Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Chris Colfer as Kurt and Lea Michele as Rachel in 'Glee'

Chris Colfer as Kurt and Lea Michele as Rachel in 'Glee'

Gay Men, Straight Women: What’s the Attraction?

• February 18, 2013 • 4:00 AM

Chris Colfer as Kurt and Lea Michele as Rachel in 'Glee'

New research suggests at least part of the answer lies in their ability to give one another trustworthy mating advice.

From the title characters of Will and Grace to Kurt and Rachel on Glee, television comedies have picked up on an apparently widespread phenomenon: intense friendships between gay men and straight women. But in real life, what cements this often-close bond?

Newly published research provides a plausible, albeit partial, answer: their unique ability to provide clear-headed counsel regarding romantic relationships.

“Our results suggest that straight women and gay men perceive mating advice provided by each other to be more trustworthy than similar advice offered by other individuals,” a team led by psychologist Eric Russell, a visiting researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, writes in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.

Russell and his colleagues describe two experiments providing evidence for this thesis. One featured 88 heterosexual women, the second 58 homosexual men. Participants were told the study was about the way online profiles influence friendships.

All were presented with the Facebook profile of a person named Jordan. The profiles were identical, except for Jordan’s gender and sexual orientation. For the female participants, Jordan was identified as either a straight female, straight male or gay male. For the gay male participants, Jordan was either a straight female, gay male or lesbian.

Participants were told to imagine they were at a party with Jordan, and he/she gave them romance-related advice, such as “how to interpret an interaction with an attractive member of the opposite sex.” They then assessed the degree to which they would trust this advice.

The straight women “perceived advice offered by the gay male target to be more trustworthy than advice offered by the straight male or the straight female,” the researchers report. Similarly, the gay men “rated the mating advice provided by the straight female target as more trustworthy than similar advice” given by a lesbian or gay male.

Together, these results support the notion that “the emotional closeness shared by straight women and gay men may be rooted in the absence of deceptive mating motivations that frequently taint their relationships with other individuals,” the researchers write.

For straight women, they note, advice from another straight woman may be colored by the friend’s possible interest in the man in question. Advice from a straight male friend may be tainted by the fact he has his own designs on her, and thus would have no reason to help her find another mate.

The researchers contend a similar dynamic may be at work with gay men. They concede that “lesbian women may not harbor any deceptive mating motivations” when socializing with gay men, but point to previous research suggesting a “lack of closeness between gay men and lesbian women in social contexts.”

In theory, this means straight men would be wise to turn to gay men for dating advice, and vice-versa, since there would be no question of competition or a hidden agenda. However, the researchers dryly note, their lack of attraction to the same sex “may decrease the usefulness” of their advice.

Of course, evolutionary-minded psychologists tend to focus on our (conscious or unconscious) desire to procreate and pass one’s genes to the next generation. Arguably, they understate the inherent benefits of a close relationship that is unencumbered by sexual tension.

Nevertheless, these findings go a long way towards explaining what the researchers call “the unique and important bond shared by straight women and gay men.” And they’re certainly fodder for future episodes of envelope-stretching comedy. Are you reading, Lena Dunham?

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.