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Fertility Status Does Not Facilitate Women’s Judgment of Male Sexual Orientation

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Previous research has demonstrated that women can correctly distinguish between gay and heterosexual men’s faces significantly better than chance. This ability appears to be heightened during the most fertile portion of their ovulatory cycle. Here, we sought to replicate and extend these findings in a large sample of undergraduate women (N = 1960). Although women correctly identified men’s sexual orientation significantly better than chance (62% average accuracy), a subsample of naturally cycling women (n = 426) did not judge men’s sexual orientation from faces more accurately when in the fertile phase of their ovulatory cycle. These results further replicate the visibility of male sexual orientation, but do not show that this ability has strong links to estimated fertility.

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  1. These studies also typically examine detection of women’s sexual orientation, but we have not reviewed these in detail here because we focus on male sexual orientation in the present work.

  2. One study found that gay men upload higher-quality online images than heterosexual men (Cox et al., 2016). Despite Cox et al.’s conclusion that gay-straight categorizations are broadly confounded, most studies do not share this difference (Rule et al., 2017).

  3. Out of the present sample, 1847 individuals were also included in Semenyna and Vasey (2021). Data cleaning procedures differed slightly for the present sample and included additional participants who did not complete the trust tasks included in that study.

  4. For participants with fewer than five missing face ratings, the missing value was imputed using the modal response (0.15% of all face ratings total).

  5. Participants’ gender identity was not assessed separately from their sex. Although we are unable to detect the presence of transgender individuals in our sample, their possible presence is unlikely to affect our results given that transgender men (i.e., natal females who identify as men) are generally rare in the population (Zucker, 2017).

  6. Relationship length did not correlate with accuracy or response bias (all |rs|≤ .04, all ps ≥ .20) and is only used here to describe the sample.


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The authors would like to thank P. Lynne Honey for her assistance in facilitating data collection.


SWS was funded by a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships (Doctoral) from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada (Grant Number 767-2016-2485). PLV was supported by grants awarded by the University of Lethbridge Research Development Fund (Grant Number 13261), and an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada (Grant Number 435-2017-0866). These funding sources played no role in study design, data collection, analysis or interpretation of data, writing of the report, or the decision to submit the article for publication.

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SWS and PLV developed the study concept, and NOR provided standardized face images. Data collection, analysis, and manuscript preparation were performed by SWS. NOR and PLV provided crucial revisions and guidance on the finalized manuscript.

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Correspondence to Scott W. Semenyna.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The materials and methodology for this study were approved by the Human Subject Research Committee of the University of Lethbridge (#2016-046), as well as the MacEwan University Research Ethics Board (REB Reference No. 16-17-081). All study measures and procedures were approved by the local research ethics office at each institution where data were collected.

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Semenyna, S.W., Rule, N.O. & Vasey, P.L. Fertility Status Does Not Facilitate Women’s Judgment of Male Sexual Orientation. Arch Sex Behav 51, 3351–3360 (2022).

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