story by Mimi Ko Cruz '91
If the hair whorl on the top of your head circles counterclockwise and you are left-handed, then it’s possible that you are gay and that your sexual orientation can be biologically explained.
That’s the latest hypothesis being tested by psychology professor Richard A. Lippa.
The sex expert, author of “Gender, Nature and Nurture,” has examined about 500 male head whorls and is becoming convinced that that there is a connection. Women are excluded from the survey because they tend to have long hair, making it hard to see their whorls.
As part of the study, Lippa also is collecting DNA samples by swabbing the inside cheeks of his subjects. The samples will be analyzed to determine whether there is a common gene responsible for causing hair whorl direction and whether people are left-or right-handed.
Preliminary results are “implicating a biological explanation because you are born with your hair whorl,” Lippa said. “You can’t change the direction in which it swirls. It sounds weird that hair whorl patterns could be associated with sexual orientation. I was very skeptical when I started this study, but I’m becoming convinced that there is a connection between hair whorl, left-handedness and sexual orientation.”
Perhaps sexual orientation is determined in the womb, he said. “If this is true, then that will be a remarkable finding.”
Results of the survey are expected soon.
Lippa recently guest-edited a special section of the “Archives of Sexual Behavior.” The section, published in April and devoted to studies based on data from a recent British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Science Internet survey of more than 200,000 people worldwide, focused on gender differences in various traits and behaviors, including cognitive abilities, sexual attitudes, personality and mate preferences.
As part of the survey, Lippa found that gay men and lesbians are more likely than heterosexuals to be left-handed; the more older brothers a man has, the more likely he is to be gay; the higher a woman’s sex drive, the more she desires both men and women; men prefer good looks in a mate while women prefer honesty, humor, kindness and dependability.
Lippa was a research consultant for the 2005 BBC Science documentary “Secrets of the Sexes.” He also appeared in the documentary. As part of that project, Lippa and other researchers helped the BBC develop the Internet survey and analyze its results. The special section contains nine papers based on BBC data, and Lippa is author of two of the papers and co-author of a third.
His studies report a variety of findings, including:
- More gay men (13 percent) than heterosexual men (11 percent) and more lesbians (11 percent) than heterosexual women (10 percent) reported being left-handed.
- More bisexual men (12 percent) than gay or heterosexual men (8 percent) described themselves as ambidextrous, and more bisexual women (16 percent) than lesbians (12 percent) or heterosexual women (8 percent) described themselves as ambidextrous.
- When asked to rank the importance of 23 traits that they seek in a mate, men and women agreed on the top nine: intelligence, humor, honesty, kindness, good looks, facial attractiveness, values, communication skills and dependability. But, men ranked good looks and facial attractiveness higher than the other traits, whereas women ranked honesty, humor, kindness and dependability highest.
“Differences in the importance men and women assigned to a mate’s looks were extremely consistent across 53 nations, suggesting an evolved, biological component,” Lippa said.