Content warning: this post discusses biphobia and sapphophobia
Well well well. I have a confession to make. I only drink from the furry cup because I had a shit education and I’m ugly. I’m not being self-deprecating, there’s science behind it. There’s a study and everything!
Unfortunately, it was a conference presentation, so we don’t have very much to go on in critiquing the study, so a brief summary from what I can glean from the reporting: the study tracked men and women between adolescence and young adulthood, asking them whether they identified as “100% heterosexual”, heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual or 100% homosexual at four different points. Education, physical attractiveness and delaying childbirth were all factors associated with identifying as 100% heterosexual. The author interprets her findings indicate:
“Women who are initially successful in partnering with men, as is more traditionally expected, may never explore their attraction to other women. However, women with the same sexual attractions, but less favorable heterosexual options might have greater opportunity to experiment with same-sex partners.”
“I do not think that women are strategically selecting an advantageous sexual identity or that they can ‘choose’ whether they find men, women, or both sexually attractive. Rather, social context and romantic experience might influence how they perceive and label their sexual identity.”
One doesn’t have to read much between the lines to see the implication that the less attractive, less educated of us have trouble getting a man so might turn towards just being gals being pals.
While I don’t have much to go on here, there’s a couple of holes in what’s reported which means I have a lot to query on this study.
The causality could go the other way. Hetero women are at an advantage. The world likes them a lot better than us scuzzy queers. Is it any wonder that straight women, therefore, are considered more physically attractive, and get better educational opportunities, and can choose when they have kids? LGBT people have poor health outcomes, which isn’t usually conducive getting an education or looking sexy. Bisexuals have the worst health of all. So, these advantages for straight women might not be because they’re lucky, but because they’re straight. It’s their straightness that causes their better education, attractiveness and reproductive choices, not their better education, attractiveness and reproductive choices causing their straightness. To me, it seems pretty fucking obvious that the causality would go that way round. Anyway, this is all assuming that this was all measured pretty well. You see…
Physical attractiveness is a pretty difficult thing to measure. Bluntly put, there’s two ways to measure physical attractiveness. Firstly, you ask people how attractive they think they are. Given that living under stigma in a society that tells them they’re disgusting has pretty dire consequences on self-esteem (especially if they try to hide it rather than coming out young) it wouldn’t exactly be surprising if they were reporting themselves less physically attractive than the straight women. The other way you can measure physical attractiveness is show their picture to a panel and ask the panel to rate how hot they are. This is, obviously, highly affected by the panel, and maybe things like short hair and tattoos and not meticulously depilating every inch of your body because you’re less interested in what men think might affect the judgment–in other words, because straight women only want to go for men, perhaps they’re rated as more attractive under patriarchal beauty standards because they’re more likely to have to live up to them.
Sexual orientation is also fucking difficult to measure. Just last week, we had this conversation, didn’t we? Just giving people a list of options might not exactly result in covering the diversity of their experience, their attraction, and heck, their own identity. This probably explains better why men’s sexual orientations didn’t change so much as women’s–not because men’s sexual orientation is fixed and immutable while women’s is not, but because it’s a different kind of stigma that men face, and one which does not allow for anything to change.
It’s not exactly a long time between adolescence and young adulthood. You probably don’t have it figured out just yet. I am thirty now, and I still haven’t figured myself out, except acknowledging that I am a work in progress and I probably always will be. Who knows where these people will shift to later in life: if they do shift. I’m not convinced one can draw conclusions based on a sample over a very short period of time.
It’s a conference presentation. That’s very different to a peer-reviewed paper. At conferences, what often happens is preliminary findings are presented. Sometimes they go on to be published, sometimes they don’t. In fact, a whopping 91% of the time, they don’t. So, this could be something crappy which will be stuck away in a desk drawer, maybe to be trotted out occasionally in a popular science book as though it’s proper science.
All this study does is reinforce the general quite icky stereotypes about bi women, and the reporting is downright irresponsible. It’s sad, because from the data, it looks like there’s some interesting stuff going on about shifting sexual identities: stuff that might warrant further examination if the interpretation weren’t so flawed.