Sexual Fluidity: Why gay and straight shouldn’t be the only options
I have a girlfriend who heard that her boyfriend once had a sexual relationship with a dude. She concluded that he was definitely gay and she may have to break-up with him, even asking me if he was attracted to her because she has a masculine chin. This is problematic on so many levels! It is pride month and one way to celebrate is to get educated about our LGBTQI brothers, sisters and non-binary folks! We need to learn more about this community, beginning with putting an end to the somehow still prevalent notion that sexual orientation is binary. As humans, we are naturally wired to categorize people to make deductions about their behavior. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, the problem is in terms of sexual orientation, we need to add a lot of additional categories, as gay and straight just won’t cut it.
When discussing sexual orientation, it is imperative to think about how one’s gender impacts the way we perceive their sexuality. Specifically, it seems that there is a gender difference, where it is often eroticized when women are more sexually fluid but not when men are. Thinking back to all the parties I went to where boys dared girls to kiss other girls. We all thought this was fun and innocent and didn’t think it signified anything about their sexual orientation. However, if two boys kissed it was more likely to be perceived as more significant, and may lead people to make assumptions about their sexual orientation. Even thinking of celebrities, do you think that if Biggie and Eminem kissed it would be regarded the same way as Britney and Madonna’s kiss? Or is it more likely that a bunch of articles would come out arguing that Eminem is the bottom in their relationship and they we should have known Slim Shady was gay because of his high voice and silly performance name.
We need to shift our behavior and stop thinking of sexual fluidity, as young folks going through a “phase” and stop using terms like “lesbian until graduation” or “gay but doesn’t know it.” This terminology makes people feel stigmatized, or like there is something wrong with them to not be completely clear on their sexual orientation. Instead, we need to normalize experimentation for all genders, and help folks understand that one sexual experience does not define their orientation.
Kinsey was one of the first advocates against a binary definition of sexual orientation. Around 1950 he engaged in one of the largest sexuality studies of the time, interviewing thousands of people about their sexual orientation. He used a six point scale, which went from exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual and put people in categories based on their sexual history. The results were surprising for the time and helped us to understand how fluid sexuality can be. For example, his results found that 37% of men and 1 3% of women had a same sex encounter leading to orgasm (maybe part of the difference in the stats has to do with how much harder it is to make women cum than men!). Although this was a big step for the time, Kinsey’s work still categorized everyone in his study as either gay, bisexual or straight.
Despite Kinsey’s groundbreaking work, it wasn’t until more recently that folks are slowly becoming more comfortable hanging out in the grey area between gay and straight. In fact, a recent study in the UK found that of 18-24 year olds asked how they sexually identify, one in two reported an orientation other than 100% straight. This is a huge contrast with responses of the general public in the UK, where 72% of individuals identified as exclusively straight. This is exciting, because it shows that there is less stigma around having different identities among the younger folk.
I think a really good way to think about changing sexual identities, is through the concept of sexual fluidity, coined by Lisa Diamound. She describes it as “a capacity for a change in sexual attraction—depending on changes in situational or environmental or relationship conditions.” Rather than denying sexual orientation as a thing, sexual fluidity builds in a little bit of wiggle room. At one point in one’s life you can feel attracted to the same sex or those that are more feminine, however at other times you may feel completely straight or attracted to those that exhibit more masculine traits.
I think that we have made a lot of progress in understanding sexuality in this way. Recent T.V. shows and movies are making a lot of headway, such as Sex Education, which shows it to be completely normal for one character to first date a boy and then later be attracted to a girl. Normalizing a flexibility in sexual orientation, and not showing it like she was with the boy until she realized she was a lesbian, but instead normalizing her attraction to both genders is a very helpful message for younger adolescents. Through breaking down stereotypes and opening up endless possibilities of sexual identities, everyone can be more free to experiment in the way that feels right to them and we can have a more open and fun world.