Gareth May | Contributing Writer | Friday, 12 December 2014

Was 2014 The Year Of Sexual Fluidity?

The Debrief: So It Turns Out That This Was The Year That...

Earlier today, I did the ‘Kinsey Scale test’. A mocked-up online questionnaire which mimics the sexual orientation evaluation criteria as set out by the 1940s pioneering sexologist – and lab-coat wearing sex hound – Alfred Kinsey. 

Kinsey considered someone’s sexual orientation to be on a scale from heterosexuality to homosexuality – abandoning definitive ‘homosexual’, ‘heterosexual’ and indeed ‘bisexual’ labels.

Bearing in mind that this is a simple test (Kinsey’s originally observations and theories were developed from hours of one-on-one interviews regarding sexual preferences and fantasies) I scored one – ‘Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual.’

Now, here’s the question. Would I have scored the same if I’d have taken the test, say, ten years a go? I know one thing. Some of my answers would’ve varied. For example ‘Would I find a threesome with a couple awkward specifically because of the presence of the man?’ Ten years a go, in such circumstances, I probably would’ve shouted ‘Yikes’ like Scooby Doo and made a dash for the toilet. These days, I’m not so sure. 

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Do ‘I avoid watching gay pornography?’ No. I don’t avoid watching any kind of pornography. My motto is: ‘If it gets you off, it gets you off, baby’ and it’s for that precise reason I quit half way through ‘2 Men, 1 Horse’.

My point is, if the questionnaire is right and I am ‘incidentally homosexual’ when I might have been 0 or ‘Exclusively heterosexual’ a decade a go what does that say about my sexuality? One could ask, am I experiencing sexual fluidity?

Sexual Fluidity is a simple concept. Dr. Dylan Selterman, writing on the blog Science of Relationships, describes sexual fluidity as thus, ‘Like any other social trait, sexual preferences, attitudes, behaviours, and identity can be flexible to some degree. People’s sexual responses are not set in stone, and can change over time, often depending on the immediate situation they’re in.’

The example he gives is that of a heterosexual who finds his or herself in a environment surrounded only but the same gender. An increase in sexual or romantic attraction to the same gender in this instance would be considered sexual fluidity. If you’ve ever watched Orange is the New Black you’ll understand the concept.

But sexual fluidity isn’t tied to gender preferences, it’s a variable which acts alongside sexual orientation. One can identify with being heterosexual or homosexual but can suddenly desire a partner of the same or opposite sex, respectively; someone who considers themselves ‘vanilla’ in the bedroom could find themselves intrigued by BDSM; a bisexual woman who has always had feminine lovers finds herself in bed with a woman showing masculine traits. All are examples of sexual fluidity.

So, if most of you went and did the Kinsey test right now would you score different from that of your former, younger self? Would your sexual interests and attitudes have changed over the years? Obviously, devoid of a TARDIS it’s an impossible question to answer. Science, as always, is on the case. 

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In a seminal study by sexual fluidity academic Lisa M. Diamond, a group of ‘young non-heterosexual women’ were interviewed three times over five years. During this period a quarter of the women taking part in the study ‘gave up’ their lesbian/bisexual identities, half ‘reclaimed’ their heterosexual identities and half relinquished identity labels altogether.

However, only one of the women in the study attributed her same-sex identification as ‘a phase’. All of the other women attributed the changes to ‘how they interpreted or acted on their attractions.’ And that’s the key point. Being sexually fluid doesn’t expunge you from being gay, straight, csi or whatever, it simply suggests that your sexual preferences, attitudes and interests are transient.

And it’s not just women who experience sexual fluidity either. A 2006 study of a group of men in New York City revealed that out of those men who’d had sex with other men in the past 12 months, only a small percentage identified as ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’, the majority identified as ‘straight’.

Sociologist Chauntelle Tibbals believes sexual fluidity has been around ‘since forever’ but that awareness of such an idea is on the rise.

‘If we're thinking about “sexual fluidity” as pertaining to people’s sexual responses and said responses’ capacity to change over time, then most certainly – many people are sexually fluid in identity and/or practice,’ she says.

‘I don’t however necessarily believe that women and men are becoming more sexually fluid so much as I believe we are developing language for something that was always there,’ she adds. ‘This language being a result, in part, of evolutions we have made as a society as a whole [leading to] increases in both the use of the term and the understanding of sexual fluidity.’

Such ‘evolutions’, Tibbals asserts include understanding sexuality doesn’t necessarily have to do with a physical body and that gender identity and expression can be as much political as they may be constructed and/or pleasurable. 

‘Put simply,’ she concludes, ‘because we can finally wrap our minds around the idea of sexual fluidity, we will likely be seeing evidence of increased discussion etc as a collective culture.’

When I emailed the Skirt Club – a girls-only club for bicurious women in London – to ask whether or not sexual fluidity was on the rise, founder Geneviève Lejeune informed me that out of the 250 women members she has, 39 identify on the Kinsey Scale as 2 and 46 at 5 (‘Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual’). Only 8 and 7 identify as 1 and 2 respectively. The fact the Skirt Club use the Kinsey Scale in their sign-up process suggests a progressive stance on sexuality. It certainly makes a change from the swathes of dating sites with a ‘Interested in Men/Women’ checkbox. As Kinsey himself said: ‘The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats.’ Presuming of course that he wasn't literally talking about sheep and goats.

It seems to me that we simply change as sexual beings throughout our lives. Some, yes, more than others. I have no doubt for instance that there are those who stay on either side of Kinsey’s spectrum (exclusively heterosexual/exclusively homosexual) and never shift. 

But by the same token there are those for whom attitudes and attractions evolve. It might just be for a summer – falling for the tomboy with the voice like Billy Corgan – or the twilight years of one’s life – when the biggest concern when slipping on the latex is incontinence – but whether we’re lovers, old romantics, or just jacked-up horny little souls we are all transient in our own little ways. Sexual fluidity is just the term for that and it’s one we should celebrate.

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Tags: Sex, Sex O\'Clock