Gay men who identify as bears are more likely to experience lower self-esteem, lower physical health and engage in riskier sex than twinks, jocks, geeks and other ‘tribes’ of the gay male community.
Because bears are expected to be bigger, hairier and more masculine than other parts of the gay community, researchers say it is common bears struggle with both their sexuality and body image.
‘Despite the health risks that are associated with increased BMI, the promotion of certain physical appearance that includes a higher BMI is important for men who identify as bears,’ the paper, published in the Clinical Journal of Nursing, reads.
‘It helps them to recognize one another, strengthen communal bonds, and promote a gay identity that is masculine, sexual, and mature.’
Undertaken by academics at the University of Miami, the paper reviewed 11 research studies that focused on bear subculture in the United States.
‘Before discovering the bear community, members have described harassment and discrimination from both heterosexuals and homosexuals throughout their lifespan based on weight, which led to lower self-esteem,’ they said.
‘Perpetuating this perception of low self-esteem is the stereotypical image of a gay man who is usually young, slim, and smooth-skinned, an image which many men who identify as bears do not fit.’
The paper also said bears are more likely to engage in unprotected anal sex, fisting, asphyxiation, voyeurism and exhibitionism, with this possibly increasing the risk of becoming infected with STIs or HIV.
Associate professor Joseph De Santis and PHD student Narciso Quidley-Rodriguez, who researched the paper, said health care providers are not addressing the needs of men who identify as bears who often just tell them to lose weight.
‘Besides weight, other healthcare needs should be addressed,’ they said.
“Primary healthcare providers should assess the sexual habits of all patients and offer safer-sex education depending on the needs of each client.”