Social Psychology

“Why are all the hot guys gay?”

Homosexual and Heterosexual Male Face Ratings of Attractivness and their Association with Heterosexual Women’s Fertile Period, Relationship Status and Self Esteem


Nichola Birch, Jeroen van der Donck, Shao-Jung Hsu, Inge de Kerf

University College Utrecht

UCSSCPSY21: Social Psychology

Francesco Foroni

12 December 2011

Research Group F


Plentiful research has been conducted showing women’s ratings of attractiveness differ throughout the menstrual cycle. However there is less research on these effects when rating homosexual men. This study examines whether heterosexual women’s ratings of attractiveness differ for homosexual and heterosexual men during off-peak and peak fertility (follicular stage). Self esteem and relationship status effects were also investigated.59 male faces (30 homosexual, 29 heterosexual) were rated for both attractiveness and masculinity by 57 heterosexual females. As hypothesized there was no difference in attractiveness ratings between homosexuals and heterosexuals, even though heterosexuals were rated as more masculine. These results did not differ when the women’s fertile period was taken into account. In addition there was no observed effect of self esteem or relationship status.

“Why are all the hot guys gay?”

Homosexual and Heterosexual Male Face Ratings of Attractivness and their Association with Heterosexual Women’s Fertile Period, Relationship Status and Self Esteem


The rating of male facial attractiveness is a mystery only matched by the miracle of life.  One might wonder why and when certain people are rated as more or less attractive. Previosu research has investigated this, and contrary to what one might initially expect, a woman’s rating of a male’s face is not constant: depending on the point in the menstrual cycle attractiveness ratings differ. Women prefer more masculine faces in the late follicular phase (peak fertility) than at any other times in the menstrual cycle (Penton-Voak et al, 1999). This effect is driven by hormonal changes that are closely related to fertility across the cycle, such as changes in oestrogen or progesterone (Welling et al, 2007).
Furthermore, it has been suggested that the presence of testosterone – which fluctuates over women’s menstrual cycles as well – has been associated with increased preferences for facial masculinity in a manner independent of fluctuations in progesterone (Welling et al, 2007).  However, would women in their fertile period show the same increased preference in strongly masculine homosexual men?

Rule et al. (2008) found that women are able to correctly identify homosexual and heterosexual persons, by their faces, roughly 60% of the time. In addition they discovered certain combinations of different facial features, such as hair, mouth area and eyes are key factors in judging the male’s sexual orientation.

However, unconsciously knowing whether someone is homosexual or heterosexual may not affect the attractiveness ratings. Masculine facial features occur due to high levels of testosterone in the individual. These include pronounced brows and a large square jaw (Roney, Hanson, Durante & Maestripieri, 2006). Due to their sexual orientation, homosexuals are often hypothesized to be low in this sex hormone.

However, in a research overview Meyer-Bahlburg (1984) concluded this was not the case and that neither higher nor lower levels of testosterone had been shown for homosexuals. Homo- and heterosexual men can be similarly masculine and thus similarly attractive. Hence, in a woman’s fertile period, even though she might know that a man is homosexual, she might still prefer him to a less masculine heterosexual male.

Yet male attractiveness rating does not only depend on male characteristics. Other factors that have been found to be influential are a woman’s self-esteem and the status and length of the current relationship she is in.                                                   Women with low self-esteem might tend to rate more masculine faces as more attractive. Johnston and colleagues (2001) studied male facial attractiveness, and  found that women that scored low on androgyny on the Bem masculinity scale (Bem-M) generally had a lower self-esteem and were “more sensitive to male dominance cues” (i.e. more masculine features such as a long and broad jaw) than women that scored high on the Bem-M. This might be true for women that in general have low self-esteem, regardless of their score on the Bem-M.

The more masculine the male face is rated, the more testosterone markers it turns out to possess and the healthier the man is. This is because extra resources are needed to produce these masculine features, implying the man’s immune defense is high. (Mealy et al., 1999; Penton-Voak & Perrett, 2000; Thornhill and Gangestad, 1993, as discussed in Johnston et al, 2001). Hence, if the woman is currently in a long term relationship, she will probably find more masculine men the most attractive as she wants to pass on the more masculine healthy genes to her offspring. Therefore she will rate them as more attractive then someone not currently in a long term relationship.

The current study aims to investigate the relationship between the rated attractiveness of men, their sexual orientation and the point of the menstrual cycle a woman is in. The possible effect of self-esteem of women and the status of their current relationships on the rating will also be considered. We hypothesize that masculine faces will be rated more attractive in the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle (when fertility is highest), when the women is in a long term relationship and when she has low self esteem. However, since both homosexual and heterosexual men do not differ in testosterone levels, we hypothesize that attractiveness will not be affected by the sexual orientation of the male.


Fifty-seven heterosexual female participants (aged 16-50, M=21, SD=6.5) took part in the study. The study was administered over the internet and participants volunteered by clicking on a link sent to them by email. Recipients of the email were randomly selected from a large database containing email addresses of students attending University College Utrecht, the Netherlands in autumn 2011. The experiment was also advertised through a social networking site (Facebook), where participants also followed a link to take part in the experiment. Participants who indicated that they were not proficient in reading English were excluded from the study.




The experiment is a (2 x 2 x 2) design (sexuality of the face stimuli homosexual/heterosexual, self esteem of participant high/low, and position in the menstrual cycle follicular/non-follicular stage). However we are not interested in interaction effects. The dependent variables will be participants rating of attractiveness and masculinity of each face stimuli. This will be measured on a Likert scale 1-7 (1=low, 7=high) as in Little, Jones and DeBruine (2008).



59 male faces from the TS database (Carnaghi & Piccoli, 2011) were used to create two different surveys, each containing the 59 faces randomly ordered. 30 faces belong to self-defined homosexual and 29 to heterosexual persons. The order of homosexual/heterosexual was randomized and for each survey the same faces were used for both ratings of attractiveness and masculinity. The faces used were of internal facial features only, i.e. hair, ears and jaw were omitted, and only the eyes, brow, nose and mouth were presented, contained within an oval. (Figure 1 & 2)

Previous research showed that hairstyle is the most salient feature when telling sexual orientation of a male; however sexuality has still be correctly identified when only the eyes and mouth area are shown (Rule, Ambady, Adams & Macrae, 2008). Hence, from these face stimuli, participants should be able to unconsciously identify the sexual orientation of each face as shown by Rule et al (2008).

Position in the menstrual cycle was measured by participants being presented with a calendar of the last four months in which they marked the occurrence of their last three menstruations. They were told that precision was important. Other questions were asked on length of average cycle and menstruation, regularity and use of contraception. Questions were cited from Wilcox (2001). The follicular phase was then calculated using a backward-counting method as had been used in previous research (Rule et al, 2011).

Self esteem was measured using Rosenberg’s self esteem scale (1965). Additional questions were asked about the participants’ demographics and (possible) relationship status (see Appendix).



Figure 1: Face of a heterosexual person                           Figure 2: Face of a homosexual person


Participants were sent an email or viewed a post on a social networking site to ask whether they were interested in taking part in a study designed to investigate which type of men are found to be most attractive. The email briefly explained that the experiment was only for women, that the experiment should take no longer than 15 minutes and that participation was voluntary.

When participants clicked the link they were taken to the first page of the experiment hosted at Participants were then asked if they felt they were proficient at reading English or not. If they were not then they were told that their participation was not necessary. A consent page was then shown stating that they were allowed to stop at any time and that their participation would be anonymous. They clicked yes or no to give their consent to the experiment.

Part one of the main experiment then began. Participants were shown 59 male faces and were instructed to rate the attractiveness of the faces on a Likert scale of 1-7 (1= not attractive at all, 7=highly attractive). Half the faces were homosexual and half heterosexual. They then completed part two where they rated the same faces on masculinity, using a 7-point Likert scale (1=not masculine at all, 7=highly masculine). Two different surveys were used, which contained two different randomizations of the faces (one for the attractiveness ratings and one for masculinity), i.e. there were four different randomizations of the faces in all.

Participants were then asked to complete a questionnaire, including items measuring their self esteem, their current position in their menstrual cycle, the status of their (possible) relationship and demographic questions (see Appendix).

Finally, participants were thanked for their participation and debriefed about the real goals of the study.


A paired samples t-test was conducted on the mean scores for attractiveness and masculinity of heterosexual and homosexual pictures and a significant difference between the mean scores was found: t(55) =-10.574, p<.001. No significant difference in the ratings for attractiveness between homosexuals and heterosexuals was found: t(56) =1.332, p =.094. However, the mean scores for masculinity differed significantly. Heterosexuals were rated as more masculine (Mmasc,homo= 3.7684; Mmasc,hetero = 4.1960): t(56) =10.341, p< .001). In other words, participants rated homosexuals and heterosexuals as equally attractive, even though they did find heterosexuals in general significantly more masculine.                                                          To test the influence of the fertile period on the attractiveness rating, another t-test was conducted on the females in the fertile period (N=6). Although participants in their fertile period did rate heterosexuals as more masculine (t(5) =4.254, p =.004), contrary to our hypothesis they did not rate them as significantly more attractive (t(5)=-.252, p=.406), Participants that had indicated that they were currently using hormonal contraceptives (N=32) were in first instance categorized as not being in a fertile period. When a paired samples t-test was conducted for those participants, they did not rate heterosexual men as being significantly more attractive than homosexual men ( t(31) =1.414, p =.09), even though they were found to rate heterosexuals significantly more masculine than homosexuals: Mmasc,homo= 3.7281; Mmasc,hetero = 4.2134 ( t(31) =7.922, p < .001).

An attractiveness-masculinity score was created by correlating each participant’s individual rating for masculinity with their rating for attractiveness of each male face  A Univariate Analysis of Variance found self-esteem did not have a significant effect on this correlation.( F(1,54) =1.650, p=.210 ) Participants were divided into three groups (high self-esteem: M > 3.5, low self-esteem: M < 3.0 and moderate self-esteem: 3.5 > M > 3.0) the means of high versus low self-esteem participants were used for comparison.

Relationship status also did not have a significant effect on the attractiveness-masculinity correlation in a Univariate ANOVA (F(1,54) =2.007, p=.162).


Our study reveals that women think that heterosexual men are more masculine than homosexual men, but they do not rate them as more attractive. This is contrary to what Penton-Voak et al (1999). In their study they found that women in their late follicular stage preferred more masculine men. One reason for the lack of results could be the high percentage of women in the sample using hormonal contraceptives (56%). These participants would then not have the normal phases of the menstrual cycle. In other words, they do not have fertile and non-fertile periods. Hence, they would not rate masculine faces as attractive as women in their fertile period would. Further research is required.

The data confirmed our hypothesis that there was no difference in ratings of attractiveness for heterosexual versus homosexual faces. Yet masculinity ratings for heterosexual men were significantly higher. This suggests that the ability to distinguish homosexual faces from heterosexual faces could be based on a difference in masculinity level of the pictures used. It may also be due to the fact that faces were a small non-random sample. Again future research is necessary to clarify these findings

We hypothesized that women with low self esteem will rate more masculine men as more attractive based on Johnson et al (2001). He found that women who scored low on androgyny on the Bem-M who also had low self esteem respond more to masculine cues in male faces. However self esteem was found to have no significant influence on the attractiveness-masculinity correlation, i.e. the correlation between participants’ individual ratings of attractiveness and masculinity per face. This suggests that the effects of self esteem on sensitivity to masculine cues found by Johnson et al (2001) can only be found through a combination of Bem-M and self esteem.  Another reason for this finding could be that our sample had high self esteem (M=3.21, SD=.41 on a scale of 1-4). This means that those classified as low self esteem actually had moderate self esteem and so the true effect of low self esteem could not be measured.

In addition, relationship status did not influence the attractiveness-masculinity correlation. This could be because ‘long term’ was not understood sufficiently; whereas it was meant to indicate the length of the current relationship, participants probably indicated the prospective length of their relationships.  For example anyone who is in a relationship probably considers it to be long term.                                              Some limitations of the study are that participants noted that the survey was quite long, hence they might have rushed over the last couple of pictures and questions creating noise in the data. Moreover, quite a few participants stated that they did not keep track of their menstruation dates and were not completely sure about the dates they filled in.  Furthermore, as mentioned, many used hormonal contraceptives which meant they did not have normal menstrual cycles and some never menstruated at all.

Furthermore, since a large square jaw has been shown to indicate masculinity (Roney, Hanson, Durante & Maestripieri, 2006), pictures showing the jaw (instead of faces surrounded by a passe-partout, hiding the jaw) might have induced a greater difference in masculinity (and attractiveness) ratings. Since heterosexual men were found to be more masculine it could be that the pictures of heterosexual faces in the database showed more jaw. This would allow for the observed finding. Future studies might improve this aspect by controlling for masculinity and using only women with a natural, regular menstrual cycle.

However, a study on the effects of hormonal contraceptives on the menstrual cycle, fertile periods and ratings of attractiveness of males might be interesting, since an increasing percentage of women are using hormonal contraceptives nowadays.

Would other studies find the same effects (i.e. females rating heterosexual men more masculine, yet not more attractive), research should be conducted on possible explanations for this effect. In that respect, lesbian women could also be used as participants to study whether they show the same results as the heterosexual participants. Since these women do not seek male partners, they might be less successful in telling the difference between homosexual and heterosexual men.

Furthermore, it might be interesting to study if men that are infertile differ in their ratings of femininity and attractiveness of women from fertile men.


Bailey, J. M., Gaulin, S., Agyei, Y., & Gladue, B. A. (1994). Effects of gender and sexual orientation on evolutionary relevant aspects of human mating psychology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 1081–1093.

Carnaghi & Piccoli, (2011). TS Face Database.

Johnston, V.S.; Hagel, R.; Franklin, M.; Fink, B; Grammer, K. (2001). Male facial attractiveness: evidence for hormone-mediated adaptive design. Evolution and
Human Behavior
, 22, 251-267.

Little A.C., Jones B.C., & DeBruine L.M. (2008). Preferences for variation in
masculinity in real male faces change across the menstrual cycle: Women
prefer more masculine faces when they are more fertile. Personality and
Individual Differences,
45, 478–482

Meyer-Bahlburg, H.F.L. (1984). Psychorndocrine research on sexual orientation:
Currentstatus and future opinions. Prog Brain Res, 61, 375-398.

Penton-Voak, I.S., Perret, D.J., Castles, D.L., Kobayashi, T., Burt, D.M., Murray,
L.K., & Minnesawa, R. (1999). Menstrual cycle alters face preference. Nature,
, 741-742

Roney,J.R., Hanson, K.N., Duranate, K.M., & Maestripieri, D. (2006). Reading men’s
faces: women’s mate attractiveness judgments track men’s testosterone and
interest in infants.Procedings of the Royal Society of London B, 273, 2169-

Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press

Rule, N.O.; Ambady, N.; Adams, R.B. Jr.; Macrae, C.N. (2008) Accuracy and                              Awareness in the Perception and Categorization of Male Sexual Orientation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1019–1028

Rule, N.O., Rosen, K.S., Slepian, M.L., & Ambady, N. (2011). Mating interest improves accuracy in judging male sexual orientation. Psycholgical Science, 22, 881-886.

Welling, L.L.M.; DeBruine, L.M.; Conwaya, C.A.; Law Smith, M.J.; Little, A.C;
Feinberg, D.R.; Sharp, M.A.; Al-Dujaili, E.A.S. (2007). Raised salivary testosterone in women is associated with increased attraction to masculine faces. Hormones and Behavior, 52, 156–161

Wilcox, J.A., Dunson, D.B., Weinberg, C.R., Trussell. J. & Baird, D.D. (2001). Likelihood of conception with a single act of intercourse: providing benchmark rates of assessment for post-coital contraceptives. Contraception, 63, 211-215.


  • The links for the two questionnaires are:

Survey 1:

Survey 2:

N.B. Both surveys are closed now. To enter the surveys, please go to and use the following information:

Username: socialexperiment
Password: social

  • Participants had to fill out the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965)

1- On the whole, I am satisfied with myself

2- At times, I think I am no good at all

3- I feel that I have a number of good qualities

4- I am able to do things as well as most other people

5- I feel I do not have much to be proud of

6- I certainly feel useless at times

7- I feel that I am a person of worth, at least on an equal plane with others

8- I wish I could have more respect for myself

9- All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure

10- I take a positive attitude toward myself


  • Additional questions participants were asked:

–          “Below there is a calendar of the past four months and some of November. Please click the days for the period in which your last THREE menstruations occured. e.g. if it was from the 23rd October to the 30th then you would click the buttons next to the 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th of October.
Please fill in your past THREE menstruations, it is very important for our study that you do this accurately.
If you really can’t remember then click a box and then in the comments box at the end explain the reason why you haven’t filled this out correctly”

–          The length of your menstrual cycle (e.g. 28 days)  is the same for every menstrual cycle? (YES/NO)

–          On average how long is your menstrual cycle? (In days)

–          On average how long is your menstruation? (In days)

–          Do you use hormonal contraceptives? (YES/NO)

–          If so, what kind?

–          How old are you at present? (in years)

–          Which sexual orientation do you mostly relate to?

–          Are you currently in a relationship? (YES/NO)

–          If so, would you be more likely to describe it as long or short term?

–          Would you say you are currently seeking a relationship?

–          If so, is it more likely to be short term or long term?

–          When was the last time you had sexual intercourse? (In days)

–          Is there anything you would like to add about this questionnaire?

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