Girl-on-Girl Hookups and Sexuality Categories

Salon had an article (free w/ day pass) last week titled "Live girl-on-girl action!" about a new trend of girls making out with other girls to turn guys on at high school and college parties. Is this sexual liberation or regression, it asks?

Like the oral sex epidemic in teenageland, the big question here is whether girls are succuming to guys’ wishes and being dishonest to their own desires.

I can attest to the trend, but my question isn’t whether girls are "on their knees" — I think they are, I think a pornified culture is hurting women — but whether teens’ new sexuality categories will endure after school. For example, in this article we read terms such as "bicurious" or "heteroflexible." I think of the Foreign Policy article I blogged last year which predicted which instituations will be extinct in 20 years (monogamy was one). Clearly polygamy and singles engaging in new shades of bisexual behavior are different, but they’re related. Is "Lesbian Until Graduation" going to become "Lesbian Until I Feel Like It"? Will the terms Gay and Straight slowly become more entangled and thus less relevant?

One note related to the fuck buddy discussion on an earlier post. There’s a quote on this article on the one-off girl-girl hookups: "One of girls’ fantasies of hooking up with a guy you like is that they’ll want to date you, but that’s a tried-and-failed situation. If you go home with a guy [right away], you have a minimal chance of him taking you seriously."

24 Responses to Girl-on-Girl Hookups and Sexuality Categories

  1. Chris Yeh says:

    The tide of sexuality ebbs and flows. Just in this century, we’ve seen flappers and the 50s, the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, and the AIDS-induced hangover of the 80s.

    If you look at the writings of any period in history, you’ll always find people bemoaning the degeneracy of the present and pining for the moral fiber of the past. And yet we humans pretty much keep muddling along.

    As far as I’m concerned, what two or more consenting adults and their household appliances do in the privacy of their own home or swingers’ club is not my business!

    What I will do is caution people who believe that they can throw off millions of years of evolution at the drop of a hat:

    Homo Sapiens was designed so that a majority of adults would engage in monogamous heterosexual relationships (this is what is required to promote childbearing and childrearing–from an evolutionary standpoint, males require quasi-monogamy on the part of their female mates to ensure that their energies go into raising their own genetic offspring, rather than some other male’s).

    Variation is perfectly natural, but to expect some wild sea change is unrealistic.

    Furthermore, we are designed so that engaging in sexual relations tends to activate various emotional responses, even for men. Otherwise, why would men prefer sex to masturbation? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that “casual” sex is possible without unanticipated repercussions.

    After all, even in our supposedly pornified society, the #1 cause of death among porn stars is the self-inflicted gunshot wound. Many porn stars live wonderful, self-affirming lives. But many do not, and people are unwise to romanticize a cutthroat business, any more than they romanticize drug dealing or pimping.

  2. Jason says:

    Sexuality has always been an ambigious endeavor, dating back to Rome & Greece, though these days there are laws against having a 14 year old boy and a 35 year old man get together.

    People are doing what they feel like–for better or worse– and as long as they’re safe I really can’t see much problem with it.

    I agree w/ Chris in the respect that childrearing always does have some correlation in sexual relations, so many of these hook-ups and/or sexual shenanigans could very well end as soon as these people wish to raise children.

    As for our “pornified” culture… I wonder if any of these girls who feel they have to compete with adult film stars have actually met one.

    I have, and in fact, I’d go as far to call her a friend.

    She quit the business years ago, having earned the money she wished, and she was rather well known in the industry while she was in it.

    The most startling thing she told me is that sex, as it is in porn films, is an exaggerated form that is completley unrealistic, much in the way Hollywood films portray films. Even porn stars themselves don’t have sex like they do during their working hours.

    While this may seem like common sense, she never understood why girls in their teens felt the need try and mimic their actions on film; as if the teenage guys they are with could actually keep up!

    Of course, all this “gay-until-graduation” business pertains to women, b/c lord knows that no guy would admit to engaging in a bit of man-on-man action once in awhile and expect to keep his sense of masculinity.

    It is that double standard I find hardest to articulate to girls, for they usually reply with

    “Well, we’ve done it and nothingh happens to us, so why not you?”

  3. The Greek says:

    Jason, you are very correct, except in your affirmation that the Greeks had homosexual affairs. These are lies propagated by the media and pseudo-translators that misinterpreted the relationship between a master and his servants.

    Because people are jealous of the advancement and progress that existed 2,000 years ago under the Greeks, our modern age must give them undesirable qualities in order to justify the world today. I’m not saying that being gay is bad, I’m saying that most people in the world would disqualify the Greeks given some fauly information.

    The Greeks were never gay nor had homosexual affairs…EVERY single civilazation has had gay people, way back to the Egyptians and the philistines. And to single us Greeks out is reprehensible.

  4. Jason says:

    It was never my intention to single out the Greeks as a bunch of homosexuals.

    My comment “dating back to Rome & Greece” was to merely illustrate the fact that gay relationships have been around for thousands of years.

    I was under the assumption that sexual relations did indeed happen in the midst of the master/servant scenario, though I could be wrong.

    Whatever the case, please do not think I would ever single out any one group as a bunch of boy lovers, for that is not the case.

  5. Chris Yeh says:

    I have nothing against the adult film industry. But I echo Jason in cautioning people about using it as a model for human behavior.

    This Salon article makes this pretty clear:
    http://dir.salon.com/story/sex/feature/2002/06/05/forward/print.html

    As does the famous New Yorker article by Susan Faludi (no direct link, but here’s a commentary on it):
    http://www.lukeford.com/stars/male/cal_jammer.html

    Which was in turn an excerpt from her book, “Stiffed”:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000F6ZB8A/sr=8-1/qid=1152996994/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-6415985-7165531?ie=UTF8

  6. Ben Casnocha says:

    Chris – So you see this as just another passing fad that won’t deviate from what evolution requires of us in any meaningful way?

  7. Patrick Wendell says:

    Getting back to the post. One thing that has always confused me is that people consider it ok for a girl in a heterosexual relationship to hook-up with other girls, yet an identical hookup with a man is taboo. Why is this? What does it mean about our society that we assume any girl-on-girl hookup is completely meaningless (i.e. it doesn’t “count” as cheating).

    I have a girlfriend, and I would consider her hooking up with another girl as equivalent to me hooking up with some random girl I didn’t know. In both cases, the hookup is purely for fun and excitement, and not based on any type of “emotion” or “love” between the partners. Yet our society views these as completely different.

    Explain.

  8. Andy says:

    I have to disagree with Chris’ point that “Homo Sapiens was designed so that a majority of adults would engage in monogamous heterosexual relationships (this is what is required to promote childbearing and childrearing–from an evolutionary standpoint, males require quasi-monogamy on the part of their female mates to ensure that their energies go into raising their own genetic offspring, rather than some other male’s).” I think that looking at Robin Baker’s Sperm Wars might seriously change your opinion on this topic. What he said was that we are indeed not all designed to be in monogamous relationships, but instead to be sexually permiscious, because that is the most likely way that our genes will continue to be passed down. Cuckoldry and rape, among other things, are explained from an evolutionary perspective. Sperm are designed to battle it out within the woman’s body, including some sperm that aren’t even destined to reach the egg, but instead are simply there to block other men’s sperm from the path. Another fact to back his theories is that 10% of children raised by one “father” are actually genetically “fathered” by another man (of which the “father” is generally unaware). I would agree that women would want a man to help raise their child, but they might not want the genes in their child to be from that same man.

    To get back to the post, I agree that generally the “fuck-buddy” situation won’t really work out, and that girls don’t really care about making out with each other too much, they just do it to have fun and generally be the center of attention at the party. Honestly I think that it’s pretty harmless.

  9. Chris Yeh says:

    Andy is right about the sperm wars…another interesting effect is that the family of the mother tend to always emphasize how much the baby looks like the father.

    This is an unconscious attempt to combat the suspicions of the fathers (who, based on the 10% figure, have a lot to worry about).

    Nonetheless, I stand by my contention, and the fact that in 90% of the cases, the supposed father actually is the real father tends to support my view.

  10. The bisexual experimentation of young people is not a “passing fad.” If anything is a fad, it’s the idea, invented in the late 19th century, that sexuality is strictly defined along binary lines. There was homosexual behavior before that, of course, but the idea of “the homosexual” is a very recent one, historically speaking (the word itself first appeared in a German pamphlet in 1869). While even many liberals have adopted this idea — and popular science publications constantly refer to the “gay gene,” as if a single gene will prove responsible for a wide variety of human behaviors that seem also to have a societal component — I don’t buy it.

    There’s plenty of evidence in art that many people are able to respond to both genders erotically and/or romantically, if to a greater or lesser extent — and that this response can change over the course of a lifetime. (One of my closest friends, a brilliant and very happily married guy of 55, was not aware of his erotic feelings for guys until recently.) At least half of Shakespeare’s sonnets — the most famous love poems in the English language — were written to a young man, though Shakespeare also had a wife and raised a family. In more recent years, Jack Kerouac was probably more heterosexual than homosexual, but it’s clear from his books On the Road and Visions of Cody that Neal Cassady was the great love of his life — and Kerouac had sex with several men over the course of his lifetime, including Gore Vidal. And while The Greek is clearly bothered by the notion that people associate ancient Greek culture with homosexuality, it’s not just “the media” that has put forth the idea that many married Greek men in ancient times also had younger male lovers, but thousands of poems, historical accounts, and artworks created by the Greeks themselves. Claiming that classic works like The Greek Anthology have been insidiously misrepresented by hundreds of translators and thousands of scholars for several centuries (mostly in cultures that looked down on homosexuality to the point of censoring references to it) is a fascinating claim, but one that will require many peer-reviewed citations for me to believe it.

    This allegedly recent fad of college students experimenting with bisexuality must go at least as far back as the early 1970s: I slept with many of my otherwise straight friends at college, and we all seemed to have a very sweet (and erotic) time, and I maintained very close friendships with many of those guys long after we left school. In fact, I’d say that at least half of the guys I’ve made love with over the years did not identify themselves as primarily gay.

    As far as evolution goes, our DNA may have more in mind for us than designing human beings as heterosexual sex machines. The (probably multiple) genes behind the capacity of people to respond erotically and romantically to people of the same gender have been “conserved,” as biologists say, for a very long time, against often profound social stigmas and what one might think was tremendous evolutionary pressure against it — maximizing reproduction. But not only is homosexual behavior found in every human culture, but in at least 450 animal species as well. (Both seagulls and dolphins also form life-long homosexual pairings). I would suggest that homosexuality plays some very complex roles in the formation of human societies — as it does in the animal kingdom — that convey a survival advantage over the long term, and that’s why the genes have been conserved.

    I think a lot of what looks like a bisexual fad is actually human nature trying to express itself despite an inadequate binary model of sexuality that is itself the fad. Narrow maps of human erotic response come and go, but bisexuality has been part of human culture for thousands of years.

  11. Chris Yeh says:

    Steve brings up some good points. It is definitely true that homosexual and bisexual behavior exists in man, as well as in many other species. It is also true that many people who would identify themselves as heterosexual do experiment with homosexuality.

    However, my argument was not that homosexual and bisexual behavior is unnatural or an aberration–rather, I argue that is a natural part of human behavior and that its natural frequency is relatively low.

    “What I will do is caution people who believe that they can throw off millions of years of evolution at the drop of a hat:

    Homo Sapiens was designed so that *a majority* of adults would engage in monogamous heterosexual relationships (this is what is required to promote childbearing and childrearing–from an evolutionary standpoint, males require quasi-monogamy on the part of their female mates to ensure that their energies go into raising their own genetic offspring, rather than some other male’s).

    Variation is perfectly natural, but to expect some wild sea change is unrealistic.”

    The majority behavior is heterosexuality; homosexuality, even isolated experimentation, is probably in the single digits.

    This is true of other cultures as well–studies in France and the UK both found that only 1.1% of men were practicing homosexuals, and in the French study, only 4.1% of men said that they had sex with another man at some point in their lives.

    I think that whether you are hetero, bi, or homosexual is largely a product of genetics, and that the “natural” rate of homosexuality is some where between 1-5%.

    Given this fact, any “sea change” where suddenly half of young women are hooking up with other girls is unlikely to persist.

  12. This is true of other cultures as well–studies in France and the UK both found that only 1.1% of men were practicing homosexuals, and in the French study, only 4.1% of men said that they had sex with another man at some point in their lives.

    I think that whether you are hetero, bi, or homosexual is largely a product of genetics, and that the “natural” rate of homosexuality is some where between 1-5%.

    I hear what you’re saying, Chris, but there are many other highly regarded studies that suggest that the figures you cite for both the prevalence of homosexual experience and of self-definition as gay are radical underestimates.

    Not only that, but one would expect as a researcher that self-reports of homosexual experience when homosexuality is highly stigmatized would skew much lower than actual occurence. Since the original Kinsey studies were performed when homosexual acts were crimes that could result in imprisonment — and even the later followups specifically designed to remove sample bias were done way before homosexual behavior was somewhat “normalized” by gay liberation — you’d expect even these high figures of 30 or 40 percent of heterosexually defined people having some homosexual experience to orgasm to be low estimates. The figures you cite are among the lowest I’ve ever seen.

  13. Chris Yeh says:

    I would be shocked if, even here in San Francisco, which is probably the most LGBT-friendly city in the world, and thus has attracted a disproportionate number of people who identify themselves as LGBT, 30-40% of the adult population has had some homosexual experience to orgasm.

    The Kinsey study is often quoted out of context; the Wikipedia offers a balanced discussion:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinsey_Reports

    “Based on his data and findings, others claimed that 10% of the population are homosexual, and that women enhance their prospects of satisfaction in marriage by masturbating previously. Neither claim was made by Kinsey, but both were (and continue to be) attributed to him.”

    Nonetheless, what Kinsey did claim was:

    “The study also reported that 10% of American males surveyed were “more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55″

    There continues to be controversy about the Kinsey Reports, with critics attacking the sampling bias (25% of respondents were, or had been, prison inmates, and 5% were male prostitutes).

    Kinsey’s successor at the institute he founded claimed to have removed all such biases from the data, without significantly changing the figures.

    Now ultimately, the truth of these studies may never be known. With such a controversial topic, it’s hard to be definitive. But I believe and continue to believe that the commonly cited 10% figure is a dramatic overestimate.

  14. Chris Yeh says:

    There is a good discussion of the % on Google Answers:
    http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=478685

  15. Back to the original point, though. I think that the article seems to be offhandedly, or indirectly, referring to works like Faludi’s and Ariel Levy’s recent Female Chauvinist Pigs (http://www.powells.com/biblio/17-0743249895-1), (Ben: note that I linked to an indie bookseller, just to tweak you) which also talks about the more recent cultural support/encouragement/pressure to cope with a more porn-affected, let’s say, set of cultural norms. I will leave it to Patrick and Ben to know what goes on at parties these days, but I will say that, as a member of the generation sort of after Steve’s, none of this stuff was around among anyone I knew then.

    I mean, I saw my first Playboy when someone in my neighborhood showed me the stash that somebody’s older brother had hidden in the woods at the end of the circle we lived on; that was the only one I saw until college, when guys I knew had Penthouse around. But there was absolutely no sense that porn was a factor culturally; I couldn’t have named any porn stars or seen porn unless I went to the skanky town Pussycat Theater (another of which used to be around the corner from my old apartment in N. Oakland as well), which I sure as hell wasn’t going to do. I didn’t own a VCR, which Eric Schlosser’s Reefer Madness points out was adopted most centrally because a lot of people wanted to watch porn in the comfort and privacy of their homes. Nor did anyone else I knew. In terms of sexual experimentation, I didn’t know anyone who tried out bisexuality; my gay friends were gay, or so they told me, and my straight friends were straight, or so they told me.

    This means either that cultural norms ebb and flow in terms of sexual liberalism (certainly understandable in that I went to college in the Reagan 80s, with the growing specter of AIDS, though nobody I knew even thought about it), or that I happened to know an unusually bland segment of the population, which is also possible.

    I guess I do buy the feminist historians’ argument here that
    a) sexual norms are context- and culture-driven, which also accords with the research and reading I did back when I was going to be a professor of gender studies and American cultural history

    and b) this particular set of norms DOES seem to mask female oppression and catering to male fantasy as liberation. Levy argues predictably, but I find her arguments pretty persuasive.

  16. Chris, though you cited the following to suggest that Kinsey’s 10 percent has been taken out of context…

    Nonetheless, what Kinsey did claim was:

    “The study also reported that 10% of American males surveyed were “more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55″

    …To me, that suggests something even more radical than the notion that 10 percent of the population is gay — it suggests that people can have gay sex or gay relationships exclusively for at least three years, and then go back to having straight sex/relationships. That’s a much more radical notion of the fluidity of human sexuality, outside of prison, than the mere idea that 10 percent of the population is born gay.

    A number of studies behind my original link were specifically designed to correct for the alleged biases of Kinsey’s original study. The figures are still consistently higher than 1 or 2 percent.

    Chris and Jesse, I’m not surprised that you’re surprised by the notion that homosexuality and homosexual behavior are more prevalent then you thought. Unless you’re gay and out yourselves, every gay or bisexual person you’ve ever met in your life was either diligently or casually hiding that fact from you, discreetly not mentioning it because it either seemed irrelevant or possibly a source of tension, answering a direct question with courageous honesty, or stating it outright to you to make a point. In other words, particularly if you’re not gay, the world is designed to hide gayness from you in a million little ways — particularly the incidence of gay feelings and gay sex among people who generally identify as straight.

    There are many non-Asian San Francisco residents who are shocked to learn that the city’s population is at least 30 percent Asian. “After all,” they say, “my neighborhood doesn’t have very many Asian residents, I don’t have any Asian friends…” In such a case, the “sample bias” is obvious. But imagine if people could hide their ethnic backgrounds to get past racist barriers and assumptions — that 30 percent figure would seem even more shocking to many whites.

    But yeah, Jesse — I have the same experience as you with porn. It just wasn’t around when I was growing up, other than Playboy and those shops in areas downtown I never went to.

  17. Chris Yeh says:

    Steve,

    We agree on so much, it seems silly to focus on a long-running debate over the validity of the 10% figure.

    Nevertheless (famous last word)…

    Your point about sample bias works both ways.

    If San Francisco is the world’s most GLBT-friendly major city…

    And if this implies that San Francisco would therefore attract the highest proportion of GLBT inhabitants at any major city…

    And if the 10% figure is correct…

    Then we would expect San Francisco to have a LGBT population that is much higher than 10% of the population.

    It wouldn’t be absurd to believe that the world’s most gay-friendly city would have a LGBT population of 30%, or even 50%, were the 10% figure true.

    So I ask you, are 30% of the residents of San Francisco gay?

    P.S. I agree with you on the fluidity of sexuality–I don’t think there’s anything strange about people exploring different expressions of sexuality, even for a year or two at a time. But an increase in the fluidity of sexuality in today’s youth does not necessarily translate into a dramatic change in the overall landscape of sexuality.

    As my dearly departed teacher Gil Sorrentino once told me, “People were having plenty of sex and taking plenty of drugs in the 50s. It just wasn’t as out in the open.”

  18. Chris:

    Yes, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to even get this far into disputing the figures, and I consider most everything you say to be very insightful. I probably shouldn’t have posted here again, at the risk of seeming like a single-issue crank. (For what it’s worth, in real life, I’m one of the least gay-obsessed gay people you could ever meet. I’ve even been accused by ghettoized gay people as being “straight-identified.”)

    I admit, however, that my hackles rise when I hear people attempting to establish the fact that there are really very few people who have had homosexual experiences because, after all, only X-percent of people are gay, and none of their friends have had same-sex experiences. (I’m NOT saying that YOU’RE saying this, but the notion is sort of in the air in this topic, and is central to the point of the original post.)

    I’ve had a somewhat unusual life, being an out gay person who has mostly straight friends and moves in mostly straight circles. The bottom line is that, over the years, a huge number of people who identify themselves as straight have come to me and told me about their same-sex experiences and feelings. I’m not exaggerating when I say that many, many more hetero-identified people have had same-sex experiences than would ever find their way into a survey tagged as “gay.” It’s almost as if the fluidity of human sexuality is a Huge Secret, obscured by both survey numbers and even by gay radicalism (with an often-implied assumption, “we were born this way — and you were not!”)

    Because the initial seed of this topic was discussion of the idea that girl-on-girl relationships in college is some sort of recent fad, I wanted to point out that human sexuality is always, and has always been, more fluid than the official view would suggest. That’s really all I have to say, and I think we agree on that. Thanks for being patient with my tedious tirades, Chris.

  19. is central to the point of the original post

    Clarification: I didn’t mean that Ben was making this point in the post — but the journalists who write trend stories about “Lesbian Chic” and “Lesbians Until Graduation” often do seem to be trying to make this point.

  20. Steve,

    I think you’re misreading what I said a little. My point was simply that I didn’t hear very much about experimentation when I was younger in the way that you did. It may well be the case that my gay/bi friends were more open among each other about these things than they were with me–though most of my gay friends now who have also been with women have been entirely open about it, or if they’ve been “Kinsey 6s,” if anyone uses that term anymore, they’re open that way. I don’t have any quarrel with Kinsey’s numbers.

    The original point, it seems to me, was about these things that allegedly happen now at parties among the girls-gone-wild generation: are they, you know, good or bad for women? Are they new frontiers in sexuality? are they what has always been true, except is now more open? a passing, pornified fad?

    Maybe all of our answers here are essentially tautological, in that they arrive, after much huffing and puffing, at the conclusions we were already going to reach; as a trained historian of sexuality, I do think that, as your original post alluded to, heterosexuality was invented in the late 19th century, so we don’t have to “worry” about Lincoln and Joshua Speed sharing a bed. But clearly male/male intimacy (and, more importantly, female/female intimacy–see Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s classic essay “The Female World of Love and Ritual,” about how upper-middle-class women lived in erotically-charged all-female worlds before marriage, then tended to create their own new worlds with other women after marriage, the marriage itself being a kind of emotional afterthought) [here's an abstract]) does have a long history in our culture. We’ve just used different names for it.

    But this alleged trend–and Ben says he’s seen it–does seem new to me in its publicization and serving of male desires as mediated/invented/augmented by porn. I have to say that this sort of performative sexuality does strike me as new, and not as good.

  21. Excellent points, Jesse. Thanks for refocusing us.

  22. Anna C. says:

    I think this is pointless. I think it’s best to just stay out of the way of those kinds of people if you dont like what theyre doing. If you do, well then go ahead. I just think that this is kind of biased (cant find a better word) in that its all guys posting here and that girls dont ave a say in it. Ave you stopped to actually think how it would be in a girl’s point of view?

    No i havent done this and I dont wish to ever. But those who have, imagine their thoughts. They might ave different reasons for it but i think it all goes back to needing attention and wanting guys to look at them not at other girls. I think that were just born and raised that way because we envy what we dont ave. We want what we cant get. i.e. men who are ‘hot’ by the current standards of our generation.

    So yeah. Like whatever. i just thought to kind of say what i think about this. and no i did not look this up. came out as a google hit for one of my projects.

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