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Rape Culture and the Concept of Affirmative Consent

March against rape culture

March against rape culture

Throughout most of our history, rape was a property crime.

Today we do not, in the modern United States at least, think of a woman’s sexuality as a financial asset. But that is a recent phenomenon. For most of our history, rape was not treated the same way as other violent assaults because it wasn’t just a violent assault, it was also a crime against property.

You can see this view–of a woman’s sexuality belonging to her father and later her husband–in laws concerning rape and sexual assault. It was even possible for a father to sue a man who had consensual sex with his daughter because he had lost the value of his daughter. Based on this view, value is lost in terms of her work if she became pregnant and was no longer able to earn wages, or in terms of a future wife for someone else because of this stain on her character. Men could not be held accountable for raping their wives because a wife was a man’s property and consent to sex–at any time of his choosing–was part of the arrangement.

Lest you think that these laws are ancient examples of a culture that no longer bears relation to our current policies on rape, spousal rape was not made illegal in all fifty states until 1993, where it still may carry a less severe sentence than other rape offenses. The tort of seduction was technically on the books in North Carolina in 2003.

This context is important given our current cultural attitudes toward sexual assault. To understand this culture and how it can be amended, we need to look more deeply at the historical understandings of rape and consent.


Force Means No

The framework for defining rape underpins our understanding of who is required to prove consent or non-consent. The Hebrew Scriptures, which established longstanding cultural norms that helped form a basis for what was morally and legally acceptable in early America, make a distinction between a woman who was raped within a city and one who was raped outside of the city limits. The first woman was stoned to death and the second considered blameless (assuming she was a virgin). This distinction is based on the idea that it was the woman’s responsibility to cry out for help and show that she was non-consenting. A woman who was raped in the city obviously had not screamed because if she had someone would have come to her rescue and stopped the rape. The woman outside the city had no one to rescue her so she could not be blamed for being victimized.

This brutal logic, which is completely inconsistent with how we know some victims of rape react to an attack, was continued in the American legal system when our laws on rape were formulated. Rape was defined as a having a male perpetrator and a female victim and involving sexual penetration and a lack of consent. But it was again the woman’s responsibility to prove that she had not consented and the way that this was demonstrated was through her resistance. She was only actually raped if she had attempted to fight off her attacker. Different jurisdictions required different levels of force to show a true lack of consent. For example, fighting off an assailant to your utmost ability or even up to the point where the choice was either to submit to being raped or to being killed. Indeed, the cultural significance of chastity as a virtue that the female was expected to guard was so profound that many female Christian saints are saints at least in part because they chose to die rather than be raped or be a bride to anyone but Christ.

Potential canonization aside, it was consistently the responsibility of the woman alleging that she was the victim of a rape to prove that she had fought off her attacker in order to show that she had not consented. If she could not show that she had sufficiently resisted, she was deemed to not have been raped. Her chastity was someone else’s property, either her father’s or her husband’s/future husband’s, so it was always understood that someone, other than her, had the right to her sexuality. The assailant had assumed that he had the right to use her sexually and was only a rapist if she acted in such a way that a reasonable man would have known that she did not belong to him. Her failure to communicate that fact, that she was the property of some other man, was a sign that she had in fact consented. Therefore the rape was not his moral failing in stealing another man’s property but her moral failing in not protecting that property from being stolen.


Culture Wars

We can see the effects of this ideology in how we treat rape victims today. Although we don’t necessarily require evidence of forceful resistance, it is considered helpful in prosecuting a rape case. Rape shield laws may have eliminated the most egregious examples of slut-shaming victims, but an innocent or even virginal victim is certainly what the prosecution could hope for if they were trying to design their most favorable case. One of the first questions that will be asked of the victim is “did you say no?” In other words “what did YOU do to prevent this from happening to you?” The burden is still often legally and almost always culturally on the victim to show that they did not consent.

There is an alternative approach that has been gaining traction on college campuses and elsewhere known as the concept of “affirmative consent.” Take a look at the video below, which elucidates the differences between the “no versus no” approach compared to affirmative consent, which is often described as “yes means yes.”

In this video, Susan Patton and Rush Limbaugh both represent examples of rape culture. The contrast between the views of Savannah Badlich, the advocate of affirmative consent, and Patton, who is against the idea, could not be starker. To Badlich, consent is an integral part of what makes sex, sex. If there isn’t consent then whatever happened to you, whether most people would have enjoyed it or indeed whether or not you orgasmed, was rape. It is your consent that is the foundation of a healthy sexual experience, not the types of physical actions involved. In contrast, Patton expressed the view that good sex is good sex and consent seems to not play a role in whether it was good sex, or even whether it should be defined as sex at all. The only thing that could indicate if something is an assault versus a sexual encounter is whatever physical evidence exists, because otherwise, the distinction is based only on the assertions of each individual. Again we are back to evidence of force.


What is “Rape Culture”?

Rape culture refers to a culture in which sexuality and violence are linked together and normalized. It perpetuates the idea that male sexuality is based on the use of violence against women to subdue them to take a sexual experience, as well as the idea that female sexuality is the effort to resist or invite male sexuality under certain circumstances. It overgeneralizes gender roles in sexuality, demeans men by promoting their only healthy sexuality as predatory, and also demeans women by considering them objects without any positive sexuality at all.

According to this school of thought, the “no means no” paradigm fits in perfectly with rape culture because it paints men as being predators who are constantly looking for a weak member of the herd to take advantage of sexually, while also teaching women that they need to be better than the rest of the herd at fending off attacks, by clearly saying no, to survive. If they can’t do that, because they were drinking or not wearing proper clothing, then the attack was their fault.


“Yes Means Yes”

Affirmative consent works differently. Instead of assuming that you can touch someone until they prove otherwise, an affirmative consent culture assumes that you may not touch someone until you are invited to do so. This would be a shocking idea to some who assume that gamesmanship and predation are the cornerstones of male sexuality and the perks of power, but it works out better for the majority of men and women, who would prefer and who should demand equality in sex.

This video gives a brief highlight of some of the issues that are brought up when affirmative consent is discussed and the difficulties that can still arise even with affirmative consent as a model.


Evaluating Criticism of Affirmative Consent

The arguments are important so let’s unpack some of the key ones in more detail. The first objection, expressed in both videos, is how exactly do you show consent? Whenever the affirmative consent approach comes up, one of the first arguments is that it is unenforceable because no one is going to stop sexual activity to get written consent, which is the only way to really prove that a person consented. We still end up in a “he said, she said” situation, which is exactly where we are now, or a world where the government is printing out sex contracts.

The idea that affirmative consent will by necessity lead to written contracts for sex is a logical fallacy that opponents to affirmative consent use to make the proposition seem ridiculous. Currently, we require the victim to prove non-consent. Often the victim is asked if they gave a verbal no or if they said they did not want the contact. The victim is never asked: did you put the fact that you didn’t want to be touched in writing and have your assailant read it? The idea that a written explanation of non-consent would be the only way we would take it seriously is absurd, so it would be equally absurd to assume that requiring proof of consent would necessitate written documentation. Advocates for affirmative consent don’t want sex contracts.

In addition, even under our current framework we accept a variety of pieces of evidence from the prosecution to show that the victim did not consent. A clear “no” is obviously the strongest kind of evidence, just as under an affirmative consent framework an enthusiastic verbal “yes” would be the best evidence, but that is just what the best evidence is. That is certainly not the only kind of evidence available. Courts already look at the entire context surrounding the incident to try to determine consent. The process would be virtually the same under an affirmative consent model. The only difference would be that the burden would be on the defendant to show that they believed they had obtained consent based on the context of the encounter instead of placing the burden on the victim to show that, although they didn’t say “no,” they had expressed non-verbally that they were unwilling to participate.

The shift in the burden of proof is sometimes cited as a reason not to adopt an affirmative consent model. Critics argue that this affects the presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Which is, rightly, a cornerstone of our judicial system. If this model did, in fact, change that presumption then it wouldn’t be an appropriate answer to this problem. But it does not.

Take another crime as an example. A woman’s car is stolen. The police issue a BOLO on the car, find it, and bring the suspect in and sit him down. They ask him “did you have permission to take that car?” and he replies “Yes, officer, she gave me the keys!”

He is still presumed innocent and, as far as this brief hypothetical tells us, hasn’t had his rights violated. It looks as though he is going to get a fair trial at this point. That trial may still devolve into another he said, she said situation. She may allege that she didn’t give him the keys but merely left them on the kitchen table. At that point, it will be up to the jury to decide who they believe, but that would have been the case in any event. He is presenting her giving the keys to him as one of the facts to show his innocence.

If a woman’s car is stolen we don’t question her about how many miles are on the odometer. We don’t ask if she wore a seatbelt the last time she drove it. We don’t care if she had been drinking because her alcohol consumption doesn’t negate the fact that she was a victim of a crime. We certainly wouldn’t force her to prove that she didn’t give the thief the keys. That burden would rightly be on him and we would be able to both place that burden on him and at the same time presume him to be innocent until he failed to meet that burden.

Adopting an affirmative consent model changes how consent is perceived. It is primarily a cultural change in understanding who is responsible for consent. Rather than making the non-initiating party responsible for communicating a lack of consent, affirmative consent requires that the initiating party obtains obvious consent.

That is how affirmative consent works. It wouldn’t require a written contract or even necessarily a verbal assertion. Context would always matter and the cases would still often become two competing stories about what the context meant. And it doesn’t mean that we are assuming that person is guilty before they have the chance to show that they did, in fact, get that consent. It just means that we are placing the burden of proving that consent was obtained on the party claiming that consent had been obtained.


Conclusion

There is no other category of crime where we ask the victim to show that they didn’t want to be the victim of that crime. A man who is stabbed in a bar fight, regardless of whether he was drunk or belligerent, isn’t asked to prove that he didn’t want a knife wound.

We need to change our cultural framework of rape and consent. When we are working under an affirmative consent framework what we are doing is changing the first question. Currently, our first question is for the victim: did you say no? Under an affirmative consent model our first question is for the suspect: did you get a yes?

Complete Article HERE!

Report: Gender Equality On Sexual Desire And Intimacy Behaviour

I had the good fortune to be asked to participate in this report.  I’m delighted to offer you the first look at the results.

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Click on this image to find the full report.

PURPOSE.
To understand if there are differences between genders regarding intimacy, sexual behaviour and sexual desire, and the reasons behind these differences.

METHOD.
This report is divided in to two parts. The first part analyses anonymous and public data from women and men that play Desire (intimate mobile game for couples—Android and iOS application). The report analyses data from 253,205 users to demonstrate key insights such as which gender creates an account more often, the differences between the top 50 predefined dares by gender, the differences in public comments on the app and more.
The second part of the report consists of findings from 17 interviews conducted with professionals on human sexuality in six different countries and their personal point of view on the differences and similarities between genders on sexual desire and intimacy behaviour.

FINDINGS.
The outcome of the analysis is that sexual desires are very similar for both women and men with no significant differences. However, there are evident differences between genders in regards to intimacy behaviour that arise from personal experience of culture, history, religion, schooling and sex education. All of these factors determine and dictate how people behave in their sexual and intimate life.
Finally, the analysis also shows that long standing stereotypes about men being more sexual and women more romantic are changing and that on an individual level, sexual desires, desire to connect and have great sex with our partners, is universal and not limited to gender or culture.

marta-plaza

Marta Plaza

Leading this report: Marta Plaza.
Plaza is co-founder of Desire Technologies, a company with the mission to bring new, smart adult games, fueled with love and gender equality.
Site and contact: www.desire.games

Thanks, Marta, for this wonderful contribution to our common effort.

 

Monogamy or Bust: Why Are Many Gay Men Opposed to Open Relationships?

By Zachary Zane

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As assimilation into more mainstream culture increases, many gay men are shifting their attitudes on non-traditional relationships—becoming less accepting of them.

Full disclosure: I’m polyamorous. After being in a year-long, tumultuous monogamous relationship, I fell into polyamory by accident. After giving it a shot, I realized that I am better equipped to handle the struggles that come from polyamory than monogamy. Clearly, both setups come with a myriad of issues, but what makes me happiest, most comfortable, and most satisfied, is polyamory. Polyamory, ironically, also alleviated my jealousy issues and relationship-induced anxiety, simply because I trust my current partner unconditionally.

Like most people, I knew nothing about polyamory when I stumbled into it. I believed the false misconceptions that surround poly life. I thought people use polyamory as an excuse to screw around. I thought all polyamorous relationships are doomed to fail, with one person being left out. I also thought that poly people are insecure, given that they need validation and support from various partners. While I have encountered all of these things and people in the poly community, I can safely say, these hurtful stereotypes are false and don’t accurately capture the true spirit of polyamory.

I write about consensual non-monogamous relationships often. Without pushing any agenda, I try to help others by offering another option to monogamy. It’s worked for me, and I wish I had known poly was a viable option sooner.

But I also know I’m not special. I’m like many other queer men out there. My experience, struggle, and identity are undeniably mine, but once I stopped believing I was the center of the universe, I was able to realize that my journey mirrored many queer men before and after me, and I now think that other people could benefit from being in a monogam-ish, open, or polyamorous relationship.

Still, when I even hint at the idea of not being 100 percent monogamous, guys throw more than hissy fits; they have full temper tantrums. I’m not even saying go out and date a million people; I’m saying that if both you and he are exclusive bottoms, maybe it’s worth it to consider bringing in a third. “Consider”—that’s the world I’ll use. But that’s enough for guys to become furious, taking their comments to every social media platform. In these comments, I’m ruthlessly attacked, accused of knowing nothing about relationships, giving up on men too early, being sleazy, horny, and incapable of love, amid a bunch of other totally outlandish claims.

These comments never bother me because I know they’re wrong. They have, however, led me to repeatedly ask the same questions: Why does the mere mention of a non-monogamous relationship make these guys’ blood boil? I understand it’s not for them, but why do they get so angry that open relationships work for other men? Why do they feel that it’s important that everyone be like them, in a monogamous relationship, when it doesn’t affect them? Is it a matter of arrogance? Do they assume everyone is like them? Have these men been cheated on? Have these men been taken advantage of by men who use the “open” label, and instead of realizing that that guy was just an unethical person, they think that all guys in open relationships are unethical people? This shouldn’t be such a sore subject and source of unrelenting rage.

I’ve tried engaging with the monogamy-or-bust folks, going straight to the source, but I’ve never learned anything useful. They are so consumed by anger, that they can’t speak logically about why something that has nothing to do with them provokes such outrage. Honestly, they sound like the anti-marriage equality crowd. They say the same things repeatedly about how it ruins the sanctity of marriage (or in this case, relationships), but when you ask how it affects them personally, they don’t have an answer. But for whatever reason, this remains a source of animosity.

That said, here’s what I have noticed.

1. People in satisfying monogamous relationships don’t have reason to be angry.

When I speak to gay men who are in satisfying monogamous relationships, they’re never angered. Confused? Absolutely. Do they know that an open relationship would never work for them? Yes, very aware. Are they skeptical that it will work out? Sure. But angry? Never. The only people who are actively angered are men who are single or unhappily committed in a monogamous relationship. This had led me to believe a main reason for their anger is displacement. They’re unhappy with their relationship (or lack thereof) and are taking it out on men in happy, open relationships.

2. The angry folks have reason to be insecure and jealous.

These are people for whom a polyamorous relationship would never work, because they struggle to believe in their own self-worth. They fear they aren’t worthy of love. Because of this, these insecure men think that their partner will leave them in the dust if someone comes along who seems “better,” instead of acknowledging that a person can love two individuals. These guys are usually single.

Simon*, a gay man I interviewed, supports this notion; he thinks open-relationship shaming is a matter of projection. “…I find that there has been an increase in hypocritical slut-shaming that comes from the queer community. [We’re] always eager to feel morally superior. I think this happens because it’s easier for [some queer men] to project insecurities and/or personal issues onto someone who doesn’t seem to feel guilt or remorse for exploring their sexuality with other partners, than to be honest with themselves about their own desires and ‘deviant’ curiosities, polyamory among them.”

3. The angry gay men are homonormative AF.

In my experience, the gay men vehemently opposed to open/poly life tend to be the same men who think bisexuality is a stepping stone to gay and that being transgender is a mental illness; men who don’t see the value in the word “queer” and don’t believe gays should be supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Their perception of open/poly life isn’t an isolated issue. It’s rooted in a larger ideology that’s riddled with entitlement and privilege.

However, as one gay man I interviewed, Noah, said, “I also think that (white) gay men’s attitudes on polyamory are shaped very heavily by our successful assimilation into mainstream culture. Remember, one of the most widespread arguments against gay marriage was that it would lead us down a slippery slope towards legalization of polygamy and other ‘deviant’ (read: alternative) relationship structures. Accepting polyamory as a positive force in the gay community means pushing back against the core world views of those naysayers. But the gay community has mostly opted for assimilation, so it’s not surprising that as a poly person I’m frequently viewed with suspicion.”

Though Noah said he hasn’t faced direct discrimination, he mentioned that a growing number of gay men refuse to date him because they think, “I am inherently unable to give them the level of intimacy that they crave or the level of commitment that they desire.” When he says he’s polyamorous, “…I lose value in their eyes since there is no chance for me to be their One True Love.” He understands the need for boundaries and respects people for realizing polyamory or open relationships aren’t for them, but at the same time, this puts him in a very precarious position when it comes to dating.

Another man I interviewed, Rob, said he has hasn’t received much discrimination aside from a snarky comment here and there. “Let’s face it,” he said, “open relationships are as common among gay guys as bread and butter!”

While I think that is true, and open relationships are quite common in the queer male community, this relates back to what Noah was discussing. With assimilation into more mainstream culture and the acquirement of rights, including that to marry, many gay men are shifting their attitudes on non-traditional relationships—becoming less accepting of them.

With all of that said, I still can’t help but see the irony in a gay man critiquing how someone else loves. Love is love—isn’t that what we’ve been preaching this whole time? And if love does conquer all, which I believe all gay and queer men believe, then we, as a community, need to be supportive of other queer men. Instead of buying into this boring, oppressive, homonormative gay culture, or losing our sense of openness as we continue to assimilate into the heteronormative mainstream, I’d like to see gay men expand their notion of what gay is, what love is, and what a relationship is.

I’m also hoping that we can think outside ourselves. Just because a certain non-traditional relationship style wouldn’t be our first choice, doesn’t mean it can’t be the ideal relationship style for our gay brothers. We’re not only being arrogant and close-minded; we’re beginning to sound a lot like the Republicans who work so hard to take away our rights.

So if you’re one of those gay men who are vehemently opposed to every type of relationship but monogamy, I ask you to ask yourself: “Why?”

Complete Article HERE!

Negative Attitudes Slow Acceptance of Bisexuality

By Rick Nauert PhD

Bisexual_by_DevilsLittleSister

Although positive attitudes toward gay men and lesbians have increased over recent decades, a new study shows attitudes toward bisexual men and women are relatively neutral, if not ambivalent.

Researchers at Indiana University Center for Sexual Health Promotion say their study is only the second to explore attitudes toward bisexual men and women in a nationally representative sample. Investigators define bisexuality as the capacity for physical, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to more than one sex or gender.

The study is also the first to query attitudes among a sample of gay, lesbian and other-identified individuals (pansexual, queer and other identity labels), in addition to those who identify as heterosexuals.

The study, led by Dr. Brian Dodge, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Health Science and associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, was recently published in PLOS ONE.

The nationally representative sample was taken from the Center for Sexual Health Promotion’s 2015 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior.

“While recent data demonstrates dramatic shifts in attitude (from negative to positive) toward homosexuality, gay/lesbian individuals, and same-sex marriage in the U.S., most of these surveys do not ask about attitudes toward bisexuality or bisexual individuals,” Dodge said.

“And many rely on convenience sampling strategies that are not representative of the general population of the U.S.”

The study looked at five negative connotations, found in previous studies, associated with bisexual men and women — including the idea that bisexuals are confused or in transition regarding their sexual orientation, that they are hypersexual and that they are vectors of sexually transmitted diseases.

The research showed that a majority of male and female respondents, more than one-third, were most likely to “neither agree nor disagree” with the attitudinal statements.

In regard to bisexual men and women having the capability to be faithful in a relationship, nearly 40 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.

Those who identified as “other” had the most positive attitudes toward bisexuality, followed by gay/lesbian respondents and then heterosexuals.

Age played a factor in the results, with participants under the age of 25 indicating more positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women. Income and education also played a role: Higher-income participants were more likely to report more positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women, in addition to participants with higher levels of education.

Overall, attitudes toward bisexual women were more positive than attitudes toward bisexual men.

“While our society has seen marked shifts in more positive attitudes toward homosexuality in recent decades, our data suggest that attitudes toward bisexual men and women have shifted only slightly from very negative to neutral,” Dodge said.

“That nearly one-third of participants reported moderately to extremely negative attitudes toward bisexual individuals is of great concern given the dramatic health disparities faced by bisexual men and women in our country, even relative to gay and lesbian individuals.”

Bisexual men and women face a disproportionate rate of physical, mental, and other health disparities in comparison to monosexuals — those who identify as exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual, Dodge said.

Although research has not determined the cause, Dodge said that negative attitudes and stigma associated with bisexuality could play a role.

Data from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior shows that approximately 2.6 percent of adult men and 3.6 percent of adult women in the U.S. identify as bisexual.

For females, that number is more than double the number of women who identify as lesbian, 0.9 percent. When it comes to adolescents, 1.5 percent of male adolescents (age 14 to 17) and 8.4 percent of female adolescents identify as bisexual.

Dodge said he hopes the results emphasize the need for efforts to decrease negative stereotypes and increase acceptance of bisexual individuals as a component of broader initiatives aimed at tolerance of sexual and gender minority individuals.

“After documenting the absence of positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women in the general U.S. population, we encourage future research, intervention, and practice opportunities focused on assessing, understanding, and eliminating biphobia — for example, among clinicians and other service providers — and determining how health disparities among bisexual men and women can be alleviated,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Girls Gone Wild: Why Straight Girls Engage In Same-Gender Sexual Experiences

By

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“Straight girls kissing” has become something of a curious and controversial cultural phenomenon over the last 15 years.

Madonna and Britney Spears famously locked lips in front of millions during the 2003 Video Music Awards, with Scarlett Johansson and Sandra Bullock following suit seven years later at the MTV Movie Awards. In 2008, Katy Perry went platinum singing that she “kissed a girl” and “liked it.” Meanwhile, we’ve seen portrayals of otherwise unlabeled women acting on same-gender desire in a number of popular primetime shows, from “Orphan Black” to “The Good Wife.”

In one sense, this reflects real life. Many young women who identify as straight have had sexual or romantic experiences with other women. Research on sexual fluidity, hooking up and straight girls kissing has mainly focused on women living on college campuses: privileged, affluent, white women.

But studies have found that same-gender sexual experiences between straight women are common across all socioeconomic backgrounds. This means existing studies have been ignoring a lot of women.

As recent surveys have shown, women outside of the privileged spaces of college campuses actually report higher rates of same-gender sex. This happens even though they’re more likely to start families at a younger age. They also have different types of same-gender sexual experiences and views of sexuality, all of which we know less about because they’re often underrepresented in most academic studies of the issue.

As a sociologist who studies gender and sexuality, I wanted to know: How do straight women who don’t match the privileged, affluent and white stereotype we see in the media make sense of their same-gender sexual experiences?

‘Straight girls kissing’ in social science

Some social scientists have followed the media’s fixation on straight girls kissing to further explore theories of female bisexuality.

In her 2008 book, psychologist Lisa Diamond developed the influential model of “sexual fluidity” to explain women’s context-dependent or changing sexual desire. Meanwhile, sociologist Laura Hamilton argued that making out at college parties served as an effective, albeit homophobic, “gender strategy” to simultaneously attract men and shirk lesbians. And historian Leila Rupp, with a group of sociologists, theorized that the college hookup scene operates as an “opportunity structure” for queer women to explore their attractions and affirm their identities.

All of these scholars are quick to recognize that these ideas – and the studies on which they are based – focus mostly on a certain type of person: privileged women living on the progressive campuses of selective universities. In part, it is easier to recruit study participants from classes and student groups, but it leaves us with a picture that reinforces stereotypes.

Around the same time I conducted my study, the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) found that women with the lowest levels of educational attainment reported the highest lifetime prevalence of same-gender sex. The New York Times correctly observed that these findings challenged “the popular stereotype of college as a hive of same-sex experimentation.” A 2016 update of the survey did not find a statistically significant pattern that varied by education level, but reiterated the high prevalence among women who didn’t go to college.

Just Below the Surface

In 2008, I started work as a research assistant on the Relationship Dynamics and Social Life (RDSL) study, which surveyed young women weekly for two-and-a-half years to learn about the prevalence, causes and consequences of unintended pregnancy. It was my job to handle participants’ questions, comments and complaints. Most of the inquiries from the participants were about how to complete the surveys or receive the incentive payment.

But a few came from women unsure about how to answer questions on sex and relationships. They wondered: Were they supposed to include their girlfriends?

Many demographic surveys focused on health or risk do not explicitly collect data on sexual orientation or same-gender relationships. But valuable information on these topics often exists just below the surface.

In 2010, I decided to write new RDSL survey questions about sexual identity, behavior and attraction. Nearly one-third of participants gave some type of nonheterosexual response (including women who said they “rejected” labels or that gender was not a determining factor in their attractions). In 2013, I recruited 35 of these women to interview. Because RDSL had a racially and socioeconomically diverse population-based sample, I was able to interview women that many sexualities scholars struggle to access.

What Happens After Motherhood?

Many women I interviewed had become mothers in their teens or early 20’s. All of these moms had hooked up with a woman, had a girlfriend in the past or said they were still attracted to women. Nonetheless, most identified as straight.

They explained that it was more important to be a “good mother” than anything else, and claiming a nonheterosexual identity just wasn’t a priority once kids were in the picture.

senior lesbiansFor example, Jayla (a black mom with a four-year degree from a state school) broke ties with her group of LGBTQ friends after her daughter was born. As she explained, “I think what our relationship didn’t survive was me becoming a mom… I kind of shifted away from them, because I know how I want to raise my daughter.”

Women who married men or settled down in their early 20’s also felt that their previous lesbian or bisexual identities were no longer relevant.

Noel, a white married mom with a General Educational Development certificate, dated girls in high school. Back then, being bisexual was a big part of her identity. Today, she doesn’t use that term. Noel said monogamy made identity labels irrelevant: “I’m with my husband, and I don’t intend on being with anybody else for my future.”

Sexual Friendships Emerge

Being a young mom can foreclose some possibilities to fully embrace an LGBTQ identity. But in other ways it created space to act on same-gender desire. I came to call these intimacies “sexual friendships.”

Chantelle, a black mom with a high school diploma, was struggling to co-parent with her ex-boyfriend. In the midst of her frustrating situation, she had found intimacy and satisfaction in a sexual friendship with a woman. As she put it, “relationships have a different degree and different standards. But with a friendship it’s kind of like everything is an open book.”

Amy, a white woman working on her associate’s degree, has had sex a few times with her best friend. They don’t talk about that, but they have daydreamed together about getting married, contrasting their feelings with their experiences dating men: “I feel like a man will never understand me. I don’t think they could. Or I don’t think that most men would care to. That’s just how I feel from the experiences I’ve had.”

Some of the women I interviewed told me they strategically chose hookups with women because they thought it would be safer – safer for their reputation and a safeguard against sexual assault.

Tara, a white woman attending a regional public university, explained: “I’m a very physical person and it’s not all emotional, but that doesn’t go over well with people, and you get ‘the player,’ ‘whore,’ whatever. But when you do it more with girls, there’s no negative side effects to it.”

Tara also said that men often misinterpret interest for more than it was: “Like if I want to make out with you, it doesn’t mean I want to have sex with you. But in a lot of guys in party scenes, that’s their mentality.” I asked her if this happened to anyone she knew, and she uncomfortably said yes – “Not that they ever called it rape or anything like that.”

Less Exciting, More Real

lesbian pronIntersectional studies like the one I conducted can upend the way we frame the world and categorize people. It’s not binary: Women don’t kiss each other only for either the attention of men or on their way to a proud bisexual or lesbian identity. There is a lot of rich meaning in the middle, not to mention structural constraints.

And what about that popular image equating “straight girls kissing” with “girls gone wild”? It’s more provocative cliché than reality. Many are at home with their kids – the father gone – looking for companionship and connection.

By using large-scale surveys as both a source of puzzles and a tool for recruiting a more diverse group of participants, the picture of “straight girls kissing” gets a little less exciting – but a lot more real.

Complete Article HERE!