Friday, June 20, 2008

Fluid Sexuality

Warning: More frank content than usual. Surf elsewhere for shiny happy puppy time.

There has been a theory about human sexuality floated for some time (I think Kinsey started it) that postulates we all have "fluid sexuality" in that we are all, to some extent, bisexual.

It has suffused some of the intelligentsia, as evidenced by this article in, where the author thought she could just switch teams, as it where, because she was open-minded enough; and as evidenced by this Wiki article on Gore Vidal (see third paragraph in the section linked to) who was a big proponent of the sliding sexual scale trope.

Even the comedian Ron "Tater Salad" White has a funny take on the theory:
I told him, "We're all gay, man. It's just to what extent are you gay." He says, "That's bullshit man, I ain't gay at all!" I said, "Yes you are and I'll prove it." He says, "Fine, prove it." I said to him, "All right. Do you like porn?" He says, "Yeah, I love porn, you know that." I said, "Do you only watch two women doing it?" He said, "Naw, I'll watch a man and a woman make love." I said, "Oh, do you want the guy to have a tiny, half-flaccid penis?" He said, "Naw, man, I like big, hard, throbbing co-- I did not know that about myself."
- Source, 10th bullet down

I'm sure you've seen my take on this coming from miles away, and look! - it has arrived!:

What utter bullshit.

I'm a nosey sorta guy, so I've talked to a lot of folks about their views on sex - whether it was a sordid attempt (on my part) to get a buddy to give all the gory details of a recent date, or cocktail party banter, or outright asking someone what they think about things. (For instance, a friend of mine who's lesbian and I have discovered we're equal fans of tube-top season.) So while my "sample" is anecdotal and no where near as broad as the actual sexual researchers who did "objective" studies (scare quotes because this is one field, as made clear by Mary Roach's wonderful Bonk, that we appear to be too close to the topic to be legitimately objective, thus much of the information about sexual attitudes, outside of body mechanics*, depends on what a person reports), I basically used the same approach as they did.

*Speaking of Bonk, one factoid I took away that I'd not encountered before is that vaginal lubrication is actually blood plasma. See, the capillaries expand, and the plasma seeps through the walls to provide the lube. The jury is still out on female ejaculate, surprisingly.

As noted already, I've always felt the "fluid sexuality" theory belonged in the same waste receptacle that the sodden academic definition of "racist" does, where only oppressors can be considered racist, thus only Caucasians in America are racist and all other ethic groups are merely grumpy when they slam another's race. ALL of my conversations and observations (and articles I've read, including that Salon article above) bolster the idea that - well, to use Popeye's famous quote, "I yam what I yam." That is, our preferences are pretty much set and static in regards to which gender(s) we want to have sex with. (How we come to be that way matters not for the topic at hand. Be it nature or nurture, or some hairball of both, when we finally start rounding the bases, we know which field to be on.)

The few folks I've met (and read about) who think sexual preference is a slippery and malleable thing are primarily gay people who are hoping against hope to turn a straight person gay out of sheer romantic or lustful need. (Or, tragically, the misguided religious ilk whose goal is to straighten up a gay person, so to speak.) Or, they happen to be bisexual; so to them, sexuality is fluid. For example, Kinsey was bisexual. I think Vidal had sex with a few women before sticking to primarily dirt roads (ahem).

Am I objecting because I'm uncomfortable with the idea of sexuality possibly being a big, adult slip-n-slide? Not really. I don't really care who wants to fuck whom, as long as everyone is a consenting adult (and, of course, the moral caveat that they're not cheating or hurting someone else in the process). I simply, honestly believe that we know what we like, and we can't really change our stripes if only we are open-minded or if we give it the ole college try. There are no conversions on this particular road to Damascus.

Now, I do believe (as already mentioned) that there are folks who are bisexual, and that they really really are attracted to both genders. But that's not the same as, say, one day feeling like you're hetero, then the next you're up for any orifice, then a week later only those with parts like yours do the trick. Nope, if you're bisexual, it's a constant, as with hetro or homo, and it's just what you are.

Finally, why do I care enough to devote a thousand odd words to this topic?

Well, perhaps it would save impressionable folks like the lady in the Salon article some grief and embarrassment if she knew her humanities prof had lied to her. And folks like Vidal need a bitchslap whenever you can even remotely justify one. And and, the twits who accuse others of being phobic when they go "eww" over a gay kiss (or hetero one, if you're not) will maybe, finally just shut the fuck up.

TLD: The Gore Vidal reference (or attack) is due to this recent interview with the nasty old shite. This is how it starts off:

Q: At the age of 82, you will be publishing your new collection of essays this week, which seems likely to confirm your reputation as one of America’s last public intellectuals. Why do you think that critics have traditionally praised your essays more than your fiction, which includes “Burr,” “Myra Breckinridge” and 20 other novels?

GV: That’s because they don’t know how to read. I can’t name three first-rate literary critics in the United States. I’m told there are a few hidden away at universities, but they don’t print them in The New York Times.

Uh, no. It's because, well, you suck as a fiction writer.

I remember when Lincoln came out; I was working at a bookstore at the time. It was one of the few books people returned claiming it was unreadable. I had a go at it because I wanted to see if it was really that bad, and it sure was. Couldn't get past the first few pages.

So I went to Wiki and Amazon to research his other books in order to see if others thought he doth suck and came across his opines on sexuality.


Sya asked in the comments if there were any brain studies done about this, and I responded "not many." Then, today, this cropped up:

Brain Study Shows Differences Between Gays, Straights

So Savic and her colleague Per Lindstrom first used magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to compare the symmetry of the brains of 25 straight men and 25 straight women with those of 20 gay men and 20 gay women.

Gay men tended to have brains that were more like those of straight women than of straight men -- the right and left sides were about the same size, the researchers found. Gay women's brains tended to be more like those of straight men than of straight women -- the right side tended to be slightly larger than the left.

Next, the researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to examine how a part of the brain involved in processing emotions -- the amygdala -- was connected to other brain regions. Again they found that gay men tended to be more like straight women, with a stronger link between the amygdala and regions involved in emotions. Gay women tended to be more like straight men, with stronger connections to motor functions.

Savic and Lindstrom stressed that their findings need to be confirmed by additional research and that it remains unclear how the differences might affect behavior.


Sya said...

Hm. I wonder if anyone has performed any brain imaging studies or experiments measuring physiological responses to different stimuli over time. Perhaps that would get at the question on whether or not sexuality is fluid.

Yahmdallah said...

They did something similar as described in "Bonk". They hooked men and women up to machines that measured increase in size for the guys and increase in lubrication for the women, and found out that straight men do not respond to gay (male) porn, however straight women do appear to lube up, as it were, when watching gay (female) porn - yet the majority of the women said they were not aroused by the gay porn, and other measurements (which escape me) proved that out.

There is a dearth of brain imaging studies around sex (and any sex study involving medical devices that are used for many purposes) because the study of sex is still looked upon as an unworthy endeavor, and they find universities and hospitals reluctant to let them get time on the machines because they know there's gonna be boinking going on in and around them. I think a couple studies of brain activity during sex exist, but nothing like a huge body of evidence.

Mary Roach consented to have sex with her husband in an MRI machine, because when she called to request a viewing of the data, they said we don't have much yet, wanna volunteer? But even then, they're filming the mechanics of the act itself, and not so much what's going on in the brain.

Anonymous said...

But didn't Pete Townsend go bi for a while before declaring himself straight again? And Elton John and Freddie Mercury both flirted with heterosexuality before declaring themselves gay. (Brian May recently said that he didn't know Freddie was gay for several years.) And Madonna has gone both ways but now declares herself straight.


Yahmdallah said...

Do you think those are cases of experimentation which led them to what their true orientation was, or cases where their sexual orientation did shift over time?

Sister Wolf said...

New studies suggest that sexual preference is created in utero. Too little or too much testerone can influence the developing brain.

This supports your hunches.

Anonymous said...

yahm, my guess is that Townsend and Madonna were deeply screwed up but have now more or less got their heads together (less in Madonna's case). Elton and Freddie probably just went through some struggles before acknowledging to themselves that they were gay, which was not unusual in the 70's and 80's. So I guess these people aren't the best cases in point.

Nonetheless, I still think sexual orientation is *somewhat* fluid. I don't think someone who is a 6 on the Kinsey scale can ever go to 0, nor vice versa, but smaller movements are thoroughly possible. IOW, most people are neither purely gay nor purely straight, and the degrees of orientations can change.

I can't prove this, obviously, but it does seem to accord with what I see.


Yahmdallah said...

Sister Wolf, my wife had read about that. Seems that women who are highly stressed during pregnancy (like say a local war), especially early on, tend to have more gay sons.

Joel - What I'm trying to say (probably badly) is we are fixed in our sexual preference, but yes THAT fixation can be somewhere on the scale. Even with that, though, it means you will probably be one of three things predominantly: hetero, homo, or bi. Again, I'm basing this on personal observation, so take it with your anecdotal grain of salt.