Gay men’s preferences for “top” vs. “bottom” can be judged by their face.

By Seriously Science | November 6, 2013 9:45 am
Photo: flickr/Elvert Barnes

Photo: flickr/Elvert Barnes

It’s been known for a while that it takes less than a second for people to use their internal “gaydar” to decide if they think a man is homosexual or heterosexual, and such snap judgements tend to be right. But can facial differences be used to distinguish between different types of gay men — specifically, those who define themselves as “tops” versus “bottoms”? To find out, the authors of this study recruited 23 participants from Amazon’s mTurk (including 7 females). The participants were asked to look at 200 photographs of gay men found on an online dating site (100 tops, 100 bottoms) and categorize them as tops or bottoms. Interestingly, they chose the correct roles at a rate better than chance, although they were biased towards choosing the male-stereotypical “top” role. As you might have guessed, the participants were using cues related to masculinity (e.g., thick eyebrows, large noses) to make their choices. The authors conclude with this tantalizing suggestion: “it is possible that similar effects may be found in opposite-sex relationships: women may be able to identify submissive versus dominant men from brief observations of appearance or behavior.”

Accurate Identification of a Preference for Insertive Versus Receptive Intercourse from Static Facial Cues of Gay Men

“In intercourse between men, one of the partners typically assumes the role of an insertive partner (top) while the other assumes a receptive role (bottom). Although some research suggests that the perceptions of potential partners’ sexual roles in gay men’s relationships can affect whether a man will adopt the role of top or bottom during sexual intercourse, it remains unclear whether sexual roles could be perceived accurately by naïve observers. In Study 1, we found that naïve observers were able to discern men’s sexual roles from photos of their faces with accuracy that was significantly greater than chance guessing. Moreover, in Study 2, we determined that the relationship between men’s perceived and actual sexual roles was mediated by perceived masculinity. Together, these results suggest that people rely on perceptions of characteristics relevant to stereotypical male–female gender roles and heterosexual relationships to accurately infer sexual roles in same-sex relationships. Thus, same-sex relationships and sexual behavior may be perceptually framed, understood, and possibly structured in ways similar to stereotypes about opposite-sex relationships, suggesting that people may rely on these inferences to form accurate perceptions.”

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: Gaydar doesn’t work as well on upside-down faces.
NCBI ROFL: Women’s gaydar improves during ovulation.
Do lesbians have better gaydar than straight women?

  • OmegaCerebro

    As a bisexual male, when I read about these kinds of studies, I’m always astounded that the people conducting them have such a limited/ignorant approach to LGBT people. They always omit the obvious, case in point: what about vers men?

    For the uninitiated, there are at least 3 sex paradigms for men who sleep with other men (technically, there are 4, if you account for those that don’t engage in anal intercourse at all): top, bottom, and versatile (those, like me, who enjoy both the insertive and receptive roles).

    Moreover, Being a bottom does not necessarily mean you’re submissive, either in the bed or in your everyday life. Likewise, being a top does not mean you’re inclined to be dominant in your interactions with others. I know plenty of tops who are mild-mannered and submissive, and I know even more bottoms who are “butch” and have the stereotypical alpha-male personalities.

    • Arif Jovandić

      Excellent reply to a shitty article. Well done :)

    • Todd K Autman

      Well said, verse here . Some masculine tops are submissive. And some feminine bottoms are dominating…. especially power bottoms.

      • Robert Frayer

        I think Id be considered a power bottom.

    • omapuma


    • Doc Hogan

      What about those that don’t consider themselves gay/no at all? I have had two experiences where I have played the insertive role, while only receiving oral sex, not giving it. I explained to my partner in both occasions the reason for doing so (considering myself straight, but curious). They were both fine with it. I am not sure if they were the bottom in their relationships with other gay men. Although, they were both rather feminine…

  • Guest

    In defense of the authors, they do address this in the main text of the paper. Relevant passage: “We selected only men who self-identified as tops and bottoms because we were interested in examining the sexual roles that men preferred to participate in most frequently (Moskowitz et al., 2008); versatile men’s photographs were not downloaded because these men enjoy sexual intercourse as a receptive or insertive partner equally (Hart et al., 2003; Moskowitz et al.,2008). “

    • OmegaCerebro

      Thank you very much for sharing this information. The absence of this segment in the research still doesn’t explain the phenomenon of dominant bottoms or submissive tops, though.

      • Mary Melendez

        its really interesting what is the way of gay for having sex?im just curios for both men were having sex?thats too disgusting but im eager to know how they make love?tru anal?mouth?omg

        • OmegaCerebro

          I initially thought to correct your offensive and narrow-minded comment…but then I figured it would be a waste of time. Your ignorance is overwhelming. To say nothing of your deplorable grammar skills. I don’t even know why I deigned to respond.

          • Juan Sebastian Bottazzini

            Maybe you shouldn’t have engaged and save us of your aggressive energy. You deigned to respond because it is a value we all humans deserve. You don’t know why you did because you didn’t deigned to answer with respect, that you still owe to yourself. when you do, you’ll realize ignorance is not to be dismissed but to be shared to grow together from.

  • CodeStud3

    Proves my point gays are absolutely devoid of substance.

    • mort

      As familiar and boring as it usually is to read comments like this on the Internet, this one really gets the prize for blatant non sequitur.

  • Josh Whitfield

    Wait a sec?! People present themselves according to how they have been socially conditioned to view what their prospective partner is looking for, and likewise other’s perceive their presentation with a seemingly uncanny accuracy (but we already established the presentation as socially contrived)?!?! Someone call CNN, FOX, and The Times!! -__-

  • Giggle Snork

    Comical ….top or bottom? Is this real all that important? What about those who are versatile? It seems to be that there is too much fixation on what someone does with thier genitals. ….I mean there are those who are agressive and submissive in romantic encounters. …agressive does not alwas equate to the top nor submissive always the bottom. …it seems the study is only concerned where the (incersion) is occurring. …

    • Private_Eyescream

      As an openly gay male, we usually aren’t socially allowed to “share time” with other gay males during mating pattens. So we created a whole hierarchy of signals, codes, slang, and behavior patterns to speed along the “compatible identification” factors. That is why, if you were a bisexual or homosexual male you’d be frankly amazed at the Self-I.D. of preferences that are frightfully specific.
      Imagine you’re buying a car.
      What are your preferences for form and function? Heated seats, automatic transmission, 4 or 2 wheel drive, number of pistons, etc… Then you prioritize to “cannot do without” and “it’d be nice, but I can live without”. Ho ho, and that’s just for the test drive!
      In that way, gay men are way more picky than woman in life matters and sexual play, but also good at prioritizing their choices. This is good and bad and gay men naturally get “less picky” in reproductive matters (or simulations thereof) as they age as most humans do. It is actually a horrible shame that gay males cannot make genetically other male babies with each other in their lifetimes in this era. You’d have an endless fountain of masculine muscular sexy productive men since gay men are attracted most to appearance (health masculinity strength, personality, employability (gays idolize hardworking men), and intelligence. Whereas most FemiNASTY women are anti-male and seek to sex up the bad boys while financially raping productive Beta Males and in the long run, degrade the value and strength of their local male gene lines.

  • Michael Cooney

    There are some statistical errors with the paper (e.g. proportions are not normally distributed and thus a non-parametric test, rather than a t test, should have been used for small sample sizes).

    That aside, the paper tries to tease out our actual ability to distinguish from our natural bias to classify men as tops (that is, even knowing that half of the faces are tops and half are bottoms, people are categorizing more than half as tops and less than half as bottoms).

    This is great for an academic exercise, and it arrives at a result that if we had no social biases, we could distinguish, on average, 63% of the time. This isn’t a huge result, but it is significant.

    The problem is that we don’t live in a world without bias. If somehow properly instructed, we might be able to, on average, reach 63% correct, but in the real world simply presented with a face, we are correct only 51.69% of the time. Even if statistically significant (unsure since they used the wrong test), it’s meaningless. No one’s going to start putting down money on this.

    Maybe it’ll open up further research possibilities, but it’s kinda hard to say where this will go.

    • Steve K

      You don’t think accurate response rates would be at least roughly normally distributed? It’s always an assumption, but I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be the case here.

  • Efraim Kristal

    What most perturbs me about comments on articles on published research is that so many readers consider themselves expert, but no one else has published the research she/he is so confident could have been done better. If you feel you could have done a better job, design, implement, and publish your own “better” study, instead of just complaining about why the given current study is errant. I think it was Tyne Daly who said, “A critic is someone who never actually goes to the battle, yet who afterwards comes out shooting the wounded.”

    One more gripe. Some people are versatile. That’s great for them. I’m frankly fed up with the omnipresent message that everyone “should” be versatile. A community that’s been alienated and dictated to for so long, and that’s had to fight so hard for the freedom to define itself ought to be far more permissive of other people defining what works for them regarding intimacy & behavior–gender identity, preferred intimacy roles, and relative masculinity/femininity, to name just a few such characteristics. Some people just are not versatile, and no amount of shaming or head-scratching will change them. Nor should they have to change.

    Overall, despite the offenses to the ubiquitous PC police others have drawn attention to, this article’s summary of the primary authors’ work seems reasonable to me, and reflects my own experiences among gay men. Thanks for the read, SS team.

  • Joe Conley

    Top and bottom, how heteronormative. It’s two guys.

  • candy

    LOVE this article!! But then, this is an area of research science i am very familiar with. For those who actually care about science along with the studies on the Golden Ratio and how it affects our perceptive judgment as early as a new born, my suggestion is to study the chemical biology behind Sociology and Psychology before irrationally commenting.

  • Alphadrianism

    There are few things more ridiculous and pathetic on this planet than so called ‘gay males’ reducing their sexual repertoire to the mere emulation of heterosexual sex roles, and even there archaic at that. Such a disappointment. Is this really why you are willing to suffer the discrimination we all face, just so you end up as the clownish version of a straight pairing? Where one of them acts as an emasculated ‘female’ substitute while the other can hold onto his fragile masculinity by neutering his partner. And to imply that there is something ‘inherent’ about these men that makes them cripple their sexuality to only one predictable and boring role has to be the cherry on the cake. The number of so called ‘tops and bottoms’ has been falling drastically in the west over the last few decades, mostly in response to gay emancipation movements and the normalisation of gay identities. This shift were not be possible had this ‘preference’ been anything even remotely ‘biological’ in nature, as to impact one’s facial features. What makes this study so unscientific is how they had little to no control over questions of grooming which can alter the perceived masculinity of a face drastically, from haircut, facial hair, plucked eyebrows, etc. 40 years of gay emancipation and what do we get from the ‘scientific world’, more stereotypes and pathetic reproductions of straight dynamics.

  • Robert Frayer

    Sorry I am a bottom or preferably so when indulging in same sex so explain that. Covered in Tattoos, shaved head, work out, work on cars and Construction by trade….. Did I mention that I like a good fist fight from time to time (Preferably with a Gay Bashers when I can find one). I gotta say I think stereotypes are for the birds. Rather than pretending to be the ruler of all things gay or bisexual maybe we can focus on bigger problems like bigotry within the gay/bisexual community aka nonacceptance of bisexuality.


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