New research sheds light on heterosexual men’s attraction to gynandromorphs (feminine-presenting individuals assigned male at birth who retain their penises). The findings suggest that men have the capacity to become aroused by gynandromorphic individuals because of the presence of female-typical sex traits. The study has been published in Biological Psychology.
The term gynandromorph is used to describe individuals with both male and female physical characteristics. Gynandromorphs in Western culture usually identify as transgender women, while in some non-Western cultures there are specific categories of gynandromorphs who are considered non-binary, neither male nor female. Examples of non-binary gynandromorphs include muxes in southern Mexico, hijra in India, and bissu in Indonesia.
Psychologists are interested in studying gynandromorphs because they can provide insight into the complex relationship between biological sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Additionally, gynandromorphs allow researchers to investigate how individuals who do not conform to traditional gender roles are perceived and treated by society. Studying gynandromorphs may also shed light on the psychological processes underlying attraction and sexual orientation.
“I have always had an interest in psychophysiology and human evolution. This area of research has allowed me to satisfy my own curiosities while contributing to our understandings of male sexual behaviour in humans,” said study author Lambert C. Heatlie, a graduate student at the University of Lethbridge.
The new research included a sample of 65 cisgender males (average age 23.12) who were recruited from a small university on Canada. The study only included participants who reported being exclusively attracted to adult cisgender females. Those who reported either bisexuality or arousal to cisgender males were excluded.
The participants were presented with a text screen notifying them that they would be shown images and asking them to rate how sexually arousing they found each model using a 7-point scale that ranged from 1 (“not at all arousing”) to 7 (“very arousing”).
The participants viewed 44 nude images depicting females who appeared to be cisgender, males who appeared to be cisgender, and gynandromorphs with, and without, breasts. The presentation of the stimuli was randomized. Pupil size was estimated using a Tobii X120–3 near infrared eye-tracker, and participants’ heads were stabilized using a chin rest during the study.
As expected, the male participants reported being most attracted to cisgender females. Gynandromorphs with breasts were ranked as more attractive than those without breasts and cisgender males. But the difference between cisgender males and gynandromorphs without breasts was not statistically significant. (The average subjective sexual arousal scores were 5.38 for cisgender females, 2.22 for gynandromorphs with breasts, 1.57 for gynandromorphs without breasts, and 1.71 for cisgender males.)
The researchers observed a similar pattern when examining pupillary responses. Men’s average change in pupil size was 0.25 when viewing cisgender females, 0.1 when viewing gynandromorphs with breasts, 0.03 when viewing gynandromorphs without breasts, and -0.05 when viewing cisgender males.
“This study demonstrates that heterosexual males’ arousal patterns are influenced not only by obvious sex-based characteristics, but also by gender-based ones. When there are incongruencies between the two (e.g., a feminine individual with male genitals), gender-based traits may override sex-based traits to some extent,” Heatlie told PsyPost.
“Overall, however, sex-based traits appear to be far more effective in eliciting sexual arousal. This runs parallel with past research, which has consistently demonstrated that heterosexual males exhibit some capacity to become aroused by sexual stimuli depicting feminine males.”
The findings are mostly in line with a previous study, which included 51 heterosexual men and 19 gay men. But the fact that cisgender males and gynandromorphs without breasts were viewed as equally attactrive was not expected.
“It was surprising to find that feminine individuals with penises only elicited sexual arousal when they had breasts, a female-typical secondary sex trait,” Heatlie said. “Past research has found that images of feminine individuals with penises, with or without breasts, elicit somewhat more sexual interest and subjective arousal from heterosexual males than do images of cisgender males.”
The researchers suggest using more dynamic visual materials to study gynandromorphophilia (attraction to people with both male and female characteristics) in future research. They also propose studying the behavioral characteristics of gynandromorphs, such as sexual assertiveness and openness, in relation to the sexual arousal patterns of men.
“It is important to note that we used static images, rather than audiovisual stimuli,” Heatlie explained. “Audiovisual sexual stimuli tend to be more effective at eliciting sexual arousal. This is because such stimuli contain more information (e.g., vocal cues; gait). It would be informative to explore the extent to which these cues modulate heterosexual males’ sexual response to stimuli depicting feminine males.”
“It is important to note that this research was conducted on men predominantly recruited from a Canadian university,” the researcher noted. “Until this work is replicated in non-Western and community samples, it is unclear whether men from other contexts would respond similarly.”
The study, “Heterosexual men’s pupillary responses to stimuli depicting cisgender males, cisgender females, and gynandromorphs“, was authored by Lambert C. Heatlie, Lanna J. Petterson, and Paul L. Vasey.