Study Finds People Can Identify Who’s the Top and Who’s the Bottom in Gay Couples

A study published in the April 2013 journal Archives of Sexual Behavior examined the perception of 'to' and 'bottom' roles in gay couples:

ModernfamilyIn 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.

Comments

  1. Derrick from Philly says

    Oh, Lord. Why did I visit the blog today–with a hangover. There are going to be 105 comments on this story.

    Liberace was a TOP, and so was Truman Capote. So what.

  2. says

    I’m not sure I buy this one. Also I wonder about the validity of this study and the gay men that were used in it. Where I’m from, everyone claims to be a top but will invoke Vegas rules in the bedroom. I still don’t even know who’s top and who’s bottom in the Modern Family..

  3. says

    I’m not sure I buy this one. Also I wonder about the validity of this study and the gay men that were used in it. Where I’m from, everyone claims to be a top but will invoke Vegas rules in the bedroom. I still don’t even know who’s top and who’s bottom in the Modern Family..

  4. Bill says

    Hmm… were they able to guess which couples don’t have insertive sex at all? Or which ones flip? When someone tells me they’re a top or a bottom, I tell them I’m sorry they haven’t figured out how to enjoy the other role yet.

  5. BenR says

    “When someone tells me they’re a top or a bottom, I tell them I’m sorry they haven’t figured out how to enjoy the other role yet.”

    Who are you to tell people what to enjoy? Lots of people, myself included, do get pleasure out of both roles, but prefer one. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  6. Caliban says

    Perhaps I’m reading this wrong, but it basically says that people use characteristics that (might) identify someone as “effeminate” to infer they are also a bottom, since women are the penetrated partner in straight sex.

    Maybe there is *some* correlation between perceived femininity and bottom-hood (or whatever you want to call it) but it certainly isn’t always that way. There are “feminine” tops and “masculine” bottoms and many many gay men are versatile.

    And “significantly greater than chance” is a meaningless statement without the exact figure. Does that mean they got it right 60% of the time? 75%? If a self-proclaimed psychic consistently guessed the results of a coin toss 60% of the time that would be considered significant. For a statistician like Nate Silver that percentage would be considered pathetic.

  7. Tim says

    People were generally wrong in my relationship. Now, two caveats – neither of us was especially dogmatically in one role or the other, but I did tend more to top and he to bottom; and anal sex was not part of our relationship, so THAT top/bottom parameter was not applicable. However, people looked at him, saw a 6’7″, rather serious, looming, muscular figure, and just presumed he was the top. It happened over and over. A leatherwoman was giving Arne tips for about five minutes on how to dominate me before I said: ‘Um, I’m the top. Please don’t presume.’

  8. anonymous says

    @BenR…. preferring one while still engaging in both makes you versatile not either a top or a bottom. Labeling someone as a top or a bottom implies exclusivity.

    Another study gave results that 70% of gay couples are versatile.

  9. Jay says

    It’s a game my boyfriend and I play on the street (in our neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen).

    “Which one’s the top?”
    “Blue shorts. Obviously.”
    “You’re right. Such a waste of his muscle ass, though.”
    “Not at all, sweetheart. I’m sure that bottom loves having something meaty to grab hold of while he’s pounding him out.”

  10. Derrick from Philly says

    @”Lots of people, myself included, do get pleasure out of both roles, but prefer one.”

    OK, then which one do you prefer, Ben Dover…I mean, BenR?

    (I couldn’t resist it, darlin’. It’s Monday, and the vodka is still workin’ on me)

  11. Abie says

    The only reason why people need to know if you are a top or a bottom is if they are having sex with you. Otherwise, it is simply none of their business. Whether they can guess or not is of no consequence.

  12. David says

    A feminine guy is just probably more likely to own up to enjoying the bottom role. That’s the problem with this self-reporting stuff.

    In my experience it’s been those big muscular guys who skew most towards non-versatile bottom.

  13. Yeek says

    Yeah, yeah, we all know: “stereotype” does not mean “untrue.” It means an oversimplified characterization of a group based on actual trends.

    So stereotypes are true sometimes. So we can spot tops. Big deal. Waaah.

  14. Billy says

    Jay – you sound awful. Typical Hell’s Kitchen gay.

    Anyway, this study worked because they couldn’t use ANY couple that’s versatile. They used the (smaller) percentage of guys who MUST be a top or a bottom, and yeah, I bet it is easier to “tell.” Still a stupid study.

  15. dh says

    What a waste of time, energy, and money.

    What straight people fail to grasp, and many gay men don’t seem to get is that many gay men do not engage in anal sex at all, preferring oral or j/o.

  16. jpeckjr says

    The lead researcher on this, Dr. Nicholas O. Rule, studies social perception and cognition at the Univ. of Toronto. His specialty seems to be studying faces and perceptions from faces and how those perceptions match facts about people.

    That’s not an unimportant thing to study since we do reach conclusions about people based on their faces, don’t we?

  17. Peter says

    Tops are as common as leprechauns and unicorns. Most gay men prefer to be penetrated, but they’ll deny it (until king cobra comes slithering along).

  18. J Y says

    Wow so much lame vitriol in this thread. Grow up. They showed some people pictures and asked them to guess, and then compared it to facts to come up with a mathematical set of data. Why the whining?

  19. disgusted america says

    …and can we tell by straight cpls – IF the wife sucks her hubbys cock, or wears a strap on to please him ??? STUPID STUDY…as someone above said- we aint lab rats !

  20. johnny says

    Do they mean psychogical top or physical top?

    Might come as a surprise to the researchers and many readers of this blog but a lot of gay couples don’t engage in anal sex at all.

    That said, there are still areas of dominance and submission in relationships. One might earn the most money and be financially dominant, but the other might run the household and be territory-dominant.

    But more importantly….

    WHY DOES THIS MATTER AT ALL????

  21. jpeckjr says

    With regard to perceptions of what is and is not masculine, I have known men (ahem) who considered being the receiving partner to be less masculine than being the inserting partner.

    Or, in less clinical language, “Real men put it in.”

    Not saying that’s how I think, just that I’ve encountered it.

  22. Ryan says

    I’m really not offended by this study, because the concept of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ is really genderless, and has insofar as certain genders have typically performed certain roles in different societies, the exact roles varies greatly in many societies.

    Westerners are not the norm throughout the world. We’re the weird exceptions, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be comfortable with a man who is more ‘feminine’ than typical, or a female who is more masculine.

  23. misha says

    Really? Will the next study be about which one is the “woman” and which one is the “man” in the relationship? This is nonsense.

    To say that it is “typically” the way gay men codify their sexual activity in relationships is ridiculous.

    Sometimes you feel like a top, sometimes you don’t.

    I found, in my youth, that when someone asserted being a top or bottom, they were boring in bed.

  24. Jack M says

    Naive observers??

    It’s nobody’s business who’s a top or a bottom except the guys that are having sex.

    Do we wonder who is the dominant partner in hetero relationships? It’s not always the man.

  25. Gregoire says

    I’ve been out for almost twenty years and even I don’t know if I’m a top or bottom. It changes based on the person. Which is why I have awesome sex.

  26. Jack says

    Who cares what other people’s sexual activities are? It’s no one’s business except the people having sex together. I think the research money could have been better spent elsewhere.

  27. Kyle says

    The researchers obviously solicited gay couples who dichotomize their relationship into top and bottom roles. This leaves out a huge variety of gay couples and so doesn’t really tell us anything about gay relationships, only a single subset of them. I’m skeptical this relationship pattern is “typical”, and I can only imagine heterocentrism is responsible for such attention to it.

  28. Kyle says

    The researchers obviously solicited gay couples who dichotomize their relationship into top and bottom roles. This leaves out a huge variety of gay couples and so doesn’t really tell us anything about gay relationships, only a single subset of them. I’m skeptical this relationship pattern is “typical”, and I can only imagine heterocentrism is responsible for such attention to it.

  29. Kyle says

    The researchers obviously solicited gay couples who dichotomize their relationship into top and bottom roles. This leaves out a huge variety of gay couples and so doesn’t really tell us anything about gay relationships, only a single subset of them. I’m skeptical this relationship pattern is “typical”, and I can only imagine heterocentrism is responsible for such attention to it.

  30. Kyle says

    The researchers obviously solicited gay couples who dichotomize their relationship into top and bottom roles. This leaves out a huge variety of gay couples and so doesn’t really tell us anything about gay relationships, only a single subset of them. I’m skeptical this relationship pattern is “typical”, and I can only imagine heterocentrism is responsible for such attention to it.

  31. Kyle says

    The researchers obviously solicited gay couples who dichotomize their relationship into top and bottom roles. This leaves out a huge variety of gay couples and so doesn’t really tell us anything about gay relationships, only a single subset of them. I’m skeptical this relationship pattern is “typical”, and I can only imagine heterocentrism is responsible for such attention to it.

  32. says

    Good lord! Why is everyone so fascinated about how gay men have sex? My husband and I have a very active, very imaginative and very PRIVATE sex life! The idea that people wonder which of us puts what where is disturbing. I guess stereotypes save time.

  33. says

    Good lord! Why is everyone so fascinated about how gay men have sex? My husband and I have a very active, very imaginative and very PRIVATE sex life! The idea that people wonder which of us puts what where is disturbing. I guess stereotypes save time.

  34. says

    Good lord! Why is everyone so fascinated about how gay men have sex? My husband and I have a very active, very imaginative and very PRIVATE sex life! The idea that people wonder which of us puts what where is disturbing. I guess stereotypes save time.

  35. says

    Good lord! Why is everyone so fascinated about how gay men have sex? My husband and I have a very active, very imaginative and very PRIVATE sex life! The idea that people wonder which of us puts what where is disturbing. I guess stereotypes save time.

  36. says

    Good lord! Why is everyone so fascinated about how gay men have sex? My husband and I have a very active, very imaginative and very PRIVATE sex life! The idea that people wonder which of us puts what where is disturbing. I guess stereotypes save time.

  37. says

    Good lord! Why is everyone so fascinated about how gay men have sex? My husband and I have a very active, very imaginative and very PRIVATE sex life! The idea that people wonder which of us puts what where is disturbing. I guess stereotypes save time.

  38. says

    Good lord! Why is everyone so fascinated about how gay men have sex? My husband and I have a very active, very imaginative and very PRIVATE sex life! The idea that people wonder which of us puts what where is disturbing. I guess stereotypes save time.

  39. Derrick from Philly says

    @”Top and bottom? Please. This is the 21st century, not 1970″

    Yeah, so tell us, Rat, which are you? Top or bottom?

    Well, ok, never mind. Just tell us what you were in 1970.

  40. Bill says

    @Caliban: The phrase “significantly better than chance” was in the abstract. Unfortunately, you can’t read the whole paper for free. If you’d like to see if they quantify it, you’d have to pay for a copy. My guess is that the people generating the news articles only looked at the abstract and never read the paper – you’d go broke if you paid for each one you were curious about.

  41. Mark says

    I am sooooo glad for this study. I can finally put to rest the eternal question of whether more masculine women wear strap-ons.

    I was sure i would die before this was known…

  42. Bill Michael says

    “…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)….” –Utter nonsense. My partnet and I routinely switch off.

  43. nszane says

    The Study is genuine. Most men can be predicted. Smile, laughter, attitude, posture. Even Patience and Silence gives people away. Submissive partners tend to give away their role by offering you, say, an ashtray while visiting the couple. Of course, the dominant partner could also do this. But somehow a sensible observer would notice a slight difference in the behavior during this process. A guy that is being ‘taken care of’ so to speak, has a different attitude.

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