From the phenomenon of the “gay best friend” to the pejorative term “fag hag,” friendships between straight women and gay men have long been a mainstay in popular culture. Accordingly, numerous findings have indicated that straight women experience a greater sense of comfort and trust in their friendships with gay men than in their friendships with heterosexuals. But what exactly accounts for this enhanced closeness? Could it be that gay men represent a safe bet, in that they neither want to sleep with women nor compete with them for mates? Psychologist Eric Russell, of The University of Texas at Arlington, and colleagues, sought to find out.
In a new study published last week in Archives of Sexual Behavior, they reasoned that if it’s the absence of ulterior mating motives that leads straight women to befriend gay men, then women’s heightened trust in gay men should be specific to mating contexts. Moreover, this type of trust should be particularly enhanced when women perceive high levels of “intrasexual mating competition” (science speak for more women competing for fewer available men). To test these hypotheses, the researchers conducted four studies, each with about 120-180 college women.
Study 1. Women viewed the social media profile of either a straight female, straight male, or gay male target; they were later asked to imagine receiving advice from the target in mating (something “I don’t think he was into you, I would pursue someone else’’) and career (i.e., non-mating) scenarios (something like ‘‘I don’t think that company is a good fit for you, I would apply elsewhere’).’ Results supported the hypothesis:
- Women were more likely to trust mating advice they got from the gay guy than the same advice from either a straight guy or a straight woman.
- In contrast, women didn’t trust gay men more (or less) than any other group when it came to career-related advice.
.Study 2. Women were randomly assigned to scenarios featuring potential for either sexual exploitation (e.g., a gay vs. a straight guy offering to let you sleep at his place after a party because you’re too drunk to drive yourself home) or “cockblocking” (e.g., a gay guy vs. a straight woman chats up a guy you’ve been eyeing, then comes over and tells you s/he mentioned you to him, but he wasn’t interested in you). Who do you trust is telling the truth? Results again supported the hypothesis:
- Gay men were perceived as more sincere than straight men in the scenarios with potential for sexual deception.
- Gay men were perceived as more sincere than straight women in the scenarios with potential for “cockblocking”.
Study 3. Women read a fictitious news article that described an increasing number of females and a dwindling number of males on college campuses around the nation, and which emphasized the resultant intrasexual mating competition; a control group of women read about gender differences in sleep patterns. Participants were then presented with the social media profiles of a straight woman and a gay man and asked who they would trust more to advise them about situations with potential mating-relevant outcomes.
For example: ‘‘Imagine that you see a really attractive man in the corner of the room, and you want to go introduce yourself. However, you ate some spinach dip earlier, and you are worried some of it might be stuck in your teeth. How likely would you be to trust [the straight female vs. gay male target’s name] to tell you that you have something stuck in your teeth before you go to talk to this man’’.
- Women reported they would trust the advice of the gay guy more than that of the straight woman, regardless, but this was particularly pronounced when they were made to think men were a scarce commodity on campus (competition condition) than when they read about sex differences in sleep patterns (control condition).
Study 4. Researchers assessed women’s perceptions of intrasexual mating competition by asking them their agreement with statement like “I think women have to worry about competing with other women to find a decent guy”. They then asked participants how open they would be to forming new friendships with straight women, straight men, gay men, and lesbian women. As predicted:
- The more mating competition women perceived, the more open to to forming new friendships with gay men they were. (This was true even after controlling for women’s current number of close gay male friends.)
- Women’s perceptions of intrasexual competition were not related to their openness to forming friendships with straight women, straight men, or lesbian women. .
Taken together, these four studies clearly indicate that a major (if not main) reason why straight women trust and befriend gay men more is because gay men are not interested in having sex with them or compete with them for mates.
As awesome as this is for gay male-straight female friendships, it also reveals some ugly truths about internalized misogyny: Rather than work with their female friends to overcome fears and doubts about competition for men, women are rushing into the arms of people who provide an easy relief.
Russell, E. M., Ta, V. P., Lewis, D. M. G., Babcock, M. J., Ickes, W. (2015). Why (and when)
straight women trust gay men: Ulterior mating motives and female competition. Archives of Sexual Behavior.