Heterosexual women and gay men are seemingly natural BFFs. As some evidence of this, almost any time you turn on the television, you can see this type of friendship on display, whether it is a scripted sitcom such as Will and Grace or a reality show like The Real Housewives. How do we explain this common social pairing? A new set of studies suggests that both parties find this type of friendship advantageous because it offers a free exchange of unbiased sex and relationship advice from a trustworthy source.1
The basic theory is that straight women cannot obtain great information about the “male perspective” by talking to heterosexual guys because those men often have an ulterior motive (i.e., they may be attracted to their female friends). Plus, straight men are prone to misinterpret female friendliness for sexual interest. In addition, straight women often cannot get great information from other women because there is sometimes competition and backstabbing over desirable male partners. Along these same lines, it is theorized that gay men cannot always get great relationship advice from each other because they are competing with one another for the same dudes. However, because gay men and straight women are generally selecting partners form different pools, there is no potential rivalry between them. As a result, they should find one another to be more trustworthy and reliable when it comes to receiving advice on sex and dating.
These ideas were tested in two studies. In Study 1, 88 heterosexual female college students were asked to evaluate one of three Facebook profiles. The individual described in each profile had the same name (“Jordan”) and interests. The only thing that varied was their sex and sexual orientation. Thus, the profile either depicted a straight woman, a straight man, or a gay man. Participants then rated how likely they would be to trust sex and relationship advice from that source (e.g., if you were attending a party together, would you trust what this person tells you about other men?). Results indicated that participants found the advice of gay men to be significantly more trustworthy than the advice offered by heterosexual men and women.
In Study 2, 58 gay men completed an almost identical study in which they evaluated one of three Facebook profiles (a straight woman, a lesbian, or a gay man). The lesbian condition was included to see whether gay men distinguish between the advice offered by women of different sexualities, or if they trust advice from all women. Results indicated that gay men rated the advice of straight women as being significantly more trustworthy than that provided by lesbians or other gay men.
This pattern of findings suggests that the frequently observed friendship shared between straight women and gay men may stem from an ability to obtain high quality sex and relationship advice from a knowledgeable source who does not have any ulterior motives. Moreover, the second study tells us that gay men only feel this bond with heterosexual women; lesbians are seen as less trustworthy sources of sex advice, perhaps because gay men and lesbians do not have a lot in common with respect to their sexual interests and practices.
Of course, these findings are limited in that they did not test people's perceptions of actual advice, and also because they only focused on one specific type of advice. It could be that other types of advice beyond the domain of sex and relationships are just as important. Nonetheless, this set of studies tells us that the straight woman-gay man friendship is not just the stuff of hollywood fiction and likely stems from a unique social bond.
1Russell, E. M., DelPriore, D. J., Butterfield, M. E., & Hill, S. E. (2013). Friends with benefits, but without the sex: Straight women and gay men exchange trustworthy mating advice. Evolutionary Psychology, 11, 132-147.