Defining our sexual experiences and ourselves as heterosexual, gay or bisexual grants a certain personal and interpersonal stability, but what we say publicly doesn’t always match what our bodies really desire. Recent studies found substantial differences between men and women, concerning their stated sexual orientation and the physiological responses registered in front of sexual stimuli. In particular, heterosexual women’s responses seem to be more nuanced and less bonded to what they label themselves as.
The results of a research dated October 2015 reinforce the idea that female sexuality is more variable than the male’s one. One of the most important authors of this study, Gerulf Rieger, stated that: “Women are either bisexual or gay, but never straight”. One of the goals of this analysis was to verify if women who labelled themselves as straight showed sexual excitement towards the same sex. First of all, they asked the 152 participants to define their sexual orientation on a continuum going from “straight” to “lesbian”, through a series of nuanced categories (e.g. mostly straight, bisexual, bisexual leaning lesbian, etc.). After that, researchers showed them videos of straight or gay sexual intercourse and masturbation. During the vision, their excitement was measured (based on genital blood flow and pupil dilatation).
The results indeed found that most women who identified as heterosexuals were aroused by videos of both attractive men and women; instead, self-identified lesbians exhibited maximum response to gay, and not straight, videos. These results led to two important conclusions:
- Women who identify as straight are attracted to other women, no matter what they state about their preferred gender;
- Sexual responses of lesbians, on the contrary, are coherent with the stated preference and show a male-tipically response pattern: heterosexual men show excitement responses just for the opposite gender, consistently to what they say. This kind of response was called “category-specific”, which means generated only by the preferred gender (Chivers et. al, 2004) and seem to be applicable to gay women too, who are therefore said to be more alike men. (Rieger et Al., 2015).
In general, these results reinforce the idea of a more “fluid” female sexuality, not directly linked to gender, as opposed to men’s sexuality. A previous research found sexual responses from both straight and gay women to the vision of straight and gay stimuli, also for videos of animal sexual intercourse (bonobos or chimpanzees; Chivers et. al, 2007). This could explain the female sexual activation in front of gay videos as a more general and less “specific” response (as it is, on the contrary, for males) and confirm a bigger sexual variability in females.
The above studies were clearly focused on the physiological responses of the body, affirming the idea that women are more sexually fluid than men, as the psychiatrist Lisa M. Diamond underlined. In her book “Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire” she explains how she observed women romantic relationships, focusing on emotional dynamics and not just on the physical reactions. In the book, she talks about “female sexual fluidity”, stating that women’s sexual desires are more fluid than men’s. Indeed, she noticed the choice of a partner is motivated by lots of factors, such as the woman’s life stage, her social group and what she actually gets on the emotional level, flying over the partner’s gender and favouring intensity of feelings and affection that grow during the relationship: “I fall in love with the person, not the gender”.
Psychological sciences and techniques student at Parma University
Translated by Silvia Sanzò
G. Rieger, M. L. Chivers & J. M. Bailey (2015). Sexual arousal and masculinity-femininity of women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5.8. Doi: 10.1037/pspp0000077.
Bailey, J. M.,(2009). What is Sexual Orientation and Do Women Have One? Nebraska Symposium On Motivation. Doi:10.1007/9780387095561_-3
Diamond, L. M, (2009). Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. Hardvard University Press.
Seto, M. C. & Blanchard, R.(2007). Gender and Sexual Orientation Differences in Sexual Response to Sexual Activities Versus Gender of Actors in Sexual Films. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Doi: 10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1998.
Chivers, M. L., Rieger, G., Latty, E., Bailey, J. M. (2004). A Sex Difference in the Specificity of Sexual Arousal. PubMed.