The Adonis Factor in the Gay Community

The clip above is from a documentary called “The Adonis Factor” by Christopher Hines I recently watched, and it got me thinking about the typical gay male quest for physical perfection. Why do we as gay men put such an emphasis on body image and how healthy is this pursuit on the individual as well as the community at large?

To find the answers, I started by looking at myself. I’m just as guilty at propagating this quest, and most who know me well are at this moment nodding their heads vigorously in response. It’s not like I can deny it. I watch my caloric intake–no more than 1,600 calories per day. For breakfast, I eat a protein shake with a banana and flax seed. I have a whole wheat chicken sandwich, another banana, and a protein bar for lunch, and for dinner a nice meal lovingly prepared by my husband, who knows my caloric and dietary restrictions. I drink water all day. No carbonated drinks cross these lips unless I’m having a vodka and sprite on those rare nights out. I go to the gym six days a week religiously, and I can be quite the bear if my workout schedule is interrupted.

Why do I do this?

Well, I do it to stay healthy. As the fat kid for most of my life, I have no desire to once again weigh 195 pounds, which is what I weighed at my heaviest, and since I stand only 5’6″, we all have to admit I was quite chunky.

But is health the only reason I do this? Of course not!

Looking good means being appreciated by others, and who doesn’t enjoy that? I certainly do, and I’m married with children! So to say that the quest for physical perfection is merely what we do to snag a mate is not true. The strive for physical perfection doesn’t stop once we’ve reached the happily ever after. And it’s not just me. I know many gay men who continue to hit the gym and watch their calories way after they are in a fully committed relationship.

“The Adonis Factor” claims that gay men are “visually programmed” and that “attractiveness is key to a man’s self esteem.” I can’t argue with those points. Like women, gay men are inundated with models of physical perfection in the media daily. The hunky models and the shirtless actors affect us as much as supermodels sometimes spur women to reach for physical perfection. We want to be desired like those hard bodies we see on the screen or in the magazines too. Also, to catch someone’s eye or cause that shirtless muscle man across the bar to stop mid sentence and stare at you with his mouth open just feels damn good.

Gay Times Ad

Sample Ad depicting gay life

But I think the gay male’s quest for physical perfection goes beyond being visually programmed or self esteem. I think it appeals to a more base instinct–competition. Men are competitive by nature, and most don’t like to lose. I know I don’t. So while the promise of sex and the boost to our self-esteem are definitely contributing factors, I think so is competition.

Think about it. We work harder, so we can be the best, or as close to it as we are going to get. When gay men see someone with a hot body, do they want to be with that person sexually? Well, yeah. That’s usually a no-brainer. But most also secretly want to have that body longer than just for the night. They want their pecs to be as sculpted, their biceps to be as bulging, and their abs to be just as flat.

You can see it happening at any gym or gay bar. Gay men dress to impress, but their eyes are constantly scanning the crowd in search of a body they not only want sexually but one they wish they could have. The guys with the best bodies are usually either shirtless or wearing the tightest shirts possible, and they typically get the most guys coming on to them. They put what they have on display, and it motivates gay men who fall just shy of them to increase their reps at the gym or the number of sit ups the next day. When the inevitable craving for a chocolate bar or a pizza hits, those striving for physical perfection think about the hot guys at the club or on television, and they pass on the empty calories for the delayed gratification of a flatter stomach and more muscle mass.

And while this makes for a more healthy conscious community, what effect does the pursuit for physical perfection have on the individual and on the community?

There are certainly positive effects. Gay men maintain their bodies for far longer than straight men do, and as a result, typically suffer from less health problems. A study conducted by American Journal of Public Health and reported on in South Florida Gay News states that “… gay men are 50 percent less likely to be obese compared to their heterosexual counterparts.” Since we watch our weight, we suffer less from diabetes, heart disease, or other illnesses related to lack of physical fitness. The study also quotes Dr. Greg Pizzi, a psychologist, who states that “men or women, who are in relationships with men would generally take better care of their bodies, since men tend to be more visual in their attractions and make it pretty clear that they are looking for a partner who looks good.” So while gay men take care of themselves better than their straight brothers, there is no true altruism behind the gesture. They do it to remain sexually attractive and competitive with other gay men.

But this craving to remain as sexually attractive and competitive for as long as possible also comes with a price. I found an article titled “Men are Dying for Sex: Mating Competition Explains Excess Male Mortality” on, a popular science, technology, and research news website that focuses on biology, among other subjects. The article states that “men compete with other men for mating partners and trying to make themselves attractive…. This competition leads to strategies that are riskier for men both behaviorally and physiologically, and these result in higher levels of mortality.” While the article focuses on male/female relationships, the information found within it can definitely be applied to gay men.

In the gay community, where gay man battles gay man for physical perfection and mating rights, the results can be dire, as stated in the article. A recent survey reported on in PinkNews, a large European gay news site, states that:

48% of gay men would sacrifice a year or more of their lives in exchange for a perfect body.

The research also said 10% of gay men would agree to die more than 11 years earlier if they could have their ideal body now.

Nine in ten gay men admit they enforce ‘unrealistic’ images of lean and muscular men in conversation.

In comparison, only a third of straight men said they would give a year or more for an ideal body shape, and 77% admitted buying into the body image ideal.”

As you can see from the survey, the quest for physical perfection is problematic, when half of our community would die early just to have the perfect body. And if they are willing to die early, then logically this means that many gay men are falling into unhealthy body image issues, such as bulimia/anorexia, steroid usage, and cosmetic surgery. According to the survey, “record numbers” of men are seeking these alternatives. Another study conducted by psychiatrist D. Blake Woodside, a faculty member with the University of Toronto, states that gay men make up a significant portion of the 1 million men suffering from eating disorders.

So not only are gay men willing to die for physical perfection, but many are also killing themselves to accomplish it. Apparently, many gay men will do whatever it takes to be as competitive as possible in the meat market.

This has to stop. Perfection isn’t possible. We are human–gay or straight. As such, we are inherently flawed. The pursuit of perfection is unattainable and if we measure ourselves by our BMI, we may find ourselves alone but with a flat stomach. In our drive to reach perfection and the competitive sexual games played as a result, we focus on the exterior instead of what is on the inside. This is why dating sites like Manhunt or apps like Grindr and Scruff can be problematic. They reduce gay men to profile pictures that other gay men window shop through in order to find the picture that is most appealing, the perfect man with the perfect body. They also add fuel to the fire of left wing rhetoric that gay men are superficial and incapable of maintaining long term relationships.

We need to remember that what’s on the outside doesn’t reveal anything that is lasting. Our bodies will grow old, and they will get flabby and saggy. That’s simple biology.

Instead of striving for physical perfection and being competitive about that, let’s get competitive about being compassionate, loving, caring, industrious, intelligent human beings. If we commit to that with the same verve we pursue physical perfection, there are no limits to what the gay community can do. We could call this the Franklin Factor, after Benjamin Franklin. He was a flawed man, who tried his best to become the best man and citizen he could be. He even kept a journal on his progress toward becoming a better man.

If we as a community strove for the Franklin Factor, something far more lasting than physical perfection, we could bring about societal change that would not only benefit us but future generations, and if we eat healthy and exercise instead of strive for physical perfection, we will also look damn good while we do it.

So instead of trying to be an Adonis, as a community we should grab the occasional slice of pizza, see others for more than just their bodies, and enjoy the lives and bodies we have.

That certainly sounds like a better deal than killing ourselves for the perfect body. What about you?

11 thoughts on “The Adonis Factor in the Gay Community

  1. Right, but think about it from the point of view of an aging gay man.

    I’m in my mid-40’s. All the friends I came out with, are dead. Twice over, in fact — two full circles of friends, just gone. I’m no longer surrounded by the peers I should have. The friends, lovers, partners…there’s nobody.

    I live in San Francisco, which truly doesn’t represent a good cross-section of gay society; I have stronger friendships in cities in other parts of the country. But here, when I attend parties with my age-mates, I am appalled by the common threads of the discussions. Most of them center around drug treatments. AIDS rides. The Memorial Grove. Money and investments. Exclusive parties. Exclusive tours. Pretty much exclusive darned everything.

    I’m not HIV-positive. I’m an artist; a designer/fabricator — meaning, I drive a CNC plasma cutter and a welder during the day, and sell the art I make, for a living. I’m not wealthy, nor am I given to pursuits where money or power play a starring role (cruises, trips to exotic and exclusive gay resorts, etc). Oh yes…and I’m studying circus aerial arts. As you may well imagine, I have an enormous amount of stamina, and a high personal drive to succeed. My portfolio is huge.

    But none of what I am even *registers* in the gay world. The accomplishments, the knowledge, the wisdom that I’ve accumulated…absolutely of no value. And I’m over 40. For that reason alone, if no other, I’m a bloody cipher, a zero.

    You wonder why in hell people would willing give up 10 years of their lives in order to look good in a bar? If you don’t look like something off the pages of, or, you’re going to get a real good look at how it makes you feel when people push you aside, say nothing, and keep on walking. Ignore you, even when you’re standing right there. When you’re in a bar, and the bartender skips you in order to take the order from the cute young thing behind you.

    After 40, you don’t even exist, to the gay community. Thanks to HIV, you’re quite a minority; you’re lucky, in fact, to be alive at all, if you’re over 43 right now. And you’re largely irrelevant, a fact that gets rubbed in your face, every day: nobody advertizes to your demographic, which (technically) shouldn’t exist — and largely doesn’t.

    Losing 10 years of your life would be far less painful than the alternative, which is the living hell of being a ghost, and not even dead yet! That is the reason people are so willing to do that. Nobody wants to be alone. Nobody wants to be abandoned. The straight world has turned its back; and the thought of living life with *no* community, no place to belong, is far too painful to contemplate for most.

    I’ve had that happen to me already, at a young age, so I got inoculated against it early. For me, it’s extremely painful, on a daily basis — but survivable. For others, not so much.

    But that abandonment, that turning away, that’s what the gay community is, today. That’s what the party promoters, and the celebrities, and the porn labels are all selling us as a collective self-image. And seems like everyone’s desperately buying it. In fact, they’re dying for it 😀

    • That’s precisely my point. There’s no reason to overlook anyone, especially someone like you who’s contributing to the arts and society, but that is something that happens in the gay world. It’s becoming quite the pandemic. I don’t want to make broad generalizations here and say that everyone does this. I know many people who look beyond the surface, but the surface, for the most part, is where many gay men stop. As you mention, images in the media contribute to this, but they aren’t the sole contributing cause, in my opinion. They are part of the problem, but it’s a problem that I believe we can conquer. As the gay community ages, I believe its values will mature with it. Beauty doesn’t last forever, but the good things we do will leave a lasting imprint.

    • Well… Women generally say the same thing about straight men after they’ve cracked that 40yo threshold. That’s the cycle of life, and the human ignorance that fuels it.

      I’m 24yo, viscously fit, and have a older BF, (though it’s more of a “logistics” thing as oppose to “love” thing) but I’ve never shunned older guys advances. Though, I find them seriously unnecessary. Most older gays I know are more into ageism than myself, or my peers. They always try to go after a guy half their age, while their counterpart sits alone at the bar. Again.


      I think your larger problem is that you’re over 40yo, and still want to live like a 20-something. The club life is something most heteros give up once they have children and settle into a stable situation. BUT gays don’t have the same matriculation throughout our lifecycle. Older gays stay in the nightclub system way too long in my opinion.

      AND…heteros don’t live in tightly wound city structures like gay men and lesbians do. We see each other’s faces way more frequently than straight ppl would see the faces of ppl they know through a hotspot. We have a communal lifestyle…that never branches out. Like never ever. So, in order to stay connected to semi-likeminded ppl, oldies hit up the bars, and hope for way too much in return.

      …I mean really, do straight guys complain and whine every time some hot girl spurs their chitchat, small talk nonsense? A little, yes. But not like old gay guys, folks. I’ve been called out of my name more times than I can count for rejecting an older guy, without even being rude to him. OLd gays might need to look at straight men to see the result of being ignored. Straights either go grab a hooker, or more likely…a fat chick…and call it a night. I’m saying your life should devolve to such low an esteem, but you’ve got to be realistic.

      Me and you probably have very little in common, besides the fact that we’re gay. That’s not enough to build a loving life on. Age ranges affect ppls knowledge base … So while I’m getting all nostalgic about cartoons, like; Sailor Moon, DBZ, Batman, X-men…you’re going on about the JFK assassination, or something equally dreadful (my BF is way into politics, and I try, but I often fail to return his fervor for the ridiculousness that we Americans allow our gov. system to be).

      I’m just saying that when a new generation pops up, there will be a power shift in the nightlife. The oldies still own the daylight…and we own the nightlife. It’s the cycle, and it does makes sense it Straightsville. And I hope all ages of gays (considering I’ll one day be 40yo, hopefully) will one day find a way to deal with the fact that our lives never seem to go anywhere. And raising children isn’t the sole solution (’cause I sorta hate kids, and I know this because I have like six nephews and nieces). But being considerate, responsible, and most supremely…!realistic! big boys about our prospects with potential lovers just might be the answer.

      • I meant to say; “I’m ***NOT*** saying your life should devolve to such low an esteem, but you’ve got to be realistic.”

        Just didn’t want to sound completely stupid, though I’m sure I’m close enough to it either way.

        • Kai,

          I apologize for the long delay in response, but I was on vacation for 10 days and just got back.

          You’re right about the gay community being more insular than the straight community. It is sometimes quite incestuous, really. One of the reasons, however, I think older gay men stay in the club system is because most older gay men have come out later in life than younger men. They might not have had the opportunity to live the gay life of their youth because they were still deeply closeted, which is why many live large later in life. To say that gay men stay longer in the clubs than they should isn’t fair. To my knowledge, going to clubs shouldn’t be solely for the young. The young-at-heart have as much right to dance and drink the night away if they choose. 🙂

          As for older men hitting on younger men, I doubt that will change. Many older men enjoy that. But so do some younger men. While I’m not one of them myself, I have definitely seen more than a few daddies with their boys. More power to them both. If they’re both happy so be it. 🙂

          • I just noticed all the cool changes to your site! And your response was insightful thanx.

            I agree, to some extent. I just wonder, who is it that hires all of these pretty bois at the clubs, in porn, for ads, even at restaurants…etc.?

            Because I don’t know any guys my age that own or run any businesses like those. So, my thought process since I saw the DocU a year or so ago on Netflix is that older gays are the ones perpetuating this demoralizing theme that only young guys are hot. Self-loathing or pure lust, take a gander? It’s unfortunate, but super-duper true. Just a thought, really.

            Hope you had a great vaca. And hope your site keeps growing.

          • Kai,

            Thanks for the compliment. I’m enjoying the new changes to the site as well. As for who is hiring the young, hot boys, you are probably right, the older owners of the club. I can’t deny that guys of my generation are most likely propagating the stereotype of hot younger guys. I’d love to see hot older guys at the clubs too, and in some of them, like leather bars etc, you will find hot older guys in the ads and go-go dancing. I doubt however, gay or straight, that the appeal of hot young things will ever go away. 🙂

  2. It’s disheartening that not only do you subscribe to the behavior and obsession (while hypocritically deriding it) but you make such sweeping generalizations. We all aren’t like that, and we all aren’t like you. I’m in the gym once or twice a week and pretty much eat what I want. I don’t go to clubs, don’t scan the room for the hottest body, and don’t put a premium on what our culture (and you) tell us is most desired. And neither do the friends I associate with. You might be trying to help, but it fell flat.

    • Alex, I’m sorry you thought I was being hypocritical. That certainly wasn’t the case. And I never said that every man (gay or otherwise) does this. I said many men I know, and I also used the studies mentioned to prove the point. You are right though, there are men who do not fall into this topic, but there are many who do. That was my point. Perhaps you didn’t finish reading the article, but the last 6 paragraphs were all about what we as a community should be focusing on.

  3. It’s not just a gay thing it’s more of a man thing. It is prevalent in society period. Women have been battling for more years then you can shake a stick at. We lose our figure for any reason and we are no longer desirable. So we become anorexic, we botox, we make up, color our hair. God forbid you should be a woman over forty with children of almost any age. Straight men do have it easier, as straight women are looking more for security and companionship in most cases. A distinguished older man means established, secure and confidant. Men are men so I guess when they are looking for other men the same rules apply if it’s attractive go for it if not we can friends sometimes. Then there is the other side of the coin if you have an Adonis Factor and they have an Adonis Factor oh the hotness that can be seen. You men I swear glad I’m fictional my author can write me in a mate. I shall go on to ramble on someone elses’ blog. Thanks for the insight and outlet.

    • Solaria,

      Thanks for stopping by. As I told Kai earlier, I apologize for the delay. I’ve been vacationing, as you already know from FB. 🙂

      Straight women do have much of the same image issues, and it isn’t fair for anyone. Will that change in the future? Doubtful. But as for being fictional, we can create whatever hotness we want, right? 😉

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