Can You Detect Bisexuality From the Sound of Someone’s Voice?
April 12, 2023 by Olivia Adams
You’ve probably heard the term gaydar before, which refers to an intuitive ability to determine whether or not someone is gay based on indirect information, such as speech patterns or movement. Research consistently finds that people can make gay/straight judgments at better than chance levels, suggesting that there is something to this idea.
But, of course, there are more than two sexual orientations. So do people also have an ability to intuit bisexuality? In other words, does bidar also exist? A recent study looked at whether people can detect bisexuality from vocal cues, so here’s a look at the methods and findings.
Speech as a Marker of Sexual Orientation
The idea that sexual orientation can be determined by specific speech patterns and other vocal cues has largely been explored and supported by studies on gay male speech both within the U.S. and in various European countries. There are several speech characteristics that have been linked to gay male vocal expression, many of which align with stereotypical representations of gay men (although, to be clear, there is wide individual variability and not all gay men share the same speech-based norms). Those characteristics include:
- Wider pitch range
- Longer vowels
- Expanded vowel space
- Negatively skewed /s/ pronunciation (also known as the ‘gay lisp’)
Reasons for adopting or utilizing these speech patterns vary. For example, some researchers suggest that, for gay men, motivations to actively reject heteronormativity may influence their own speech patterns (e.g., avoiding overtly “masculine” norms of social expression), which may influence others to perceive gay men as more feminine due to their rejection of notions of traditional masculinity.
For bisexual people, using speech to become visible to a broader LGBTQ community may be more complicated than it is for gay or lesbian people. Bisexuals experience double discrimination, or negative perceptions from both gay and lesbian as well as straight people. Double discrimination also appears to affect bisexual men more than bisexual women, likely due to existing beliefs that female sexuality is “naturally” more fluid than male sexuality. Because of this, bidar researchers suggest that bisexual men may participate in speech modulation and other types of behavior modifications that signal them as members of the LGBTQ community, but in a more nuanced and “in-between” way when compared to gay men’s participation in these norms.
A recent study published in The Journal of Sex Research explored whether a straight listener can detect if a man is bisexual from his voice alone. To tackle this question, the University of Sydney-based research team recruited 70 straight-identifying male and female university students to listen to short audio clips from 60 self-identified gay, bisexual, and heterosexual men reciting the first two lines of the Australian national anthem.
Listeners heard the voice clips twice in random order and were informed that equal portions of the voices belonged to gay, straight, and bisexual men in order to reduce listener bias that most voices belonged to straight men.
Listeners then gave several ratings related to the sexual orientation of the voices, including a 0 to 100 rating of voice femininity or masculinity, the perceived sexual orientation of the voice (gay, bisexual, or straight), and a rating on an expanded 9-point scale of sexual attraction based on the Kinsey scale (1 = exclusively attracted to men, 5 = attracted to men and women equally, 9 = exclusively attracted to women).
Gaydar =/= Bidar
Previous research on voice-based bidar is mixed, with some studies suggesting that listeners perceive bisexual voices as straighter than gay and lesbian voices but less straight than straight male and female voices, while others do not find the same “intermediary” quality of bisexual voice.
In the new study, while the straight listeners were able to accurately detect the sexual orientation of both straight and gay men’s voices, this was not true for the bisexual male voices. Furthermore, bisexual voices were also rated as being significantly more female-attracted than both gay and straight voices. Bisexual voices were also perceived as significantly more masculine than straight voices. In other words, bisexual men could not be accurately identified via voice alone and were, in fact, frequently perceived as straight and as the most masculine of the group.
Why Bisexual Men’s Voices Might be Perceived as More Masculine
According to the researchers, the unexpected finding that bisexual men were rated as more female-attracted and more masculine may reflect a conscious masking behavior that bisexual men adopt to protect themselves from hostility from the LGBTQ community. However, because the bisexual and gay speakers in this study were recruited from the gay dating app Grindr, the high perceptions of masculinity observed from the bisexual voices may also reflect sexual norms within the gay and bisexual casual dating space. Research on gay male dating preferences suggests that gay men tend to find masculine voices more attractive, so bisexual men might also modulate their voices in an overtly masculine way as a dating strategy when seeking other male partners.
It’s also important to note that like many minoritized people, bisexual men may participate in a kind of code-switching depending on their perceived audience. The research team noted that because the speakers in this study were reciting the Australian national anthem rather than speaking to another person in a more realistic interpersonal interaction, all of the decisions a person may make regarding their vocal choices were potentially muted through the study method. Additional research examining vocal inflection with different audiences (e.g., straight, gay, or bisexual audiences) would provide more nuance to the question of whether bidar exists.
Learn more about this research study here.
Do you think bidar is a real thing? Other than voice, what other “cues” might exist for bisexual identification, especially non verbal ones? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
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Research source: Morandini, J. S., Beckman-Scott, D., Madill, C., & Dar-Nimrod, I. (2023). BIDAR: Can Listeners Detect if a Man Is Bisexual from His Voice Alone?. The Journal of Sex Research, 1-13.
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >