Most of the research on romantic relationships has concentrated exclusively on heterosexual couples. There are millions of people in the world who are involved in homosexual relationships, and therefore such relationships are becoming increasingly studied. Psychologists believe that at least 10% of the population in the world are male homosexuals (attracted to people who are the same sex as themselves) and 5% are lesbians. They also state that 0.1% of the population are exclusively bi-sexual, however more people may be more ‘bi-curious’ (having a one off experience with someone of the same sex). Homosexuality is only a recently studied phenomenon as it was legalised in the UK in 1967 before this time many people would not give information about their sexuality as it was illegal and therefore difficult to accurately study. Sexuality is easier to study today, however research is still difficult to acquire due to the social stigma of being gay.
There is an argument amongst the gay community that their relationships are different to heterosexual relationships and thus should not be seen as similar. To see gay and straight relationships as being the same is regarded as ‘liberal humanism’.
Peplau (1991) states that gay relationships are different and should be seen as such. He states that gay couples are less likely to co-habit, they are more likely to hide their relationships from other family and friends and are less likely to get involved in long-term commitments. As such gay relationships are seen as different from heterosexual relationships. Peplau based this view on research he did into homosexual relationships. In 1991 he found that often heterosexuals presume homosexuals do not have steady relationships.
They studied levels of promiscuity in a survey. He discovered 65% of lesbians and 50% of gay men had been in a faithful relationship for over a year. Their survey also showed gay partners were more likely to end the relationships before being unfaithful. They measured levels of love and found the same depth of feelings in homosexual relationships as heterosexual ones.
Peplau (1991) Criticims
However, the methodology of gaining information on ones sexuality can be questioned, as well as the issue of the low percentages within the study which prove the preconceived stereotypes correct as half of gay men are not faithful in their relationships. Another issue with this study is the problem of having no control group, to see how many of those in straight relationships are actually faithful.
Another misconception is that aside from a gender preference, homosexual individuals have different sex drives than heterosexual individuals. Fletcher (2002) found that both straight and gay men have higher sex drives than gay and straight women.
They also found that regardless of sexual orientation, women are more relationship focused than men. Which has been previously stated and explained by the biological approach which states that as females only have specific number of opportunities to conceive that they are much pickier about their mate and due to the investment the child is to the women during pregnancy and childbirth they are looking for a partner who will invest at least as much as them.
Fletcher concluded that many patterns of sexual attitudes and behaviour are more closely linked to gender than to sexual orientation. He argues that if we wish to understand gays and lesbians, the best place to start would be to look at heterosexual men and women. Despite this study gaining support from the biological approach in some of its idea, it fails to account for those women who are not concerned about power or stability.
Kitzinger and Coyle (1995)
Another important difference between homosexual and heterosexual relationships has to do with society. As Kitzinger and Coyle (1995) stated that “Lesbian and gay couples are struggling to build and maintain relationships in the context of a society that often denies their existence, condemns their sexuality, penalises their partnership, and derides their love for each other. Therefore, cohabitation is much less common in homosexual relationships then in heterosexual ones.
However Harry (1983) reported that 50% of gay relationships involved cohabitation, as did 75% of lesbian relationships. This research however suffers from being only temporarily valid, due to the changes in law and societies view of homosexual relationships softening, there are many more open and well-functioning homosexual relationships that cohabit now without the same level of concern about the negative attitudes they would face.
Homosexual Criticisms 1
Furthermore, much of the research into homosexual relationships took place over a decade ago. Society’s attitudes towards gay relationships may have changed considerably in that time, meaning that we have to take care when using this research to support an argument. For example, none of the research above takes into account the recent changed in the legality of same sex relationships. Civil partnerships introduced in 2004 allow same sex couples to have some of the legal rights of married couples. It will be interesting to see the consequences of this change in the years to come. For example if the divorce rate of straight and gay individuals is similar or different.
Homosexual Criticisms 2
Similarly there are numerous other difficulties in researching homosexual relationships. Due to prejudice and discrimination, it is almost impossible to obtain a representative sample. Unlike, heterosexuality, homosexual individuals may hide their sexuality, and be unwilling to share personal information with researchers. This would bias the sample considerably, as it would not include those homosexual individuals who are not “out”. On the other hand, homosexual individuals who volunteer to take part in research into their relationships may be doing so with the intention of removing prejudice and encouraging society to accept their lifestyle. Such individuals may possibly overemphasise the positives and underreport the negatives of their relationships so as not to add to the existing prejudice.
Another type of romantic relationship which has been significantly understudied, are electronic or internet relationships. The area of electronic relationships has boomed over recent years, not only first due to the invention of the computer and even more recently the mobile phone, but by the growth of social networking and instant messaging which allows us to communicate with anyone we like 24 hours a day.
Internet relationships can be contrasted to Fact-to face relationships (FTF) as online interaction is performed in an environment that is mostly text based. This means that many of the dimensions that characterise FTF relationships, such as body language or facial expressions is absent in internet relationships. The internet does however now allow for both synchronous (when users are online at the same time and can read and respond to messages immediately as well as asynchronous communication (when users read and respond to messages at different times, for example emails).
Lenhart (2001) found that the significant proportion of American teenagers claim that the internet helps their relationships with their friends, or helps them to make new friends. Lenhart and her colleagues also found that a substantial proportion of teenagers use instant messaging to maintain relationships with their friends, with a significant number having used instant messaging as a way of starting or finishing a relationship.
(+) This study supports the idea then that computer mediated communication (CMC) is not inferior as CMC allows for both synchronous and asynchronous communication in comparison to only synchronous interaction there is with FTF communication.
(-) However this study suffers largely from its age bias in the sample, as the participants are all teenagers, they have been brought up to use this type of communication a lot more than the older generations have and therefore the results may have been very different if they investigated say the elderly’s use of CMC.
A similarity between CMC and FTF communication however, is that individuals are more likely to seek out and create online relationships with similar people, other in terms of physicality or mentally. This idea is supported by Hutlins (1993) who found that individuals on the internet, for example a similarity in terms of ethnicity. They also found that if significant differences in attitudes and interest’s were discovered, then the communication became shorter and less frequent, before being ended altogether.
(+) This supports the idea of similarity playing a role in the formation of internet relationships as it shows that if there are significant differences then the relationships will fail and stop, proving the need for similarity between individuals in an online relationship.
(-) However this study has been criticised due to researcher bias, as Hutlin may have looked for individuals to prove his hypothesis as many people form online relationships with very different individuals than themselves. This is also contradicted by the effectiveness of online relationships in creating and maintaining relationships between people often in different parts of the world with very different backgrounds and ideals.
Young’s (1999) ACE model
Online relationships have been discussed as being most effective and desirable to certain types of people such as very busy students or workers, as well as very shy people who find it hard to approach people in real life situations. This has been summed up by Young’s (1999) ACE model, which stands for Anonymity, Convenience and Escape, these are the things that apparently draw people to internet relationships, and part of the reason that they are easy to create and maintain.
Parks and Floyd’s (1996)
This is supported by Parks and Floyd’s research from 1996, where they interviewed 176 members of internet newsgroups (an early form of online discussion network).61% reported forming a new personal relationship through a newsgroup. The biggest predictors of whether an individual formed a personal relationship through a newsgroup. 98% of people communicated directly by email, a third had phoned each other and 28% had used the postal system. As well as a third who had reported a personal relationship meeting in person. The biggest factor in this was their frequency of use and the duration of the time they spent online.
Parks and Floyd’s (1996) Criticisms
(-) However this research is severely outdated, as not only have the online “chat-rooms” transformed into brand new social sites such as Facebook or twitter, but the ways in which people communicate has changed immensely also, as very few people would now use the postal service to communicate with someone they met online as they can instantly message them, call them or even video call them. This therefore means that the study suffers from temporal validity and must be used in the knowledge that the study in today’s society would return some very different statistics.
Conclusion - Electronic Evaluation
Furthermore, this applies to all research on electronic relationships, due to the rapid change of the technology and society we live in. Therefore the results gained from Parks and Floyd or Hutlins were outdated very quickly. This is because technology is growing and developing very quickly, and so the nature of electronic relationships are evolving.
A second problem with the study of internet relationships is that of ethical issues. As a result of the growing tendency for researchers to use the internet in their research, there is growing concern about the potential harm to online users who are unaware that they have become research participants when they discuss their relationships. Failing to get consent before monitoring internet chat rooms, for example amounts to an invasion of privacy.
A final weakness of internet relationships is that this research is culturally specific. The reason for this is because some societies are less developed and therefore, do not have the technology that the West do. Due to this, some individuals are never exposed to computers, etc. and therefore never form online relationships. This suggests then, that the research can only be applied to certain societies.