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 :)

  • 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.

  • 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. …

  • 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.

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