In a twist confirming the plotline of many porn films made for straight men, a new study claims that when it comes to arousal, all women are at least a little bit into women. For women who have already confirmed they are into women (like me), the results leave me with more questions than answers. Straight women have been rejecting my offers to split an Awesome Blossom at Chili’s for more than a decade. What’s going on here?
According to lead researcher Gerulf Rieger from the University of Essex, “Even though the majority of women identify as straight, our research clearly demonstrates that when it comes to what turns them on, they are either bisexual or gay, but never straight.”
Rieger surveyed 345 female participants, wondering if there was a connection between sexual orientation and “nonsexual behaviors and characteristics” — in layman’s terms, one’s masculine or feminine presentations. In gay-woman’s terms, I think of things like: How prominent were their chain wallets? Did they ride a motorcycle to the study? To determine what the women were aroused by, Rieger and his team showed participants videos of naked men and women and then analyzed their responses, using predictors such as pupil dilation and genital arousal.
While the lesbians were found to be much more attracted to women, pupil-wise, results showed that all the participants were at least a little bit turned on by other ladies, even if they identified as fans of the wang.
Of course, this is far from the first study to suggest that women’s genitals are unpredictable, like sexual tyrannosauruses. For this reason, when someone asks me to describe my sexuality, I often respond not with a word, but with a haiku:
My heart is gay, but my vagina is less discriminatory.
Perhaps the most prominent study on women’s sexual fluidity is Meredith Chivers’s research from 2008, which found that women were turned on by just about everything, including footage of bonobos doin’ it. Chivers hooked participants up to a photoplethysmograph, a tiny flashlight that measures blood flow to their genitals, and found that women responded physiologically to videos of masturbation, couples making love, women with women, men with men, men with women, and monkey with monkey.
“Women physically don’t seem to differentiate between genders in their sex responses, at least heterosexual women don’t,” Chivers told the New York Times. “For heterosexual women, gender didn’t matter. They responded to the level of activity.”
And yet, ensuing headlines on Chivers’s research did not read, “Science says women are all kinda into monkeys.”
Sexual desire, arousal, and identity are all complicated forces that often conflict with each other when it comes to women. But the study fails to take into account a few factors that might complicate its all-women-are-a-tiny-bit-gay hypothesis. The first is that women exhibit arousal nonconcordance, which is a sexy way of saying there is only a 10 percent overlap between what a woman’s genitals (or pupils) are doing and her subjective level of arousal. Ten percent! With men, their genitals respond somewhat predictably with their subjective arousal, that is 50 percent of the time. So half the time a man gets an erection, it’s due to something he finds sexually appealing, and the other half of the time, it’s a willy-nilly willy. But with women, 90 percent of the time, her body and brain are on completely different wavelengths. In other words, a woman’s genitals respond to ANY stimuli it deems sexually relevant (hence, chimp fucking), but it doesn’t mean women necessarily find that stimuli sexually appealing (or secretly want to act on it).
Arousal nonconcordance is one of the reasons that simply prescribing Viagra to women doesn’t work. In both men and women, Viagra increases blood flow to the genitals, but just because there’s activity going on down there in women, it doesn’t mean anything’s going on up here, in our brains, which is incredibly important to women actually becoming aroused, as opposed to simply lubricated or exhibiting “ecstasy eyes.”
In fact, a lot of “sexually relevant stimuli” are things we may actively find pretty gross, which probably explains the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. If that’s too easy a target for you, consider the last time you exhibited signs of sexual arousal over a stimulus you found unappealing, say watching a rape scene in a movie. Most of us probably feel a little squicked out by being physiologically turned on by watching a rape scene, even in a potentially fictionalized scenario. But our genitals are trained to notice what’s sexually relevant (for instance, graphic sexual images) and report that back to us, regardless of whether we want to be turned on or not.
Another kink in the study’s “never straight” conclusion is that we are all culturally conditioned to sexually objectify women. It’s practically our part-time job, and its disastrous ramifications have been linked to substance abuse, body shame, eating disorders, and even poor math performance in women. It wouldn’t be all that surprising then if women saw yet another image of an attractive woman dry-humping a hamburger (or equivalent stimuli) and her genitals responded accordingly, even if — EVEN IF — she did not actually want to have sex with a woman, or a sandwich.
As a bisexual lady, I of course want there to be more bisexual ladies in my pants, but not without the involvement of their brains, cognizant awareness, and sexual identities. Because when it comes to sexual desire, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.