The Scientific Fundamentalist

A look at the hard truths about human nature.

All stereotypes are true, except...V: "All extremely handsome men are gay"

Are extremely handsome men more likely to be gay?

Another common stereotype about physical appearance is that extremely handsome men are likely to be homosexual. In one experiment, women rate pictures of men as more attractive if they thought that the men were homosexual than if they thought that they were heterosexual, while men do not exhibit the same tendency in judging the attractiveness of women. Extremely handsome celebrities, such as Tom Cruise, have long been dogged with rumors of being gay all their careers. Are extremely handsome men really more likely to be gay?

From an evolutionary psychological perspective, it does not make sense for extremely handsome men to be gay. As I note in a previous post, such men receive disproportionate opportunities for extra-pair copulations (“affairs”) and short-term mating because women typically seek them out for their high-quality genes. (Remember, beauty is not only skin deep, and beautiful people do have better genes.) High-quality genes of extremely handsome men will therefore be “wasted” if their carriers are exclusively or predominantly homosexual.

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Consistent with the evolutionary psychological logic, it turns out that extremely handsome men are not more likely to be gay. In fact, there is some evidence for the exact opposite. Compared to other men, extremely handsome men are often least homosexual, and homosexual men are least physically attractive. While this may go against the common stereotype, it makes perfect evolutionary sense.

In contrast, there are some heritable physical traits that it makes evolutionary sense to be associated with homosexuality. For example, women universally seek mates who are taller than them, and as a result, taller men attain greater reproductive success than shorter men. So short men have relatively less to lose, reproductively speaking, by being exclusively or predominantly homosexual. While exclusive homosexuality can never have any reproductive payoff, relative loss in fitness terms (what the economists call the opportunity costs) is less if the men are expected to be less successful in heterosexual reproduction. Further, by refraining from direct reproduction themselves, men who have dimmer reproductive prospect (by being short, for example) can help and aid the reproductive success of their siblings with more promising prospect.

Conversely, for the same reason that taller men are reproductively more successful than shorter men, shorter women attain greater reproductive success than taller women. (As a footnote, this discovery was made by Daniel Nettle of the University of Newcastle, whom we’ve encountered before.) The evolutionary psychological logic thus suggests that taller women have relatively less to lose, reproductively speaking, by becoming exclusively or predominantly homosexual.

Once again, consistent with the evolutionary psychological logic, it turns out that shorter men are more likely to be homosexual than taller men, and homosexual men are shorter than heterosexual men. Similarly, taller women are more likely to be homosexual than shorter women, and homosexual women are taller than heterosexual women. Such is the power of the evolutionary psychological imagination: It can predict who’s more likely to be gay even in the absence of a stereotype.

None of this assumes that sexual orientation is a deliberate conscious choice. We know that at least male homosexuality is strongly genetically influenced. But a strong genetic influence on sexual orientation is not inconsistent with the findings that those who are less likely to be reproductively successful (ugly men, short men, and tall women) are more likely to be homosexual, because the genes for homosexuality can come to be associated with genes for physical appearance or for height. More research is necessary to explore the potential proximate mechanism by which the genes for male homosexuality have come to be associated with genes for height and physical attractiveness.

Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist at LSE and the coauthor (with the late Alan S. Miller) of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters.

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