A qualitative study exploring the attitudes of gay men towards physical activity and how they were influenced by experiences during physical education at secondary school


  • Paul Kenyon


Barriers, Physical activity, Physical education, P.E., Gay men, Team sport, Gay adolescent, Homophobia, Body image


Background: Physical activity is essential to maintaining good physical and mental health. The health needs of gay men are poorly recorded, but some studies have suggested that gay men experience specific barriers to participation in physical activity. Similarly, it is documented that gay adolescents also experience barriers to participation during physical education at school. Despite these observations, no studies have explored these phenomena together to see if negative experiences in physical education at secondary school impact on gay men’s attitudes towards physical activity in adulthood.

Methods:  A qualitative phenomenological design was used to conduct the research, using semi-structured online interviews.  A sample of ten participants was obtained using a snowball sampling method. Interviews were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.

Results:  The study findings showed that gay adolescents face several barriers to participation in physical education. Changing rooms were a particular area of concern for participants as they experienced significant homophobia. This was also experienced during team sports which they expressed a desire to avoid. The study also revealed that they found gender segregated lessons and lack of confidence in their ability to be barriers to participation. In adulthood, gay men were found to experience barriers associated with a homophobic culture within sport and negative stereotyping of gay men. The study also revealed the existence of a gay sub-culture that promotes physical activity as a way to appear more attractive, although participants preferred to diet rather than exercise to maintain a healthy weight.

Conclusions: Despite some similarities in participant experiences during school-based physical education and physical activity in adulthood, the study was unable to find any conclusive relationship between the two experiences. Despite all participants expressing avoidance behaviours in physical education, almost all participants currently engage in some form of physical activity in adulthood.