October 28, 2009

Traditional Relationship Values Held Across Gender and Sexuality

When we think the "traditional" values for relationships, like love and commitment, we sometimes rely on stereotypes regarding who holds those values.

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When we think about the “traditional” values for relationships, like love, commitment, and financial security, we sometimes rely on stereotypes regarding who holds these values.  A recent study of young adults in the US reveals some interesting facts about these values across gender and sexual orientation.

The Study

Three sociologists at the University of Minnesota conducted a study on relationship attitudes using a large sample that is representative of youth in the United States.

They focused on how much adults age 18-28 value love, faithfulness, lifelong commitment, financial security, and having a partner of the same race.  They assessed differences in these relationship values between women and men, and between heterosexuals and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people (LGB), net of the influence of race, ethnicity, social class, education, and other social factors.

They found that among their sample of over 14,000 young adults, an overwhelming majority rate love, faithfulness, and lifelong commitment as extremely important to them.

The Specifics: Gender and Sexual Orientation Differences

Among heterosexuals, the researchers found that women value love, faithfulness, and lifelong commitment significantly more than heterosexual men.  But, they found no significant differences between lesbian and bisexual women and gay and bisexual men; the only gender difference found was among the heterosexuals.

Further, heterosexual men did not differ significantly in their values from those of sexual minorities (LGB people).  The researchers note the importance of recognizing how gender shapes our values, and sexual orientation shapes our values, but more importantly, how the intersection of the two shapes our values.

As I noted in an earlier blog post, we have to look at how all of our identities intersect with and influence one another creating unique experiences and perspectives.  If the researchers had only looked at gender and ignored sexual orientation, they would not  have noticed that any gender differences in relationship values are reflective of gender differences that are unique to heterosexuals.

What About Stereotypes?

The findings of this study are great for challenging a couple stereotypes.  One is the notion that all gay men are unfaithful in relationships and sexually promiscuous, yet this study finds that they value faithfulness, lifelong commitment, and love just as much as lesbians, bisexuals, and heterosexual men.

The same finding challenges the myth of the “U-haul lesbian”, the stereotype that lesbian women develop relationships quickly.  With regard to the stereotype that women are more interested in love and relationships than men, it seems that there is some truth, but now we know that such a difference in relationship values is a heterosexual phenomenon.

Ideally, heterosexuals will take note of these differences to open the lines of communication with their partners or potential partners to ensure that they are on the same page with their partners about what they want in their relationship.