"Muscular, but Not 'Roided Out'": Gay Male Athletes and Performance-Enhancing Substances

Article excerpt

Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) are substances that can facilitate muscle growth and development. They are of appeal to a variety of individuals, including competitive athletes and persons dissatisfied with their body image--especially gay men. hi this qualitative study, 16 elite gay male athletes from the United States, Canada and Australia were interviewed regarding their opinions of AAS, masculinity, homosexuality, and sport, among other issues. The athletes expressed a general dislike of AAS, asserting the substances were un-masculine, un-natural, un-healthy, and un-sportsmanlike. Despite these reservations concerning AAS, the athletes described their own use of other ergogenic substances. A contradiction thus exists between the athletes' reasons for not using AAS and the athletes' reasons for using other substances. These findings are used to critique and nuance contemporary theory in body image research, masculinity, and sexuality.

Keywords: gay men; athletes; body image; anabolic-androgenic steroids; masculinity; hegemonic aesthetic


Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) are substances that can enhance muscle mass by mimicking the actions of testosterone within the human body. This ability of AAS to facilitate muscle growth may be of appeal to a number of individuals. Peters et al. (1999) delineate four groups of potential AAS users. These are (A) competitive athletes, who use AAS to provide enhanced sporting performance; (B) competitive bodybuilders, for whom AAS may assist in providing a more ideal physique for their sport; (C) individuals who require additional muscle mass for their jobs; and (D) people who are body image dissatisfied, many of whom are gay men, who seek additional muscle mass to achieve a culturally idealised body type. While AAS may assist these men in their pursuit of muscle, it is important to recognise that steroids use may yield serious physiological and psychological side effects (Kanayama et al., 2008; Monaghan, 2001; Straus & Yesalis, 1991). Thus, AAS may pose risks to the health of users.

In this qualitative investigation, we describe the attitudes toward AAS of a group of individuals whose identities overlap between the groups described above: gay male athletes.

Masculinity, Body Image, Steroids, and Gay Men

While there exists a social perception that steroids are a problem related to sport (Diacin et al., 2003; Hartman, 2008; Monaghan, 2001), competitive athletes actually constitute a minority of AAS users. For example, Peters et al. (1999) indicate that in a sample of 100 users of AAS, only 11 were competitive athletes. A far greater percentage (61%) came from users whose primary motivation for use was to enhance body image. Likewise, McCreary et al. (2007) suggest AAS may be of particular appeal to men who are body image dissatisfied and wish to attain additional muscle mass.

Those findings support those of Kanayama et al. (2006), who also suggest that users of AAS often report negative or distorted body image, and are more likely to endorse stereotypically masculine traits and characteristics (e.g. the collection of traits coined "orthodox masculinity": Anderson, 2005). Likewise, Halkitis (2001; Halkitis et al., 2004) found many AAS users espoused stereotypical (i.e. orthodox) masculine attitudes and beliefs. These results are consistent with those of other studies (e.g., Kimmel & Mahalik, 2004; McCreary et al., 2005), which reported an association between muscle dissatisfaction and conformity to masculine norms. Thus, endorsement of orthodox masculinity may act as a risk factor not only for body dissatisfaction, but also the use of dangerous substances in the pursuit of an ideal body. Findings such as these are part of a larger body of literature that links masculinity to poor health outcomes and risky health-related behaviours (Courtenay, 2000; Kimmel, 2008).

While use of AAS may be linked to some enactments of masculinity, these substances have a special relationship to queer masculinity. …


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.