Friends With Benefits, Without Sex: Why Straight Women Trust Gay Men With Dating Advice

Guy and woman laughing on bench
There's a unique bond between straight women and gay men, and according to one study, it's because of the absence of sexual competition. Joao Paulo de Vasconcelos, CC BY-SA 2.0

The straight woman-gay man pairing has been portrayed in TV shows like Modern Family (Gloria and Cam/Mitchell), Sex and the City (Carrie and Stanford), and Will and Grace (Jack and Karen), among other programs, for years. Over the years, this type of platonic relationship has evolved into one that is not only natural but mutually beneficial as well, especially when it comes to dating. So it’s no surprise a new study, published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, has found straight women trust gay men more with dating advice because of the lack of sexual competition.

Psychologists have speculated the straight woman-gay man relationship has been successful because women experience a greater sense of comfort and trust with gay men than in their friendships with straight individuals. A 2009 study even found women with gay friends felt more sexually attractive and proud of their bodies than women without gay friends — in part because there’s no sexual interest toward the gay man, and therefore no sexual tension. The relationship provides a safe place for both to let their guards down, be themselves, and be honest with each other.

Now, researchers at the University of Texas-Arlington have speculated it’s this lack of sexual interest and subsequent lack of sexual competition that enhances women’s trust in gay men — in part because they can believe the person doesn’t have ulterior motives.

To determine this, the researchers conducted a series of four studies involving nearly 700 straight female students at a major public university in the southwestern United States. In one experiment, a total of 167 women were asked to evaluate mock social media profiles of either straight women, straight men, or gay men. It found women placed greater trust in gay men’s advice about potential mates, but not in their advice about careers, when compared to that of straight people.

In the second experiment involving 272 women, researchers found they were more likely to find gay men as being more sincere when compared to straight men or women. This was especially true in situations where women were told “potentially deceptive” information — which could have led to competition for a mate or a sexual rendezvous.

The third experiment involved 128 women who were asked to read two mock news articles and then complete a series of tasks related to the social media profiles of a gay man and a straight woman. The first article described an increase in women and decrease in men on college campuses around the country, and stressed the competition more women faced when it came to dating. The second article (the control), meanwhile, discussed sex-specific sleep patterns. As you might expect, the first article enhanced women’s trust in gay men, suggesting they found it riskier to trust straight women when competition for straight men was higher.

The final experiment also found women were more comfortable forming friendships with gay men when they saw heightened levels of mating competition. “Unlike other women, gay men do not undermine women when they are seeking out mating partners. Gay men do not compete for the same men as straight women do,” said Vivian Ta, a UTA psychology graduate student, in a press release.

The study’s lead author Eric Russell also completed a similar study in 2014, which found this trusting relationship went both ways — gay men also perceived dating advice from straight women to be more trustworthy than advice from a lesbian or another gay man.

“This line of research provides novel experimental evidence that there is more to the gay male-straight female friendship than just what we see on TV,” Russell said about the current study. “Certain social psychological processes are, indeed, driving these relationships in real life.”

Sources: Russell EM, Ta VP, Lewis DMG et al. Why (and When) Straight Women Trust Gay Men: Ulterior Mating Motives and Female Competition. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2015.

Bartlett NH, Patterson HM, VanderLaan DP et al. The relation between women's body esteem and friendships with gay men. Body Image . 2009.

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