The Lesbian Stereotypes Survey was conducted in September of 2018 by soliciting volunteer participants via Autostraddle.com. You can see an infographic displaying the demographics of our 12.3k survey respondents here.
In Season One of the masterwork lesbian cultural touchstone “The L Word,” Shane informs Dana, a closeted tennis player with lamentable gaydar, that one of a few ways to accurately spot a lesbian is to look at her fingernails — “are they long or short?” Alice follows this up with “polished or plain?” which surprised me, even at the time — it was my queer friends (and Lindsay Lohan tbh) who got me into nail polish in the first place and now I’m addicted to manicures, so based on my sample size of two (me and Lindsay Lohan Bisexual), I’m not sure what Alice was going for there. However, judging by the apparent abnormality of my request at the nail salon to always have mine cut “as short as possible,” it does seem like longer nails are more popular than short amongst the so-called “mainstream.”
This is not, however, the case when it comes to the queer women’s community!
Shane Was Right: We Usually Keep Our Nails Short
On our Lesbian Stereotypes Survey, 92% of the 12.3k respondents responded affirmatively to the question “do you usually keep your nails short?”, including 95% of lesbians and 95% of respondents currently in a relationship with a cis woman.
Before 5% of you @ me, I would like to acknowledge that it is of course entirely possible to externally stimulate and finger-fuck someone with long nails. You can either be very careful (which you should probably be doing anyways!) or you can wear gloves or, for extra protection, cotton-balls and gloves. “I’ll trim them down if my partner wants me to,” said one survey-taker, “But if I can rebuild an engine and build a circuit board all without fumbling anything or messying up my perfectly manicured nails then you should know that I’m not going to scratch anything you don’t want me to.” That’s feminism, ladies!
The Long AND the Short Of It
However — 200 of the 907 respondents with long nails left comments, and a significant percentage of those comments were informing me that it’s not like you keep all of your nails long. Just… most of them. “My ‘fingering nails’ are short the rest are long,” said one, while another divulged that they keep three short and the other seven flapping in the wind. “Just two on my dominant hand,” noted another enthusiastic finger-fucker. Yet another noted, “when I’m in relationships I usually have long nails on one hand, and short on the other.” Some bisexual women said their nail behavior was impacted by the gender of their partner, e.g., “I am less vigilant with length when single or dating a dude.”
Many others noted the current length of their nails reflected general “laziness” or that they would cut their nails if they were fucking anybody but since they aren’t, why bother? For these humans, the correlation between keeping short nails and having lesbian sex seem inexorably linked. But is it?
The Nails / Sex Connection
“Only cutting your nails when you have someone to fuck” is a thing — but not a super common thing. 92.6% of single people keep their nails short, only slightly less than the 92.8% of people who are “single and dating,” 92.9% who are “dating someone but not in an official relationship” or the 93.03% who are in a monogamous relationship. Least likely to keep itty-bitty nails? Those in non-monogamous relationships without a primary partner — only 85.6% do.
Concerns around nail length and lesbian sex tend to focus primarily on the act of finger-fucking, so it’s worth mentioning that not every lesbian sexual relationship involves fucking somebody else’s vagina with your fingers — only 32% of tops on our tops/bottoms survey like vaginal digital penetration, for example.
Some of you are dating people who don’t have vaginas (and yes I know that anal digital penetration exists and is great but it’s also not nearly as popular as the front-hole activities), and it does seem like doing so makes you more likely to grow out your nails — 84% of survey-takers in relationships with cis men keep their nails short, a full 11% less than those dating cis women. 86% of those in relationships with trans women keep their nails short — but a lot of trans women do have vaginas, so that number, while interesting to consider, is also… technically useless and inconclusive.
Short Nail Numbers are slightly lower for those identifying on the asexual spectrum too — 88%, compared to 93% of allosexuals. When it comes to sexual orientation amongst allosexuals specifically, those identifying primarily as “gay” come out on top of the short list (97.5%), followed by lesbians (95%), queers (93%), Sexually Fluid people (86.4%), bisexuals (86.3%) and pansexuals (85.8%). That being said, around 10% of bi/pan folks identify as “hard femme,” the gender presentation most likely to sport longer nails on our survey, compared to just 5% of lesbian and 4% of gay-identified people citing “hard femme” as resonant term for them.
My Nails Aren’t Long, I’m The Piano Man
I’ll tell you what — there are also SO many other reasons to keep your nails short than because you want to shove them inside somebody’s vagina. For example, we have at least 15 full orchestras accounted for on this survey. Personally, I find typing to be incredibly annoying with long nails, though I imagine people do it all the time. By the way if you play the guitar you have to have some of your nails short but also some of your nails long, which made this question challenging for so many fine acoustic friends.
Here are some of the things you told me that you keep your nails short for BESIDES LESBIAN SEX OKAY:
- to grip a pen more comfortably
- teaching rock climbing
- “fine detailing” when working as a sculptor
- playing the: piano, violin, cello, clarinet, guitar ukelele, unspecified percussion instruments
- boxing (“forming a fist with long nails is painful”)
- massage therapy
- pole dancing
- going to the beach (“I hate sand under my nails”)
- being a “soup chef”
- being an electrician
- being a nurse or a veterinarian or a midwife or otherwise working in the medical field
- playing sports
- working with horses
- “to keep from accidentally clawing my eyes out”
- typing and texting
- going to a Montesorri school
- working in the sciences “with heavy machinery, dangerous substances, latex gloves, etc”
Others had short nails due to nail-biting, sensory issues, or just a general preference that has absolutely nothing at all to do with sex, not at all!!! As Kristen Stewart’s manicurist once said of Kristen Stewart back in 2012, “She doesn’t like her nails to get too long.”
Why The Long Nails?
Like all lesbian stereotypes, there are a lot of sensitivities around how these community norms are maintained. “I have long fake nails because i feel more femme and it helps manage my dermatillomania,” added another human being, “but other queer women give me so much shit for it despite them posing no risk to genitals.”
Some of us do reflexively flinch when considering long nails in our genital regions, and many specifically cited this article which I should remind you was about somebody who had a rhinestone-tipped French manicure. Furthermore, short nails can be just as dangerous as long if they’re not smooth and filed.
Many people enjoy the feeling of long nails and find it integral to their identity. “I love the way that different nails allow for different kinds of touch and sensations,” wrote one. “I feel my most erotic with long painted nails.”
So far, this is the most overwhelmingly confirmed lesbian stereotype we’ve discussed — the chances that a queer woman or non-binary person has short nails are EXTREMELY HIGH, and therefore Shane was right, which I endeavor to suggest happens more often than many L Word cynics might argue! However, it’s not a sure thing, which’s probably why, after observing that the woman-in-question at The Planet has long polished nails, Shane does not state that she is straight, only that she is “leaning towards straight, but still need more info.” Never assume anything, I guess!
I’d like to end with this inspirational quote:
“A few years ago I got really into the nail art trend, and had long pointy nails. I was always afraid of wounding the girl in was hooking up with at the time. IVE READ THE ARTICLE OMG. I keep them short now, for reasons that are part laziness and part trying to signal queerness. I’m very femme, and I always hope that my short, unpainted nails will contrast with the rest of my very groomed look in a way that looks intentional. God why is this a thing I’ve spent so much time thinking about. I have no idea what I’m doing with my life, let alone my nails, I need to probably try a dating app or something.”