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Why the Bond Between Straight Gals and Gay Guys Is Special

A new study explains why straight female and gay male friendships are so strong

Christina Aguilera doesn't just have a remarkable voice, she has also made a trenchant insight into the special friendship shared between straight women and gay men:

“I love giving my male friends advice. And when I need the advice myself? I go to my gay guy friends. They're very understanding and they are often coming from the same perspective. Who's better at giving advice, gay or straight guys? Well that depends on the advice you're looking for. If it's bedroom-related, my gay friends are the best. They just lay it out there!'

Though it's unlikely that Ms. Aguilera had social science on her mind when she made this statement, her inclination to seek the counsel of her gay friends over other friends when it comes to romance is in keeping with current research. Not only do straight women find more openness, intimacy, support, and companionship in their friendships with gay men, they also take their romantic advice to heart.

But why? In a series of studies led by Eric Russell of The University of Texas at Arlington, he and his collaborators found that straight women prefer the romantic advice of gay men because they trust them more than their straight friends around matters of the heart.

Building on prior research demonstrating that straight women enjoy comparatively more comfort and trust in their friendships with gay men than with straight people, the investigators wanted to not only better understand why, but also when they are more likely to feel this way. Specifically, they proposed that because gay men are not motivated to mate with women — or to compete with women for mates — it boosts the trust straight women place in them. By contrast, straight male friends may harbor romantic interest, and other straight female friends may be competitive with them for mates. In order to put this idea to the test, the researchers conducted four experiments.

In the first study, Russell and his team sought to test whether women have greater trust in gay men's romantic advice, and whether increased trust is specific to mating situations. The investigators ran an online experiment in which straight women were presented with one of three fictitious social media profiles, in which the target's gender and orientation was clearly identified: straight female, straight male, or gay male. After viewing the bogus profile, they were asked to imagine receiving either romantic advice or career advice from this person. What did the results reveal? Straight women trusted a gay man's romantic advice more than the same advice provided by straight men or women. However, they did not put more trust in gay men than straight people when it came to career advice.

In the second study, Russell and his team wanted to see if in romantic contexts, which have the potential for women to experience mating competition with other women or deception by straight men, straight women would perceive information provided from a gay man to be more sincere than the same information provided by a straight man or woman. Again, the underlying thinking is that because gay men don't have ulterior mating motives, women can trust gay men's advice to be impartial.

In order to test this hypothesis, straight women were presented with 12 scenarios involving potential deception. Six were related to sexual exploitation, such as: ‘‘Imagine that the party is coming to a close, and you are quite tipsy. You are thinking about calling a taxi to take you home.When you say goodbye to [the target],he tells you: Don’t worry— I will walk you to my place that’s down the street. I will let you sleep there.’’ The other six scenarios invoked deception relating to mating competition, in which the information that the target provided to the receiver could wreck their chances of attracting a desirable mate. For example, one of these scenarios read:‘‘Imagine that [the target] approaches the attractive man that you’ve had your eyes on. [The target] comes back to tell you about their conversation with the man and says: I pointed you out to him, but he didn’t seem interested. Darn… ’’ The women were shown the same bogus profiles from Study 1, indicating that the advice was coming from straight female, straight male, or gay male. The results were striking. Russell and his collaborators found that, indeed, straight women found advice coming from gay men in these scenarios to be more sincere.

In the third study, the investigators wanted to see if the trust women have in gay men's romantic advice would be heightened in situations where mating competition is especially stiff. To this end, they presented straight women with five vignettes depicting scenarios in which two targets — a straight woman or a gay man — advised the participant about romantic situations. For example, one scenario unfolded:‘‘Imagine that you see a really attractive man in the corner of the room,and you want to go introduce yourself. However, you ate some spinach dip earlier, and you are worried some of it might be stuck in your teeth. How likely would you be to trust [the straight female target’s name] to tell you that you have something stuck in your teeth before you go to talk to this man?… How likely would you be to trust [the gay male target’s name] to tell you that you have something stuck in your teeth?’’ As expected, in romantic contexts women had greater trust in gay men than in straight women.

In the fourth study, Russell and his team wanted to see whether straight women’s perceptions of mating competition encouraged them to befriend gay men. They predicted that women who saw mating contexts in more competitive terms would be more likely to make friends with gay males. In this experiment, straight women answered a questionnaire that assessed how they viewed mating competition. For example, one item stated: ‘‘I think women have to worry about competing with other women to find a decent guy.’’ The participants also answered a questionnaire that inquired about their openness to having friends of different genders and sexual orientations. Specifically, the female participants in this study were asked how open they would be to making new friends with straight women, straight men, gay men, and lesbian women.

In keeping with predictions, Russell and his team found that women who perceived greater competition with other women for mates were also more open to making gay male friends. Of note, the results also demonstrated that when straight women perceived intense rivalry with other women for mates, they were not more open to making friends with straight women, straight men, or lesbian women.

Taken together, these studies lend strong support for the contention put forth by Russell and his colleagues that straight women have greater trust in and desire to be friends with gay men because they lack romantic interest in them. They also acknowledge the limitations of these studies and that further research would help to further clarify the nature of the special and unique friendship shared by straight women and gay men. Meanwhile, Happy Galentine's Day to all!