Relationship Preferences Among Gay and Lesbian Online Daters: Individual and Contextual Influences

From Population Europe.

Several studies have examined attractiveness standards and aspects of romantic relationships of gay men and lesbians. However, despite the growing popularity of digital dating markets among individuals with same-sex preferences, no studies have yet to examine their relationship intentions and values when searching for a partner online. In their current publication, Gina Potârcă, Melinda Mills and Wiebke Neberich explore two aspects of relationship preferences: long-term dating intentions (i.e., interest in starting a long-lasting relationship) and belief in monogamy.

The authors engage in the first large-scale empirical study of the long-term dating intentions and monogamy beliefs of online daters across 53 regions in eight European countries. They analyse anonymous profile and preference information of 24,598 gay members registered on the eDarling online dating site in the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Through an agreement with the company, data were accessed in September 2011.

Life course aspects matter

In line with theoretical expectations and previous empirical studies, researchers found that, compared to gay men, lesbians hold a stronger belief in the importance of monogamy. Nonetheless, among the never-married, lesbians had fewer long-term dating intentions compared to gay men. This suggests that, when no marital history or ties to previous partnerships are present, women perceive fewer benefits and have less interest in long-term commitments than men. Results also indicate that separation and widowhood among both gay men and lesbians are linked with the least demanding partnering standards.

The authors further explored the effect of having experienced divorce on gay men and lesbians’ relationship preferences. Whereas for divorced gay men marital history is connected with lower long-term dating intentions, divorced lesbians display more stringent partnering demands by preferring long-term arrangements and placing more emphasis on sexual exclusivity. The presence of children also had a strong association with the relationship preferences of both sexes: Having at least two children living in the same household was connected to both a lower interest in long-term dating and weaker monogamy beliefs among individuals with same-sex preferences. The lack of gender differences illustrates that the “child burden” effect is valid for both gay men and lesbian women.

Policies are associated to long-term commitments

Finally, the authors empirically demonstrate that social tolerance and legal recognition of same-sex unions are associated with higher long-term dating intentions and stronger monogamy beliefs. First, residing in a supportive environment was associated with an increase in long-term dating intentions and in the value attached to sexual exclusivity. The official recognition of same-sex partnerships by countries allows a longer horizon for pursuing long-term and monogamous relationships for both sexual minority groups. Second, differences in dating intentions and monogamy beliefs between heterosexual online daters and those with a same-sex orientation is lower in countries that legalize same-sex partnerships. In other words, in contexts that legally recognize same-sex unions, gay men and lesbians show partnering values and priorities similar to those of heterosexuals.

The findings of this study support bringing same-sex partnerships from “outlaw to in-law” in both normative and institutional terms. The prospect of being able to have a legally accepted union, in particular, a marital contract, fosters security to envision a committed relationship.

To read the entire article, see:

Gina Potârcă, Melinda Mills and Wiebke Neberich (2015). Relationship Preferences Among Gay and Lesbian Online Daters: Individual and Contextual Influences, Journal of Marriage and Family, Volume 77, Issue 2, pages 523–541, April 2015, DOI: 10.1111/jomf.12177

*This research received funding from the European Union´s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 320116  for the research project  FamiliesAndSocieties. FamiliesAndSocieties (www.familiesandsocieties.eu) has the aim to investigate the diversity of family forms, relationships and life courses in Europe, to assess the compatibility of existing policies with these changes, and to contribute to evidence-based policy-making. The consortium brings together 25 leading universities and research institutes in 15 European countries and three transnational civil society organizations.