Why women want to befriend gay men
For years, friendships between straight women and gay men have been a
subject of pop culture fascination. Books, television shows and feature
length films have all highlighted this unique relationship, noted for
its closeness and depth.
There seems to be a level of implicit trust between gay men
and straight women. ‘Chatting’ via www.shutterstock.com
But with society's attitudes toward gays and lesbians changing, it's
become all the more important to build a holistic understanding of the
relationships between gay and straight people.
As a researcher in social psychology, I've often wondered: why do
straight female-gay male relationships work so well? Why are straight
women so drawn to having gay men as friends? And when do these
relationships typically form?
During the course of my research, I've discovered that the most
interesting, compelling - and, arguably, most theoretically coherent -
explanation is through the lens of evolution. Specifically, I believe
evolutionary psychology and human mating can help explain why
relationships between straight women and gay men tend to flourish.
A safe bet
At first glance, this explanation may seem quite counterintuitive.
(After all, straight women and gay men don't mate with one another.)
However, this is precisely the reasoning behind my approach. Because
gay men don't mate with women - or compete with them for mates - women
feel a certain level of comfort with gay men, and the process of forming
a close friendship can occur relatively quickly. With heterosexual men
(who, by definition, are sexually attracted to women), the process is
longer - and potentially more fraught - because men may be grappling
with their own sexual impulses.
In other words, because gay men are attracted to their own gender,
they're a "safe bet" for women - at least, from a sociobiological
About three years ago, I initially tested this theory in a series of
experiments that have served as the foundation of my research program on
In these experiments, straight female participants were shown
fictitious Facebook profiles depicting either a straight woman, straight
man or gay man. The female participants were then asked how likely they
would be to trust the individual's dating advice.I also recruited gay
male participants, and had them complete the same task (with the gay men
viewing Facebook profiles depicting a straight female, gay male or
The experiments, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology,
demonstrated that straight women and gay men perceived one another to be
trustworthy sources of relationship and dating advice. In other words,
when it came to dating-related matters, there was an almost
instantaneous level of implicit trust.
Still, more needed to be done to support the hypothesis.
Cracking the why and when
Recently, my colleagues and I at the University of Texas at Arlington
developed a series of four related studies.
We titled the four studies "Why (and When) Straight Women Trust Gay
Men: Ulterior Mating Motives and Female Competition," with the hope of
better establishing why straight women trust gay men and whenstraight
women would be most likely to seek out gay men for friendship and
guidance.For the first study, I wanted to replicate the finding that
women trust gay men more than straight men or straight women. This time,
however, I wanted to see if women would only trust gay men's
dating-related advice as opposed to other types of advice.
It turns out straight women only trusted a gay man's advice about a
potential boyfriend more than the same advice from, say, a straight man
or another straight woman. In other words, it's not like straight women
totally trusted gay men on all matters. It really only had to do with
one thing: dating and relationships.
To further examine why this might be the case, we had women imagine
receiving information from either a straight woman, straight man, or a
gay man about their physical appearance and the dateability of potential
boyfriends. We then asked the women how sincere they felt the responses
As expected, the female subjects seemed to perceive the judgments
coming from the gay man to be more sincere because they knew that he
wouldn't have any ulterior motives - whether that meant wooing the
subject (which they might suspect of straight men) or competing for the
same romantic partner (straight women).
For the final two studies, we wanted to figure out when women were
most likely to befriend and place their trust in gay men. We predicted
that this would most often occur in highly competitive dating
environments, where a trustworthy source like a gay friend would be
valued by women jockeying with one another for a boyfriend.
To test this, we created a fake news article that detailed extremely
skewed sex ratios, indicating that women in college were competing over
a very small pool of men. We had women read this news article and then
indicate how much they would trust a straight woman or a gay man in
various dating-related scenarios.
When women read the news article about the increased competition,
their trust in gay men was amplified. Not only were women more apt to
trust gay men under this condition, but we also found that they became
more willing to make gay male friends.
Beyond dating advice
The downside is that if a straight woman values her gay male friends
only for dating advice, the relationship could become quite superficial
(see Chris Riotta's essay "I'm Gay, Not Your Accessory").
However, the strong trust that women initially form with gay men can
serve as a primer; eventually, this trust could extend to other areas,
with the friendship blossoming over time.
Other findings - combined with our own - show that there seems to be
an extremely strong psychological underpinning for why women are so
drawn to gay men.
For instance, a recent study in the Journal of Business and
Psychology revealed that straight women tend to hire gay men over other
heterosexual individuals because they perceive gay men to be more
competent and warmer. Furthermore, marketing researchers have suggested
that straight women prefer to work with gay male sales associates over
others in consumer retail settings.
These two findings alone could have many positive implications for
gay men in the workplace. Because many women seem to value input and
contributions of gay men in these settings, it's likely that we'll see a
more inclusive workplace environment for gay men.
Although much of this research focuses on why women are drawn to
friendships with gay men, another obvious avenue of exploration is
whether or not gay men are similarly keen to form friendships with
Unfortunately, there's been very little research on this. However,
it's possible that gay men connect with straight women for some of the
same reasons. For example, in a study I conducted in 2013, I found that
gay men also look to women for trustworthy dating advice or tips for
finding a prospective boyfriend. Other researchers have suggested that
gay men value the positive attitudes towards homosexuality that women
tend to have (relative to straight men).
In this case, the implicit trust seems to be a two-way street.
(The author is a Ph.D Student in Experimental
Psychology, University of Texas Arlington and this article was
originally written for The Conversation)