Ha ha! Another entire academic discipline torpedoed by a bogus hoax paper! Or, How Lesbians Evolved.

I guess everyone is going to be doing this now. In this case, it’s a ridiculous paper accepted for publication in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, and it’s a doozy. It’s about evolution, it says.

In the introduction, it throws around some buzzwords and tries to impress us with elementary scientism.

New alleles can arise from mutations. An allele’s influence on a trait is likely to have both negative (c) and positive (b) fitness effects; thus, the allele will increase in frequency if the balance of positive minus negative fitness contribution (b – c) i.e., the net fitness effect (f), is higher that the respective balance of the original gene, and it will decrease in frequency if the balance is negative. Please note that we refer here to the case averaged across all bearers of the allele, so that an allele will be favored even if it has a net negative effect on the fitness of some individuals as long as it has a net positive effect on the fitness of other bearers of the allele.

The joke’s on you if you read this assuming the paper is about genetics, though. Nowhere in this work do the authors identify any genes or alleles; they don’t even try. They just assume that if a behavior exists, there must be a gene for it, and further, it must have undergone positive selection. They’re also not going to test for fitness of a behavior; in fact, they’re not even going to examine any behaviors directly, but are instead going to rely entirely on self-reported assessments in an online survey of college students.

You’ve probably figured out by new that the discipline in question is evolutionary psychology. Just to titillate you further, it’s arguing for a selective advantage for same-sex behavior.

At first sight, alleles that arise through mutation and predispose for same-sex attraction appear to experience a substantial negative fitness, since they lead individuals to divert part or the whole of their mating effort toward same-sex outlets from which children, who would carry these alleles, cannot be borne. Accordingly, in order to understand the prevalence of same-sex attraction in the population, scholars have argued that these alleles also experience positive fitness effects, which compensate for the negative fitness effects, turning the net fitness (f) positive. There is, however, a different possibility.

Oh, boy. How could a sexual behavior persist that diverts mating efforts in a direction that does not produce children? It’s a mystery.

I can’t wait until the authors learn that heterosexual couples indulge in cunnilingus and fellatio. Their minds will be, umm, blown.

But wait! There’s more hilarity! This is a paper about “The evolution of female same-sex attraction”. Where did lesbians come from, they wonder. What a conundrum! Why would women prefer each other’s company, rather than a man’s? Lesbians can’t put a baby in their tummy! They resolve this problem easily, by suggesting that men provided the selection pressure to favor lesbian genes. It’s all about the cucks.

Men with multiple wives, as opposed to men with one wife, face an elevated probability to be cuckolded, because they have to divide their sexual effort toward several wives so, inevitably, some of their wives will remain unsatisfied. They also have to divide their mate-guarding effort between multiple wives, which makes such effort less effective. If their wives experience same-sex attraction, they can satisfy their urges with other co-wives, who are readily available, reducing, in effect, the risk of cuckoldry (see also Kanazawa, 2016).

Note the Kanazawa reference — another in-joke. This paper is hilarious. There’s also another reason lesbianism is evolutionarily advantageous.

In our proposed theoretical framework, men can benefit from the same-sex attractions of their partners through gaining access to additional women.

That’s right, guys: you should date lesbians because then you’ll get to have sex with their lesbian girlfriends. Yeah, that’s exactly how it would work.

Now you might argue that the fact that this hypothesis is counter-intuitive and is built on a framework of not understanding basic evolutionary theory does not necessarily make it wrong, but maybe they’ve got some kind of empirical evidence that cleverly illustrates the existence of this lesbianism gene, and that men are actively selecting for it.

They don’t.

The ‘experiment’ is basically, “let’s ask guys if they’d mind if their wife had sex with another woman.” I’m not kidding. That’s the experiment. It’s also done with an online survey, because they could get more honest answers in this way.

Here are the results. It shows that a minority of Western men (Greek Cypriots) like the idea of girl-on-girl sex, but that they like it more than women like the idea of boy-on-boy sex. Apparently yaoi isn’t very popular on Cyprus…but shouldn’t the cultural variations clue them in that this is probably not a genetically determined behavior?

To be fair, they do consider that there might be cultural effects, but all they can think of is one factor, religion, and they only argue that it would repress honest expression of the participants’ views.

Last but not least, the observed effects are unlikely to reflect only evolved dispositions, and social and cultural effects may also be at play. For instance, male preferences for same-sex attraction in a partner may be moderated by religious beliefs. Participants in the sample were Greek-Orthodox Christians, and in the Cristian religion same-same attraction is considered reprehensible. Accordingly, male participants may have perceived their preferences for same-sex attraction to be inconsistent with their religious beliefs, and if they were very religious, to have suppressed or have been unwilling to report such desires. The present study did not control for this possibility, and future research can do so by measuring participants’ religiosity.

The possibility of a few cultural biases do not, however, make them question their basic assumption that lesbian preferences have nothing to do with women’s choices, but are entirely a consequence of males selecting for women who do not like sex with them, and would prefer sex with people who do not have a penis. Apparently, lesbians only exist to provide girl-on-girl porn on the internet, and their own desires have nothing to do with it. Or rather, they only have those desires because men have bred them for possession of a hypothetical lesbian allele.

In conclusion, the present study found that a large proportion of heterosexual men considered same-sex attraction in a partner desirable. These findings suggest positive selection on same-sex attraction in women: Men’s desire for women who are attracted to other women selects for women who are attracted to other women. In turn, male desires, along with factors such as arranged marriage, which weakened the negative fitness costs of same-sex attraction, can explain the relatively high frequency of this trait in the population. Future research needs to replicate and extend these findings in order to better understand the evolutionary origins of same-sex attraction.

Or maybe the authors need to go back to school and learn how evolution works.

This paper was so ridiculously bad, though, I’m sure the authors are going to come out with a confession, maybe in the pages of Skeptic magazine, that it was all a set-up to show how absurd the entire field of evolutionary psychology is (I checked; there isn’t a single evolutionary psychology journal in the top 100 of the SCIMago rankings, therefore the field is entirely made of low-quality papers).

Any moment now they’re going to pop up and say, “Just foolin’!”

Yep, any moment now.

Aaanyy moment.

Apostolou M, Shialos M, Khalil M, Paschali V (2017) The evolution of female same-sex attraction: The male choice hypothesis. Personality and Individual Differences 116:372–378.


  1. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    Ok, sure, but here’s what I want to know: what’s the genetic cause underlying my love of Stephen Universe?

  2. says

    Fun fact: Unlike either journal that Boghossian submitted to, Personality and Individual Differences has a nonzero impact factor. It’s even in the top 15 social psychology journals.

  3. says

    Millions of years ago, apes who snuggled up with other apes to watch Steven Universe were happier and more successful in raising children.

    Sadly, all the apes who misspelled Steven Universe died out.

  4. says

    Meanwhile, all the apes who preferred Rick and Morty found themselves occupying multiple dimensions and taking over all of the universes.

  5. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    I’m the last of an extinct lineage? Ooooh, but we live! We are among you! We come for your Vs! Fear the homo misspellensis, for we shall have our vengeance!

  6. blf says

    In addition, there seems to be no explanation of Bigfoot, not even a mention. How can you possibly “explain” lesbians without mentioning the childfeet-less Bigfeets? It’s like trying to explain gravitational waves without mentioning gravity.

  7. says

    Jesus. When is there going to be an evo-psych paper on the extreme insecurity of men who simply cannot imagine any scenario in which they and their penis are not the most important thing ever?

  8. cartomancer says

    Yay! I brought this up on another thread a few days ago, and PZ found it too!

    Though I am keen to discover from the brilliant Dr. Apostolou why I have this weird, inexplicable male-male same sex attraction. I expect it’s got something to do with the concommitant genes for snappy dressing and interior design being selected for among primitive cave peoples, because they aid normal heterosexual people to breed.

    I mean, they’re going to kick in soon, right? Aaaany day now….

  9. Anton Mates says

    Men with multiple wives, as opposed to men with one wife, face an elevated probability to be cuckolded, because they have to divide their sexual effort toward several wives so, inevitably, some of their wives will remain unsatisfied

    “Inevitably”? Evolution can turn your wives into Playboy lesbians, but it can’t lower their sex drive and make them satisfied with whatever fraction of your “sexual effort” you can spare from the rest of your harem? Man, I totally don’t understand the rules of this game.

  10. Bill Buckner says

    Jesus. When is there going to be an evo-psych paper on the extreme insecurity of men who simply cannot imagine any scenario in which they and their penis are not the most important thing ever?

    Or on the absurdity of women who think men actually think that way.

  11. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Or on the absurdity of women who think men actually think that way.

    The publication of the article evidences without doubt that some men do think that way…

  12. says

    Bill Buckner:

    Or on the absurdity of women who think men actually think that way.

    Absurd? A random selection of evo-psych papers are all based on the amazing and mighty influence of men and their penises. Regardless of it being bullshit, it gets damn tiresome to read about how men’s penises are shaped this way, because they are in reality, little penis shovels to rid receptacles of a competitor’s semen; or how men and their oh-so-busy penises led to a selection of same sex attraction in women.

    I’m not the one being absurd, you fucking idiot. I also note that I did not say all men buy into this idiocy, however, plenty of them do, especially in the ‘field’ of evo-psych. You seem a tad oversensitive yourself, cupcake.

  13. Bill Buckner says

    A random selection of evo-psych papers are all based on the amazing and mighty influence of men and their penises.

    I hate evo-psych, but I challenge you to prove a random selection of papers are all based on the amazing and mighty influence of men and their penises. It will only be true for a suitble definition of “this paper is based on the amazing and mighty influence of men and their penises.”

    I’m not the one being absurd, you fucking idiot. I also note that I did not say all men buy into this idiocy, however, plenty of them do, especially in the ‘field’ of evo-psych. You seem a tad oversensitive yourself, cupcake.

    I also note that I did not say “all women” you un-nuanced black/white dumb shit. And oh, the ever-ready, catch-all, super-intellectual accusation of “too sensitive.” Fucking moron.

  14. Bill Buckner says

    Why would it have to be random, Bill?

    Because that is what was claimed in #14.

  15. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    [tangent alert]
    seems another case of applying egotism (clinical term) to sex (verb). Meaning, thinking sex is only about one’s personal pleasure sensations and not considering the aspect of desire to share the experience with a partner. The former being a situation where the nature of the “partner” is superfluous, that if the opposite sex is unavailable, same sex is adequately acceptable. Justifying imagining harem wives getting pleasure from each other while waiting for the “master” to “partake”. This is a common feature of the porn I used to watch (on VHS, back then).
    I thought with the rise of LGBTQ visibility and personhood that this VHS characterization of sexuality would have faded away.
    oh well
    I must have been generalizing from my own acceptance of sex being an expression of love, not vice versa.
    oh well

  16. says

    I am a long time lurker on this blog. I usually don’t comment but I have to jump in on this one. I am in grad school studying psychology. I spend most of my time reading research papers on visual perception. Pretty much every EP paper I have come across uses sexual selection as a way of explaining behavior. It’s pure idiocy. So I think it is far from hyperbolic to claim a random selection of any EP paper would have the assertion that male sexual desire ultimately shaped human behavior. The field is a sad joke.

  17. snuffcurry says

    basic assumption that lesbian preferences have nothing to do with women’s choices, but are entirely a consequence of males selecting for women who do not like sex with them, and would prefer sex with people who do not have a penis.

    (Notes from my lesbian clit: I’m a lesbian, it says so right there in my NBC, and I’m fine with penises and the sex0ring of them so long as they’re attached to women. Foiled again, sad baby men!)

  18. wcorvi says

    Well, I for one, as a theoretical physicist, was blown away by their math! I mean, with equations like f=b-c where b is a nebulous quantity and c is a nebulous quantity (negative and positive fitness, respectively) – I mean four dimensional non-Euclidean space-time geometry is a little challenging, but f=b-c just totally blew me away.

  19. chigau (違う) says

    wcorvi #21
    As an archaeologist, I have often wondered if a theoretical physicist is only theoretically a physicist OR is a physicist of theory.
    I do agree their mathes are teh awesome.
    The most mathy I get is the square root of 2.

  20. Knabb says

    Just once, I want to see an evo-psych paper that so much as acknowledges genetic drift in passing.

  21. chrislawson says

    I’m not surprised they reference Kanazawa because this paper is straight out of his playbook:

    1. Draw some broad generalisation about a sexual difference
    2. Create a string of hypotheses that explain the difference as an evolutionary adaptation
    3. Ignore any existing evidence against those hypotheses, for instance in anthropology and archeology
    4. Do not test any of the hypotheses; instead ask a small sample of people from one community what their preferences are in a questionnaire designed with all the rigour of a Cosmo or GQ personality quiz
    5. When a preference on a quiz is discerned, declare that you have supported your hypotheses despite not even looking for any biological basis, any genetic linkage, any evolutionary advantage, or any adaptive progression.

    In Kanazawa’s godawful color preference paper, the specific steps went:

    1. He claims that women can see red colours better than men.
    2. He explains this as being due to women being gatherers while men do the hunting, and therefore women will have evolved advanced red-detecting vision to help them see berries better.
    3. He ignored counter-evidence from the cultures where those roles were not distinctly separated, ignored that not all nutritious foods in the wild are berries, ignored that not all nutritious berries are red, ignored that hunters will still gather foods they stumble across in their hunts, ignored that gatherers will still hunt when the opportunity arises, ignored that just because a one sex traditionally does more of a role than the other this does not mean the evolutionary pressure will only apply to one sex.
    4. Of the necessary hypotheses to prove his claim, (1) that women can see red better than men, (2) that there is an adaptive advantage to women seeing red better than men, (3) that there is a genetic difference between men and women seeing red, (4) that this difference is due to evolutionary adaptation, Kanazawa tests none of them. The first and third hypotheses are sort of true (8% of men have red-green colour “blindness” compared to 0.5% of women because the relevant gene is X-linked — but this doesn’t account for yellow-blue dyschromia which is on chromosome 7 and therefore not sexually determined even though many nutritious fruits are yellow and berries blue!), but you need all the other hypotheses to be true, and Kanazawa examines none of them.
    5. Instead, Kanazawa asked men and women which colours they liked more, and found that women were more likely to express an aesthetic preference for pink. This was the only experimental data in the paper. Seriously. His whole argument is based on a survey less rigorous than market testing for home decorators. And besides, aesthetic preference has nothing to do with any of the evolutionary hypotheses he actually claims to address.

    But since Kanazawa routinely gets published along with glowing uncritical write-ups in newspapers and neocon journals like The Economist, why wouldn’t an unimaginative, lazy, intellectually shallow researcher follow his lead?

  22. chigau (違う) says

    John Morales
    As an archaeologist, I dig square holes in the ground.
    1 metre by 1 metre.
    When one putting nails in the dirt (soon to be wrapped in string) one needs to know the hypotenuse of a 1 by 1
    no one cares about the size of the paper

  23. says

    Apparently, those people still believe in the old homunculus theory by which a man deposits a teensy tiny baby in the woman who only grows it into a baby.
    Because dude, how the hell would your desire affect my reproductive chances? Where is the selective pressure on women where their chances at reproducing are better if they occasionally visibly and obviously fuck other (cis) women? Instead of, say, fucking another cis dude, secretly or in the open.

    Bill Buckner

    When is there going to be an evo-psych paper on the extreme insecurity of men who simply cannot imagine any scenario in which they and their penis are not the most important thing ever?

    is called a defining relative clause. It does not say #allmenthink this. It says “there are men who think this”. And a really bad paper where a man goes out to “demonstrate” that women’s sexual desire for each other is actually not about women and their desire, but about cis men and their penises (and a number of reviewers and publishers who thought this is a good enough paper) is more than enough evidence of the existence of such men.

  24. cartomancer says

    Actually, that reminds me. When I was looking into medieval medical writings during my postgraduate years I discovered a curious thing. It turns out there were big cultural differences between the way medieval Islamic medics and their Christian counterparts (or, more accurately, successors, since the Latin west only really picked up on advanced medicine as the Islamic world was beginning to lose its intellectual vitality) viewed sex and sexual pleasure.

    One of these differences was that Islamic texts often discussed female-female same sex pleasuring, while Christian medical texts steered well clear of it. Now, it would be a mistake to assume that medieval Christians were all prudish and anti-sex like many modern Christians are – the Middle Ages had their fair share of highly sexual cultures too. One highly amusing set of medical questions uses various real-life university masters as examples of the kinds of sexual dysfunction a medic might encounter in his business. But the world of medical academia in the West generally thought of same-sex attraction as something to be cured if it thought about it at all (Albertus Magnus has a recipe for a cream that can do the trick, mixed up from hyena fur and coal tar and applied anally. I imagine that the mixture would be quite effective in preventing gay sex at least). Even dedicated collections of writings on women’s medical issues such as the Trotula don’t mention lesbianism. It had no cultural niche to inhabit in the West.

    Not so the Islamic world. The difference seems to have been that Muslim potentates often kept a harem, and viewed the sexual desires of the women in it as powerful and in need of release (Christians too thought of normal female sexuality as volatile and in need of release – the sexless cult of the Virgin was set in stark contrast to this expectation). Since the harem-keeper couldn’t satisfy all of them (indeed, it was often understood that he wouldn’t satisfy any of them – they were for his pleasure, their own was pursued otherwise) and bringing in other men was out of the question, having them satisfy each other was the culturally approved solution. As such medical texts in the medieval Islamic world had no qualms about discussing the ins and outs of lesbian sex. These sections were quietly dropped when the time came to translate the texts into Latin for a European audience.

    These ideas about female same-sex relations seem remarkably similar to what our esteemed Cypriots are suggesting in their evo-psych paper. Which might not be entirely coincidental, given how much exposure Cyprus has had to Islamic ideas and Islamic rule over the centuries. Certainly the Ottomans, who ruled Cyprus from the late 16th century, were big harem-keepers in the traditions of the Medieval Caliphate. With his aside on possible cultural factors influencing his survey, it seems that Apostolou might even be vaguely aware of this history. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that Greek Orthodox Cypriots raised in a tradition derived from Medieval Christian ethics would have very different ideas about lesbians from Muslim Cypriots whose traditions stem from Ottoman and ultimately Medieval Islamic ethics. But, of course, an explicit familiarity with the cultural roots of these ideas about lesbians should really set alarm bells rining in any researcher’s head if they are trying to argue that there is some kind of biological reality behind them rather than just specific cultural biases.

  25. Meg Thornton says

    I can think of a much more straightforward reason for the persistence of non-heterosexual preferences in the human breeding pool – if you have ten percent of the population who aren’t interested in relationships which are likely to result in offspring, what you have (in the case of a hunter-gatherer society where what you can own consists of what you can physically carry) is basically a wealth repository. You have a way of being able to rear both of a set of twins to maturity. You have extra hands hunting, extra hands gathering, extra hands preparing the food, extra eyes watching the children, extra ears listening out for predators, extra bodies huddling together to keep warm in winter. Non-breeding pairs basically provide the group with a buffer against the bad times. Oh, and you have extra minds storing important information, too, which is always useful in a pre-literate culture.

    There’s also the physiological effects of these things on the human animal. It’s been noted that better nutrition results in a number of physical advantages for humans – better nourished individuals grow taller than their parents, for example (and have the corresponding reach and gait advantages); better nourished individuals reach breeding age sooner than their malnourished peers (and they remain capable of breeding for longer, and are more likely to give birth to healthy offspring when they do breed). Better nutrition improves sensory input, and it improves mental processing speeds as well. Basically, the better nourished your offspring are from birth onward, the better suited they are to survive for longer, and have more offspring of their own.

    The beneficial effect of this 10% non-breeding population is one many cultures tried to replicate through cultural means – this is where we get things like polygamy and polygyny; it’s the origin of things like “bride price” and “dowry” (if you can’t afford to buy a breeding partner for all your children, the unpartnered ones become support personnel for their breeding siblings); it’s even the origin of things like strict patrilineal inheritance (all those younger sons? They were basically an “honour guard” for the eldest son, and they were supposed to be putting their efforts toward ensuring his family line continued regardless). Basically, any cultural system which is set up such that there are certain people who literally cannot afford to have children, but who are regarded as being valuable to the family or clan group, is trying to duplicate or heighten this effect.

    (The thing to note is humans have spent a lot longer as hunter-gatherers than they have in any other cultural configuration – consider the cultural systems of extant tribes of chimpanzees as an example of how far back that one reaches).

  26. chigau (違う) says

    polygamy: more than one spouse
    polygyny: more than one wife
    polyandry: more than one husband

  27. Buzz Parsec says

    chrislawson, #25, point 2 is clearly incorrect. Men are hunters. Hunters often need to pursue wounded prey. Wounded prey are often bleeding. Blood is red. Therefore men are evolutionarily disposed to be be superior red perceivers. This is science. See how it works? Don’t bother me with surveys or facts or data. Can I have my PhD now?

    BTW, red-green color blindness is because sometimes men need to chase down ferocious wounded horseshoe crabs at the same time we are hunting mammoths. Horseshoe crabs are from Vulcan.

  28. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    @ Buzz Parsec,

    You’re wrong. Red-green colorblindness is due to the fact that REAL MEN DON’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT TRAFFIC LIGHTS. IF WE WANT TO GO WE WILL FUCKING WELL GO!

  29. chrislawson says

    Buzz Parsec@31: I bow to your superior evopsych logic.
    WaM@32: Almost as convincing as Buzz, but you did not explain the sexually dimorphic adaptive benefit of crashing red lights!

  30. chrislawson says


    That’s a really interesting comment — thank you. I would say though that the link between ancient health texts and this paper are fairly tenuous. Remember, the authors aren’t just claiming that female same-sex attraction might be beneficial in a polygamist society, they are arguing that it is an evolutionary adaptation that explains why it exists. This is a huge leap that the authors have completely glossed over. (They completely ignore that female same-sex pleasuring has been observed in our close relatives the bonobos, even though bonobos do have a decidedly anti-harem-like social structure.)

    And using evopsych logic, one could also argue that male same-sex attraction would be beneficial in a society where the male:female sexual availability ratio is highly skewed by polygamy — but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that polygamist cultures are more tolerant of male homosexual behaviour; naturally, a lack of evidence seems no barrier to publication of this kind of wild hypothesising. I should survey 40 men in one town about how they feel about manscaping (because traditional gender-bound morons would assume that manscaping is more of a gay activity) and then use this to support that hypothesis.

  31. Marissa van Eck says

    Oh, we don’t evolve strictly by leveling up; it requires a Yuri Stone and at least 150 EVs in Teh Ghey.

  32. prae says

    An idea I had once: homosexual behaviour, in the sense of monogamous homosexual pairing, used to be a mechanism to take care of orphaned children. In the sense that in some early groups of humans non-procreating pairs used to adopt orphaned children, which increased the overall fitness of the whole group.

    I’m not even sure how old the whole “monogamous pair” thing is, though…

  33. The Mellow Monkey says


    Why do people assume that gay folks don’t have kids?
    Also, three cheers for the bi erasure in all of this.


    If you absolutely must make adaptive arguments about the existence of LGBTQQIA people, then you need to account for the diversity of queer identities. Here’s the GLAAD survey on the topic from this year.

    Why do 20% of Millennials identify as some flavor of queer, in contrast to 5% of those over 72+? Could–gasp!–culture also have an influence on self-reported information?

    Across all age groups except for the possible exception of 52-71, bisexual (especially if you lump this with pansexual) and asexual dominate over the strictly gay/lesbian category. Arguments about asexuality leading to a lack of children fall flat on their face when you actually speak to ace-spec people, though: asexual and celibate are two different things. I do wish this had broken down the difference between asexual and aromantic as well, since there’s further information getting obfuscated here.

    Additionally, 12% of Millennials on that survey put down that they were something other than cisgender, but the existence of people who challenge the gender binary is always ignored in these sorts of discussions. Just the simple fact that gay or lesbian couples can have children without any input from someone else is never considered.

    Some studies have found gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are twice as likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy than their straight peers. Then there are all of the planned pregnancies and the lengthy human history of marriage and partnership having little to do with personal desire. There are more queer people in the world than there are people with naturally red hair. We’re here. We’re queer. We have families.