Women tend to have friendlier and more intimate interactions with gay men than straight men after learning of their sexual orientation, according to research published in the journal Psychological Science.
The study indicates that women are less comfortable interacting with straight men because they worry that their friendliness could be misinterpreted as a sign of sexual interest.
“This topic has been a long-standing interest of mine for many years,” said study author Eric M. Russell, a research associate at the University of Texas at Arlington. “I have always been interested in the unique bond that straight women and gay men share, and I have greatly enjoyed conducting research that explores why and when (i.e., in what contexts) these friendships are most likely to form and flourish.”
“In this study, we hypothesized that women would have more comfortable and intimate initial encounters with gay men once they discover their sexual orientation. Because straight men typically overperceive women’s sexual interest, women often try to keep their ‘friendlier’ interaction behaviors in check when they are meeting men for the first time.”
“This is especially true of physically attractive women who are often wary of straight men wanting more than a platonic relationship with them,” Russell explained to PsyPost. “However, when these women discover that they are interacting with gay men, this anxiety is greatly reduced in that the women no longer feel pressured to suppress their more open and involving interaction behaviors. With gay men, women can engage more openly and intimately with them because they do not have to worry about the men having an ulterior sexual motive.”
An initials survey of 153 heterosexual female college confirmed that women perceived themselves to be more comfortable interacting with a gay man than a straight man.
The researchers then conducted a study in which 66 heterosexual women had face-to-face interactions with homosexual and heterosexual men.
During the interactions, which were recorded on video, the participants were prompted to describe their ideal romantic partner. The researchers found that after learning of a gay man’s sexual orientation, the female participants were willing to engage with him on a more intimate level. This openness was also reflected in their body language.
“This suggests that straight women approach friendships with gay men in a very open and relaxed fashion, which we do not usually see in interactions between opposite-sex individuals,” Russell explained. “Straight women and gay men likely see their friendships as safe spaces where they can have fun, be themselves, and engage in intimate conversations without fear of judgement, expectations, or one-sided sexual interest.”
“This also implies that straight female-gay male friends can spend time together in ways that straight female-straight male friends may find awkward, such as going out to dance or watching a romantic comedy at home together.”
The study, like all research, has some limitations.
“These findings raise many new and exciting questions in terms of future research,” Russell remarked. “I will touch on three.”
“First, although we found that initial interactions between straight women and gay men are more intimate, we did not explore whether they led to subsequent interactions or close friendships outside of our lab. Thus, future research could explore how often (or in what circumstances) these interactions lead to more lasting friendships that also evidence higher levels of intimacy, trust, and mutual respect.”
“Second, given that women feel more comfortable with gay men due to their lack of sexual intentions, could increased comfort serve as a prejudice-reduction mechanism for women who have less positive attitudes towards homosexual individuals?” Russell said. “And might physically attractive women be the most likely to exhibit less prejudiced attitudes toward gay men, given that they receive a greater comfort-related benefit in their initial interactions?”
“Third, given that we sampled our participants from the U.S., where gay marriage is legalized and homosexual attitudes are relatively more positive, it would be interesting and informative to know whether straight women and gay men in other countries also have comfortable and intimate initial interactions with one another. Answering such a question could yield novel insight into whether similar effects and psychological processes are evident in other cultures.”
“The psychology of gay-straight friendships is not only a new and exciting area of exploration for not just researchers but also for pro-LGBT organizations and businesses,” Russell added. “A great example of this is the new and up-and-coming website (FruitLooped.com) that connects gay men and straight women for friendship, meet-ups, advice sharing, and volunteering at LGBT events.”
The study, “Women Interact More Comfortably and Intimately With Gay Men—But Not Straight Men—After Learning Their Sexual Orientation“, was co-authored by William Ickes and Vivian P. Ta.