Rigid notions of masculinity and societal gender roles are a part of how we understand sex from a young age. Many of us tend to think in binaries, and want to put sexual identities in one category or another without really considering the human behind the sex.
The idea of a “fixed” sexual orientation is common for both men and women, but sexual fluidity tends to be a bit more understandable in women. Perhaps the conception that women are more sensual and emotional and the need for men to be the opposite lends to the idea of rigid masculinity and sexual attraction. Even the popular media hyper-sexualizing women could be a factor.
According to the Pew Research Center social trends, an overwhelming majority of 92 percent of LGBTQIA+ individuals report feeling more accepted in society. But even as general acceptance rises, the center reports, the perceived acceptance of bisexual women with 33 percent is higher than that of bisexual men with 8 percent.
A New York Times article in 2005 by Benedict Carey investigated a controversial study that supports the opinion that bisexuality in males is not a distinct or stable orientation.
“People who claim bisexuality, according to these critics, are usually homosexual, but are ambivalent about their homosexuality or simply closeted,” Carey wrote. “‘You’re either gay, straight or lying,’ as some gay men have put it.”
Society’s apparent need for a binary, or a kind of “one or the other” mindset is obviously misguided. More often than not, LGTBQIA+ people change orientations over the course of their lives. Sexuality is something we shouldn’t fit into restrictive categories.
Labels are helpful for general identifications, but can never fully describe a person’s sex life. The Daily Dot’s Nico Lang speaks about male sexuality and fluidity in his opinion article and thinks that labels may not be as helpful as we think.
“To be honest, though, I’ve never found labels to be all that descriptive of sexuality as I know it,” Lang wrote.
If a man who considers himself homosexual has sex with a woman, that doesn’t make him heterosexual or bisexual, the same way eating vegetarian for a week doesn’t make you a full vegetarian. Sexuality is fluid whether we want to equate ourselves with an orientation or not.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller quotes research from a study of sexual fluidity in men by Dr. Lisa Diamond in his blog. He says that Diamond found that of the women in her study who identified as lesbians, 35 percent selected at least one other identity as well. Of the men who identified as gay, 36 percent also selected at least one other identity.
The statistics suggest that men have just as much sexual fluidity with identification as women, and maybe even more so, challenging the claim that the sexualities of men are more “fixed” than women. The truth is that anyone can change over the course of their life, and many do.
“Someone who is sexually fluid may experience fluctuations in who they are attracted to, who they sleep with, and what labels they identify with multiple times over the lifespan,” Lehmiller wrote.
Since studies have shown that there are more people who are sexually fluid than societal norms suggest, labels in these cases aren’t so helpful. The answer may not be to get rid of labels altogether, but we should think about them a little less strictly.
Reach columnist Taylor McAvoy at email@example.com. Twitter: @TaylorMcAvoy105