of the concept of the "negative Oedipus
complex": a child (boy) fantasizes about "getting married" with
his father instead of his mother (Brenner, 1987, 103; Mangs &
Martell, 1976, 111 - 112). Theoretically, when it comes to a young
gay man who is attracted to older men, this oedipal wish is even
more clearly visible, especially if the real father has remained
distant or been totally absent; in this case the older man would
represent a father-figure. The oedipal wish does not thus remain
on the level of fantasy, but is acted out in the adult life. In
addition to the social exchange theory presented above, the search
for a father-figure is clearly the second stereotype often associated
with age-different gay relationships.
to Hirschfeld (1952, 88 - 91), gerontophilia exclusive attraction
to persons who are over 50 years old is one form of sexual
infantilism: Hirschfeld thought that in his/her sexual development
a gerontophile has remained in the oidipal stage when the child
fixates strongly to the father, mother or some other adult person.
As an example he mentions a 26-year-old woman who fell in love
exclusively with older men who had white beards. This woman had
lost her parents when she was young and her grandfather took care
of her. They slept in the same bed and grandfather often caressed
her genitals. As another example Hirschfeld (1952, 227) mentions
a 25-year-old gay man who behaved in a very masculine manner and
who also fell in love exclusively with older men who had white
beards. One can justifiably assume that childhood fixation plays
a central role in the development of the sexual object: people
often have a certain clearly defined "type" an ideal man
or woman containing physical and mental characteristics,
which they find especially attractive. The development of different
fetishes can also be plausibly explained with the fixation theory:
for instance, a beard is a very powerful sexual fetish to some
people (Hirschfeld, 1952, 525). Nevertheless, if one attaches
moral prejudices or hetero-normative attitudes to the theory,
it easily becomes pathologizing towards some groups like gays
or fetishists (cf. Stålström, 1997). APA 's Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV, 1994) classifies fetishism
as a disorder belonging to various paraphilias.
is defined as a recurrent sexual fantasy, desire or behaviour
which has as its object (1) a non-human entity, (2) causing suffering
or humiliation to the self or another, or (3) a child or other
nonconsenting person. For some people, paraphiliac fantasies or
impulses are necessary for sexual excitement, while others can
also get excited without paraphiliac fantasies or impulses. In
addition, DSM-IV mentions that the criteria for diagnosis of paraphilia
is that the fantasies or behaviour causes significant anxiety
or inability to live a full social life.
to Suppe (1985), DSM 's classifications concerning paraphilias
are based on the idea that everything that differs from conventional
sexual activity is considered unhealthy. He has developed a broader
cue – response model which helps one to classify the effect
of certain cues on the sexual arousal of an individual: inhibitory
cues inhibit sexual arousal, non-facilitative cues neither inhibit
nor excite arousal, facilitative cues increase arousal but are
not necessary, and paraphiliac cues are necessary for sexual arousal.
For instance, in a study of Finnish male sadomasochists, Sandnabba
& Santtila & Nordling (1999) found that sadomasochistic
behaviour was for the most part facilitative, that is, it increased
sexual arousal but was not necessary.
aim of my own research was to study the extent to which DSM-IV 's
and Suppe 's (1985) classifications could be applied to a sexual
preference for heavy-set older men that is, could the preference
be classified as fetishism and is it facilitative or paraphiliac
studies of age-different gay relationships (Steinman, 1990; Lee,
1990; Harry, 1982) give very little information concerning the
experienced world of a young gay man who is attracted to older
men. Only Lee's (1990) study manages to shed a little more light
on this question, but on the whole it also concentrates more on
the dynamics of the age-different gay relationship. On the other
hand, psychoanalytic theories (Freud, 1998/1905; Brenner, 1987;
Mangs & Martell, 1976; Hirschfeld, 1952) concentrate only
on studying the root causes of homosexuality and "fixation" to
older men. The own voice their own experiences concerning
their preference of young gay men who are attracted to older
men is left out of these studies and theories, and in my own research
I concentrated on that.
DESCRIPTION OF THE RESEARCH AND THE INTERVIEWEES
began the empirical part of my research by sending a questionnaire
to the members of the Finnish Bear groups (Fin-Bears and Nallekarhut).
I mailed the questionnaire to 39 members via regular mail and
to approximately 30 members via an electronic mailing-list. The
questionnaire was answered by 25 via regular, and 4 via electronic
mail, so the percentage of answers received became 42. The ages
of the respondents varied between 26 and 69 years, the mean age
was approx. 40 years.
classified the answers to three categories: young men who like
older men, older men who like younger men, and those to whom age
was not an important criterion. Clearly the majority (16) of the
answers belonged to the first category, while the second category
got 8 and the last category got 5 answers. I was interested in
the answers belonging to the first category young men who
like older men. Most of them had defined the age of their ideal
man as starting from their own age upwards, the variation was
usually about 15 - 20 years (for instance, self 35 years, ideal
man 35 - 50 years). Only 4 respondents defined the age of the
ideal man as at least 10 years older than themselves.
aim of the questionnaire was mainly to get some kind of a general
picture of the membership of the Bear groups and to reach interviewees
for the main part of the research. On the basis of the questionnaire
responses, it seems that within the organized subculture of the
Bear groups the majority of men are looking for a partner older
the questionnaire I also announced that I needed interviewees
who liked men at least 10 years older than themselves. 12 respondents
had written their contact information. I chose 8 from them on
the basis of their own ages and the ages of their ideal partners.
I tried to get as young informants as possible, who would have
a clearly expressed preference for men at least 10 years older
I created a semi-structured interview. A very open theme-interview
would have been the most “orthodox” way when it came
to the phenomenological-psychological method of analysis that
I used. However, the semi-structured interview proved to be useful
when I interviewed more taciturn persons, while I let those who
spoke more speak quite freely. The interviews were made October
21 - December 12, 1998. I originally interviewed all the 8 men
I had chosen but I could not utilize the last interview because
of its bad sound quality. So, my research material consisted of
the interviews of 7 men, which lasted from 20 minutes to 1 hour;
the mean length of the interviews was approx. 47 minutes. Here
are brief descriptions of the interviewees (the names have been
Jarno is 30 years old and he has a vocational-technical schooling.
At the moment he is working as a salesperson. He was born in a
small town. He is the youngest in the family and he has a sister
and a brother. His parents are alive.
Marko is 28 years old and after high school he has acquired a
schooling in the Arts. At the moment he is working as a freelancer
in the theatre and as a musician. He was born in a small town.
He is the only child. His parents got divorced over 15 years ago
and the mother has a new male partner.
Johannes is 30 years old and he has an MA Degree from the university.
At the moment he is unemployed and he goes to a computer course.
He was born in a small rural community. He is the youngest in
the family and he has a sister and a brother. His father died
4 years ago; the mother is alive.
Riku is 32 years old. After comprehensive school he has undertaken
a couple of vocational courses. At the moment he is working as
a maintenance person. He was born in a small rural community.
He is the youngest in the family and he has 2 sisters and 2 brothers.
His parents are alive.
Tuomas is 26 years old and a physician. He was born in a large
town. He was the youngest in the family and he has a sister. His
parents are alive.
Aapeli is 42 years old and he has a vocational-technical schooling.
He has also undertaken a few vocational courses. At the moment
he is working as a mail delivery person. He was born in a small
rural community. He was the youngest in the family and he has
2 sisters, 1 brother and 1 foster brother. His parents are deceased,
the mother 30 years ago and the father 20 years ago.
THE PHENOMENOLOGICAL-PSYCHOLOGICAL METHOD OF RESEARCH
analyze the interviews, I utilized Perttula’s (1998a, 1995)
phenomenological-psychological method of research, which is a
somewhat expanded and revised version of the method originally
developed by Giorgi (1988). My intention was not to study the
phenomenological-psychological method as such. I only applied
the method developed by Perttula to the phenomenon that I studied.
to the method, my research was emphasizedly based on the interview
material. The goal of the phenomenological research is to describe
the studied phenomenon as accurately as possible; to try to reach
the phenomenon precisely in the same way as it appears in the
experienced world of the studied individuals.
this English Summary I will neither go through the philosophical
basis of the method, nor the detailed steps of the analysis itself.
If you are interested in these, please contact me. Instead, I
will jump directly to the end-product of the analysis, the general
description of the phenomenon, “the experienced world of
young gay men who are attracted to older men”.
THE RESULTS: THE DESCRIPTION OF THE PHENOMENON
attraction towards older men begins typically already as a child.
Also, the ideal male type develops already then. Before adolescence,
the attraction is a vague desire to be close to older men that
manifest the ideal type, and infatuation to them. Sexuality is
on the background of the attraction right from the beginning,
but the feelings are defined as sexual only on the verge of adolescence.
origins of the interest in older men are as unexplainable as any
other preference. The effect of a distant or absent father is
a possible, but not probable, explanation for the preference.
feeling of security, the life experience, the sexual excitement,
the role-model based on one’s own ideals and the relatively
high level of one’s own mental maturity are all things that
contribute to why older men are experienced as attractive.
difference in world-views usually follows from the age-difference,
and it leads easily to disputes between age-different partners.
The age-difference is an important aspect when one chooses a partner:
almost all sexual and relationship partners are older men. Starting
a relationship with a man who is the same age or younger is even
hard to imagine.
most typical ideal male type is large, big-bellied, bearded and
hairy. Greying hair and balding on one hand, and sinewy and small
body on the other hand also describe some ideal male types. The
metaphors used to describe the ideal male types are “bear”,
“dirty old man” and “farmer”. The ideal
male type is always older than oneself, most typically 50 - 70
years old. It is rare that one searches for progressively older
partners as one himself grows older; in other words, the ideal
age of the partner usually stays approximately the same throughout
physical characteristics of the ideal male are more important
than the mental ones. Particularly in longer relationships, however,
the mental characteristics of the partner are also important.
The personality of the ideal male is typically described as loving,
affectionate, safe, considerate, masculine, practical and he is
treating the younger partner as equal irrespective of the nature
of the relationship. When the relationship is purely sexual, the
ideal male is sometimes described as dominant, very active, somewhat
rough and aggressive, and a little scary, who evokes feelings
of submission, being very small and even abused. Both equal and
unequal role positions can be central characteristics in a good
ideal male need not be wealthy, but it can be exciting in a sexual
relationship if the man behaves in a way that his wealthiness
shows. The experienced quality of one 's relationship with one's
real father in childhood and adolescence varies from “distant”
to “close”. The real father is often experienced as
the most important male figure of one 's childhood and adolescence.
Sometimes the father can be experienced as a sexual object even
if the relationship was distant.
I will discuss briefly the results of my research and place them
in a dialogue with the earlier studies and theories presented
in the Introduction. Taking into consideration the qualitative
research paradigm that I have adopted, the results cannot be generalized.
Nevertheless, they give us clues as to what kind of themes are
probably central in the experienced world of young gay men who
are attracted to older men.
Following Suppe’s (1985) model, it can be said that age-difference
is most typically a paraphiliac sexual cue for young gay men who
are attracted to older men. In other words, age-difference is
necessary for sexual arousal.
A subjective experience of being more mature than most young men
of the same age-group can sometimes blur the significance of age-difference
in a relationship: the partner can be experienced as roughly the
same age as oneself, even though he is actually older.
Sometimes the older man can represent a Jungian archetype of the
Wise Old Man, that is, a role-model. In this case the young man
tries to develop himself both physically and mentally towards
the likeness of this role-model.
The central meaning of the historically significant teacher -
student-relationship is closely tied up with the life-experience
of the older man, from which the younger partner can benefit and
learn. However, in some matters also the younger partner can be
in the role of a teacher for the older one.
The effect of the organized Bear subculture on the linguistic
expressions describing the ideal male type is strong: the most
typical metaphor describing the ideal male is “bear”.
However, it seems that the ideal male type itself develops already
during one 's childhood.
Some young gay men who are attracted to older men can clearly
be categorized as “gerontophiles” on the basis of
Hirschfeld’s (1952, 227) definition: they seek only for
partners who are over 50 years old.
When they seek for a partner for a more long-term relationship,
the young gay men who are attracted to older men seek for a man
who treats them as equal in spite of the age-difference. This
result is opposite to Harry’s (1982) conclusion, according
to which gay men who search for an older partner want this partner
to be more dominant in the relationship.
The young gay man who is attracted to older men does not seek
for material, external “exchange goods” from the older
partner, but mainly inner characteristics like wisdom that age
brings and sexual attraction. This result seems to confirm Steinman 's
The unequal power-positions seem to appear only in the sexual
fantasies of young gay men who are attracted to older men. This
result seems to confirm Lee's (1990) thoughts that in an age-different
relationship the partners must also be able to work out the roles
of equal partners for themselves, even though unequal power-positions
were central in the sexual life of the couple, for instance.
The experienced quality of the relationship with one’s real
father in childhood and adolescence varies from “close”
to “distant”. For this reason it is justifiable to
say that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between the
quality of the relationship with one 's father and being attracted
to older men.
The father - son role-play with an ideal male is a multi-dimensional
sexual fantasy where one can find elements of safety and masculine
affection on one hand, and sadomasochistically coloured submissive
- dominant role positions on the other hand. The father-son role-play
and the actual relationship with one's own father in childhood
and adolescence are two distinct experienced realities which have
little or nothing in common with each other.