Prevalence studies indicate that about one in five women experiences some degree of same-sex attraction. Since same-sex contacts do not lead to children, selection forces should have eliminated any such attractions from the population. This did not happen, which raises the question of why same-sex attraction has evolved in women.
One answer that I have put forward, is that women have evolved this trait because it is preferred by men in a female partner. This argument begs, in turn, the question of why men would prefer as partners women who like other women.
Same-sex attraction appears to be impairing for women because it does not lead to having children, but for the same reason, it may be beneficial for men. Women give birth to their children, so they are certain that they are their own. Men, however, do not share such certainty, so they risk being cuckolded – raise other men’s children without being aware of it. Nevertheless, women who experience same-sex attractions are likely to direct part of their extra-pair mating effort toward other women, which is beneficial for men, as doing so does not increase the risk of being cuckolded. In addition, if a man’s female partner has sex with other women, he could also “negotiate” gaining sexual access to these other women, which would be beneficial for his reproductive success.
In order to investigate whether men actually prefer women who like women, along with my students, we ran an online study where we asked heterosexual participants about their preferences (Apostolou, Shialos, Khalil, & Paschali, 2017). We found that 14% of men, but only 3.1% of women, preferred long-term partners who were not exclusively heterosexual (i.e., they experienced some degree of same-sex attraction). The percentage increased considerably when we moved to the short-term partner scenario, with 31.5% of men and 5.5% of women preferring as mates individuals who were not exclusively heterosexual. Moreover, 15.9% of men but less than 1% of women preferred their long-term partners to have sexual contact with same-sex partners, with the respective ratings being 34% and 6.6% for their short-term partners.
Overall, in the study above, we found that a considerable proportion of heterosexual men preferred same-sex attraction and contact in a partner, a preference that the vast majority of heterosexual women did not share. The sex-difference in this preference was substantial and of a magnitude very rarely found in the psychological literature, suggesting that men and women see a same-sex attraction in an opposite-sex partner very differently. Yet, the publication of these findings followed criticism, one being that the observed sex-difference did not reflect an actual sex-difference in a preference for same-sex attraction and contact, but sex-differences in other dimensions, such as consumption of porn and religiosity.
More specifically, it was argued that sex between women is a common theme in porn outlets, and since men tend to consume more porn than women, they are exposed to more same-sex stimulus, so they have developed a taste for it. In this argument, the observed sex-difference in preference for same-sex attraction and contact simply reflected differential porn consumption. Moreover, our study took place in a cultural context, where the vast majority of the population are Orthodox Christians. In the Christian dogma, same-sex attraction is condemned, so people who are very religious may suppress or be unwilling to acknowledge that they prefer same-sex attraction and contact in a partner. On the basis that women tend to be more religious than men, it has been argued that the observed sex-difference in preference for same-sex attraction and contact reflected sex-differences in religiosity rather than an evolved difference in preferences.
In order to examine the validity of these criticisms, but also to replicate and extend the results of previous research, with one of my students, we ran a subsequent study employing also an online sample of Greek-speaking participants (Apostolou & Christoforou, 2018). In this study, apart from preferences for same-sex attraction and contact, we measured also participants’ religiosity, as well as past and present consumption of porn. Moreover, we asked participants whether they would like their partners to have sex with same-sex individuals where they would also participate.
As in our initial study, we found that 25% of men but only 6.8% of women preferred a long-term partner who was not exclusively heterosexual. Also, 47.1% of men but only 12.5% of women prefer a short-term partner who was not exclusively heterosexual. With respect to same-sex contact, 15.6% of men indicated that they preferred their long-term partner to have sex with other women occasionally or frequently, which more than doubled to 35.8% in the scenario where they would explicitly participate. Similarly, 38.7% of men indicated that they preferred their short-term partner to have sex with other women occasionally or frequently, which increased to 56.4% in the scenario where they would explicitly participate. For women, the ratings were much lower: 6.4% for their long-term partner and 13.7% for their short-term partner where they would participate.
In order to examine whether these sex-differences were due to differences in porn consumption or religiosity, we performed statistical analysis, where these two factors were kept constant. It was if we were asking whether men and women who did not differ in their religiosity and consumption of porn differed in their preferences for same-sex attraction and contact.
We found that the sex-difference in preference for same-sex attraction and contact persisted and was of high magnitude, even when these factors were kept competing. In particular, men, as opposed to women, were 4.8 times more likely to prefer a long-term and 5.8 times more likely to prefer a short-term partner who was heterosexual with same-sex attractions, instead of a partner who was exclusively heterosexual.
Similarly, men, as opposed to women, were 18.9 times more likely to prefer their long-term partners to have sex with same-sex individuals “occasionally-frequently” than “never.” In addition, men, as opposed to women, men were 8 times more likely to prefer their short-term partners to have sex with same-sex individuals “occasionally” and 19 times more likely “frequently” than “never.”
These results indicated that the observed sex-differences reflected differences in the preference for same-sex attraction and contact rather than differences in religiosity and porn consumption. With respect to the latter, our data suggest that it is most probably the case that porn outlets provide female same-sex porn in order to appeal to men’s preferences, who are the primary consumers, rather than men who consume female same-sex porn become more likely to prefer same-sex attraction in their partners.
The male preference for same-sex attraction and contact is not confined only to the Greek cultural context. Recently, along with other colleagues, we found that men preferred same-sex attraction and contact in Chinese as well as in British cultures (Apostolou, Wang, & O, 2018). Yet, further research is necessary in order to measure this preference in other cultural settings. In addition, the current evidence indicates that men appear to be divided in their preferences, with some preferring and some not preferring same-sex attraction in women. Thus, more theoretical and empirical work is necessary in order to understand why not all men share such preferences. Irrespectively, the fact remains that many men desire same-sex attraction and contact in women, which can partially explain why many women experience attractions toward other women.
These findings are described in the article entitled Same-sex attraction and contact in an opposite sex partner: Exploring sex, religiosity, porn consumption and participation effects, recently published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. This work was conducted by Menelaos Apostolou and Christoforos Christoforou from the University of Nicosia.
- Apostolou, M. & Christoforou, C. (2018). Same-sex attraction and contact in an opposite sex partner: Exploring sex, religiosity, porn consumption and participation effects. Personality and Individual Differences, 131, 26-30.
- Apostolou, M., Shialos, M., Khalil, M., & Paschali, M. (2017). The evolution of female same-sex attraction: The male choice hypothesis. Personality and Individual Differences, 116, 372-378.
- Apostolou, M., Wang, Y. & O, J. (2018). Do men prefer women who are attracted to women? A cross-cultural evolutionary investigation. Personality and Individual Differences, 135, 31-39.