Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How Gay and Straight Relationships are the Same

This is really interesting. After writing my previous post "How Gay and Straight Relationships Differ" yesterday, I found 43 press releases on news.google.com discussing studies that were just released this month on how homosexual and heterosexual relationships are the same. Reuters ran the headline "Gay couples as committed as straight couples." The Washington Post's headline is "Same-sex couples just as committed as heterosexual counterparts."

All these headlines referred to two studies published in this month's edition of the academic journal Developmental Psychology (January 2008: Vol. 44, No. 1). Ironically, one of the studies was conducted on my campus--in the Relationships Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (aside: Reuters misspelled the name of the city as "Champagne"; now I know how people at Johns Hopkins must feel!).
Roisman, G.I., Clausell, E., Holland, A., Fortuna, K., and Elieff, C. "Adult romantic relationships as contexts of human development: A multimethod comparison of same-sex couples with opposite-sex dating, engaged, and married dyads." Developmental Physchology. 2008, Vol. 44, No. 1, 91-101.
The other was joint work of researchers at the University of Washington, San Diego State University, and the University of Vermont.
Blasam, K. F., Beauchaine, T.P., Rothblum, E.D., and Solomon, S.E. "Three-year follow-up of same-sex couples who had civil unions in Vermont, same-sex couples not in civil unions, and heterosexual married couples." Developmental Psychology. 2008, Vol. 44, No. 1, 102-116.
The big finding of both these studies is the explosion of "the stereotype that same-sex relationships aren't as healthy or secure as heterosexual pairings." The Illinois study found that committed gay relationships were generally not distinguishable from committed straight relationships on measures of relationship satisfaction and stability. Moreover, the Washington-San Diego State-Vermont study found that gay couples (with or without civil unions) reported "greater relationship quality, compatibility, and intimacy and lower levels of conflict" than the straight couples they studied.

This is fun news for a guy like me who just got engaged to a guy :-)

While the popular press articles don't go into much detail, I did read the full studies last night before going to bed. Each of the studies had unique facets to their methodology that are significant contributions.

What's cool about the University of Illinois study is that it did not rely on self-reporting alone. The researchers also gathered relationship data by inviting them into the Relationship Lab, where the individuals were fitted with electronic instruments on their bodies to measure physical responses (skin conductance and heart rate) during interactions with their partners in the lab. Furthermore, the interactions of the couples were filmed discreetly using hidden cameras; the films of the interaction were carefully reviewed to watch for visual cues that have previously been shown to indicate relationship quality. All this data worked in unison to inform the study's conclusion: committed gay relationships and committed straight relationships are remarkably similar.

What's cool about the Washington-San Diego State-Vermont study is that it is based on data from the first study of gay couple in America that didn't rely on what is called a "convenience sample"-- study participants gathered by posting an ad in a newspaper or fliers in the community. This study, rather, was based on the records of the state of Vermont, the first state in the Union to grant legal recognition to gay couples (in 2000). The authors of the study accessed through public records the names and addresses of all 2,475 civil union certificates granted in the first year of the Vermont law and attempted to contact all of these couples to request participation in the study.

Cool stuff :-)

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