Intolerance of ambiguity, gender stereotypes, and attitudes to sexuality

  • Gary W. Wood

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The premise of this thesis is that Western thought is characterised by the need to enforce binary classification in order to structure the world. Classifications of sexuality and gender both embody this tendency, which has been largely influenced by Judeo-Christian tradition. Thus, it is argued that attitudes to sexuality, particularly homosexuality are, in part, a function of the way in which we seek to impose structure on the world. From this view, it is (partly) the ambiguity, inherent in gender and sexual variation, which evokes negative responses. The thesis presents a series of inter-linked studies examining attitudes to various aspects of human sexuality, including the human body, non-procreative sex acts (anal an oral sex) and patterns of sexuality that depart from the hetero-homo dichotomy. The findings support the view that attitudes to sexuality are significantly informed by gender-role stereotypes, with negative attitudes linked to intolerance of ambiguity. Male participants show large differences in their evaluations of male and female bodies, and of male and female sexual actors, than do female participants. Male participants also show a greater negativity to gay male sexual activity than do female participants, but males perceive lesbian sexuality similarly to heterosexuality. Male bodies are rated as being less 'permeable' than female bodies and male actors are more frequently identified as being the instigators of sexual acts. Crucial to the concept of heterosexism is the assumption that 'femininity' is considered inherently inferior to 'masculinity'. Hence, the findings provide an empirical basis for making connections between heterosexism and sexism, and therefore between the psychology of women, and gay and lesbian psychology.
Date of Award2000
Original languageEnglish


  • Intolerance of ambiguity
  • gender stereotypes
  • attitudes to sexuality

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