By Georgina Horn | @georgina_horn
Subedited by Jasmine Wing
Sexuality, gender identity, femininity… if you haven’t heard any of these terms over the last three years there is a chance that you may have been living under a rock. Our identities are arguably at their most sexually diverse in history, with 1 in 50 people in the UK identifying as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual. However, sexuality is more complex than these binary labels may suggest, as more and more people are calling themselves sexually fluid. Despite this, when it comes to addressing female sexuality, it is common to assume that women are more sexually fluid and open than their male counterparts, but why? How long has this expectation existed and is there any truth to it? There’s no ‘straight answer’, excuse the pun, but an analysis of these social and scientific reasons can help explain it.
Admittedly, the porn industry is the sole contributor to this assumption but pornography begins to explain where this notion may have derived from. The popularity of ‘girl on girl’ pornography has perhaps normalised the concept of two women being together. On Pornhub, the category ‘lesbian porn’ was the most searched term of 2017 and has been for three years running. Yet this statistic does not comment on the predominantly male viewership of this category. With this in mind, women may feel an expectation to adhere to a lesbian fantasy because they know men enjoy it. That being said, a woman’s sexual preference is more complex than just visually satisfying a man’s desires, (much to the male’s surprise).
In the past, the mainstream ‘lesbian porn’ category has been criticised as patriarchal, and deemed not an accurate depiction of authentic lesbian sex. However, it wouldn’t be crazy to assume it is this existing patriarchal attitude that has allowed women to embrace sexual fluidity, rather than being scorned. It is true that pornography may have contributed to normalising attitudes towards ‘girl on girl’ sex, but is this the way in which the bisexual / lesbian community would like?.
Gendered Attitudes & Pop Culture.
The attitudes surrounding displays of affection in male and females are quite the contrast from each other. Deeply rooted societal norms tend to expect men to display limited levels of tenderness and vulnerability yet, for women, holding hands, swapping clothes and displaying their emotions are all platonic traits associated with femininity. If a man was to exhibit the same traits, he would instantly be subject to a label such as ‘camp’ or ‘gay’ and may have to resort to using terms such as ‘bromance’ almost to reassure others it’s an exclusively platonic friendship.’ In contrast to women, masculinity and sexuality for men are more rigid constructs. According to the ONS, (Office for National Statistics) Around 1.7% of males identified themselves as gay or lesbian in 2016 compared with 0.7% of females. However, 0.9% of females identified themselves as bisexual compared with just 0.6% of males. However, I don’t feel that these statistics are a true reflection of society.
Also, the lack of bisexual or sexually fluid male representations in pop culture is partly to blame for the contrast between male and female sexual fluidity. If I asked you to name a bisexual female celebrity, many high profile names such as Angelina Jolie, Fergie and Cara Delevingne surface. Yet if I was to ask you to name a bisexual male celebrity, the list is a lot smaller! Sure, there are a few famous names out there like Billie Joe Armstrong and Frank Ocean, but the list is significantly lacking in comparison.
Various scientific studies have suggested that it is within a woman’s genetic makeup not to be exclusively heterosexual. A recent study from Scientific Reports monitored the brain activity of straight, bisexual and gay women as they were exposed to sexually arousing stimuli. Surprisingly, the results concluded that “women have tended to show substantial arousal to both male and female sexual stimuli, regardless of which sex they prefer,” according to the study author Adam Safron of Northwestern University. However even these findings must take into account a nature versus nurture view on sexuality. Could the exposure and attitudes towards sexual fluidity for women be a contributing factor to these findings? I would argue that men being less likely to ‘explore’ their sexuality than women is mainly due to societal opinions.
Overall, It is difficult to provide a straight answer as you cannot ‘measure’ sexual fluidity as such. Despite various methods created to try and pinpoint fluidity such as the Kinsey Scale, no fancy chart can really categorise an individual’s sexuality; a person’s sexuality is unique and subjective to them – that is the beauty of it. Someone could identify as bisexual, yet feel a stronger attraction towards women, whilst someone with the exact same label may have a stronger preference towards men. I believe we should move away from trying to put everyone into categories such as gay and straight, and male and female, and just accept that sexuality and gender are on a spectrum.