James W. Hicks, M.D.

Women Are More Flexible

In Research on July 21, 2010 at 7:55 pm

A few weeks ago I posted about rates of bisexuality among men. The CDC’s 2002 survey also provided surprising information about women.

As with men, nine out of ten women said they were “straight,” but one of those nine acknowledged some attraction to women as well. Of the ten percent of women who were not straight, half considered themselves bisexual or “something else.” Only one percent of women considered themselves to be homosexual. Altogether, 13% of women said they were attracted to both men and women, which is twice the rate of men who said they were attracted to both sexes.

A more recent survey of nearly four hundred college women found that just over half considered themselves exclusively straight. More than a quarter considered themselves “mostly straight” or bisexual. Only one in twenty identified as lesbian.

According to the CDC survey, more than one in ten women reported having had a sexual experience with another woman. That is nearly twice the percent of men who reported having had sex with a man. But the surveyors asked men and women different questions, so it is difficult to compare the results: men were asked only about oral and anal sex, whereas women were asked about “sexual experiences.”

Among women who have ever had sex with a woman, two thirds still considered themselves straight, and another quarter considered themselves to be bisexual or “something else.” Fewer than ten percent of women who had had sex with a woman considered themselves lesbian.

The Kinsey Group, who interviewed nearly six thousand women in the 1930s and 40s, discovered even higher rates of sexual activity between women. Kinsey found that one out of five women reported having experienced sexual contact with another woman. The likelihood of having a sexual experience with a woman rose steadily from adolescence into the fourth decade, unless the woman married. More than a quarter of women reported having been sexually attracted to, or aroused by, another woman, but less than three percent were exclusively homosexual, according to Kinsey’s research.

Many surveys have found that the vast majority of lesbians had also had sex with a man.

Surveys have defined sex between women in different ways, and differently from how they have defined sex involving men. In spite of these challenges, surveys consistently show that women are less likely than men to consider themselves exclusively straight or gay, and they are less likely to define themselves by the gender of their partners. Recent research and reviews suggest that women are more flexible than men, moving more easily between male and female partners and feeling less defined by sexual labels.

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