Research on women’s sexuality suggests that many of us aren’t exclusively straight or gay.
Researchers at the Boise State University have found that most women are bisexual by nature. Also, they discovered that these bisexual feelings increase with age. During this study, 484 heterosexual women were surveyed. 60 percent of them responded that they were sexually attracted to other women, 45 percent had already kissed with a woman and about half of the participants had fantasized about it.
Professor in Psychology Elizabeth Morgan says that heterosexual women often feel more than ‘just’ friendship for their girlfriends. Previous research did show that 20 percent of women are attracted to other women. This could explain why women tend to have a more physical relationship with each other than men have. Several experts mention that women’s friendships are hardly different from romantic friendships. Morgan: “Women are encouraged to bond emotionally. This could lead to the development of romantic feelings.”
On the other hand, women who, at a younger age, believe to be exclusively attracted to women, tend to change their minds too. For a period of 15 years, psychologist Lisa Diamond followed a group of women who first said to be attracted to the same sex. Her data shows how their sexuality develops over time. At the end of the study she asked them to identify their sexual orientation again, giving them the options ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’, ‘heterosexual’ or ‘indeterminate.’
Surprisingly, Diamond discovered that every woman had repeatedly changed her sexual orientation. “The older women get, the more often they define their sexuality as ‘indeterminate’. They feel that their sexuality can’t be confined. We generally think of getting older as becoming more sure of who we are and what we want. In this case, the opposite seems to be true.”
What Women Really Want
For women, sexual fluidity—the capacity to be attracted to both men and women—goes back to our sexual wiring.
In a 2007 study, Meredith Chivers, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Ontario, showed participants a series of videos, ranging from nude exercise to homosexual and heterosexual sex to bonobo chimpanzees getting busy. She measured genital arousal and found an interesting pattern: Heterosexual women were turned on by sexual activity, while men and women attracted to women were turned on by gender. In fact, heterosexual women showed a stronger response to bonobo sex than they did to a naked man exercising! (Sorry, guys.)
But psychological arousal didn’t follow. Even though women responded physically to bonobo sex, they didn’t actually feel aroused. (Which, frankly, is a relief.) The reasons for the disconnect are complicated—and still hypothetical. One possibility is that, since women are less able to see and sense physical arousal, they may respond to contextual cues instead. That could actually be a boon, allowing women to make more rational decisions about who to sleep with and when.
If anything, women’s arousal toward one gender trends female. For heterosexual women who report no same-sex attraction, Chivers has found that images of men and women are equally arousing. For women with even the slightest same-sex attraction, the gender balance tips and they become progressively more aroused by women than men. “For women, there seems to be more gray area, and more potential for same-sex attraction,” says Chivers.
Internet behavior—a way of looking at what we do when no one is watching—supports the idea that women’s sexuality has many shades of gray.
Ogi Ogas, Ph.D., a computational neuroscientist and co-author of “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” analyzed more than a billion web searches, half a billion search histories and millions of erotic websites and e-books. He found that women were most interested in erotic stories (like fan fiction or romance novels) and that their gender preferences varied, without any clear pattern. Ogas explains that a woman is just as likely to search for “sexy pictures of Jake Gyllenhaal” one moment and “sexy pictures of Keira Knightley” the next.
Of course, that may have more to do with self-comparison (is my stomach as flat as Keira’s?) than sexual arousal. “Women in the media are often sexualized and women constantly get the message that appearance should be important to them, so they’re used to viewing women in a sexualized way,” says Morgan. She points out that women often find other women attractive, but sometimes struggle to figure out whether they’re actually interested in women or simply used to sizing up women’s beauty.
All these shades of gray leave a bit of confusion about what ‘heterosexual’ actually means. Students often come to Morgan saying, “I had a fantasy or a dream about someone of the same sex. Does that mean I’m gay?” Not necessarily, she says. “You can still be heterosexual and have interests, experiences or fantasies with the same sex.”
Essentially, ‘heterosexual,’ ‘bisexual,’ or ‘lesbian’ are just labels we choose, usually representing our dominant preference. What those labels actually represent for each individual comes in every color of the rainbow.
Why limit yourself? Meet Bisexual Women Now!