Pointing Fingers at Sexuality

Could a palm reader be trusted to predict your sexuality? According to a new study, hand proportion could be an indicator of sexual preference. However, just like palmistry, and fortune telling in general, the findings of the study should be considered with an abundant and healthy dose of skepticism.

Image by Joy Silver via Flickr

The findings, published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, state that if the lengths of a woman’s left index and ring fingers are not equal she is less likely to be straight. Previous studies have assumed that the difference in index-to-ring-finger ratio has to do with exposure to testosterone. Males generally have a longer ring finger while females tend have them equal.

To avoid confounding factors, the study looked exclusively at identical twin pairs. They observed 18 female pairs and 14 male pairs with all having differences in their sexual orientation. The females with non-straight preferences had a greater proportion of ‘masculine’ hands in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts. But given this result it’s still incredibly unlikely you’d be able to predict a person’s sexuality by looking at their hands alone.

First off, the number of participants in the study is too small to make any assumptions about the general population. In the past, the masculine finger length configuration has been linked to athletic prowess and intelligence. But these studies have also lacked reproducibility and therefore may be as fruitless as predicting sexuality when extrapolated to the rest of the population.

Secondly, it’s important to note that the link between testosterone and finger length is far from confirmed. Known as the Manning hypothesis, this idea is used widely in biological and biobehavioural studies, but has not yet been clinically verified. A paper from six years ago completely failed to confirm the hypothesis.

And third, sexuality cannot have a single cause. And is definitely not all due to testosterone. A person’s sexuality is most likely comprised of many influencing factors. Broadly, these factors fall within genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors and therefore cannot be visualised by simply looking at a person’s hand.

Human sexuality is complex and fluid, and linking it to a simple agent such as testosterone limits our understanding. On top of that, the expectation that gay and bisexual men exhibit more feminine characteristics is deeply rooted in old stereotypes that we should have moved past now it’s 2018.

Instead of seeking to reduce sexuality down to single indicative trait, studies should aim to embrace the complexity of the issue and seek to understand it more completely. Maybe then we can move forward and better accommodate the spectrum of sexual preferences within our society.