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10 Things Scientists Discovered About Sex This Year

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By Justin Lehmiller

This year has been memorable for a lot of reasons, but one that may not be immediately obvious is that we learned a lot about the science of sex in 2016. Among other things, sex researchers brought us one step closer to a male version of the birth control pill, they debunked the idea that porn kills love, and they discovered that having a cat just might make you more inclined toward kinky sex (yep, you read that right). Let’s take a closer look at these findings and some of the other fascinating things scientists taught us about sex in 2016.

Americans are warming up to the idea of open relationships.

Americans are more interested than ever in consensual non-monogamy (CNM), or the practice of having multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships at the same time. A study published in The Journal of Sex Research in May found that Google searches for two forms of CNM—open relationships and polyamory—have significantly increased across the past decade. At the same time, a study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that more people are practicing CNM than previously thought: in a nationally representative survey of single Americans, more than 1 in 5 said they had been in a sexually open relationship before. Table for more than two, please.

We’re getting closer to a male version of the birth control pill.

An October study from The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reported the results of a clinical trial in which men were given hormone injections designed to suppress their sperm production. The results were stunning: over the course of a year, the pregnancy rate for couples taking part in the study was just 1.57 out of 100. Unfortunately, however, the rate of side effects was very high, which led an external review board to recommend shutting down the study. Although this injection won’t be hitting the market, this study provides optimism that we’re not too far off from having a male equivalent of the female birth control pill.

Millennials are identifying as LGB at much higher rates than Gen Xers.

In January, the CDC released a report revealing major generational differences in Americans’ sexual identities. Specifically, millennials aged 18-24 were almost twice as likely to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual than Gen Xers aged 35-44. Millennials were more likely to report having engaged in same-sex behavior, too. However, whether this means same-sex attraction is actually increasing or if it’s just a sign that younger folks are more comfortable acknowledging their non-heterosexuality, we can’t say for sure.

The HPV vaccine has been wildly effective at reducing cancer.

In August, scientists reported that, in the ten years since the first vaccine for the human papilloma virus (HPV) was administered, rates of cervical cancer have been halved. If we can increase vaccination rates even further, there’s a chance that HPV-related cancers—including those of the cervix, anus, throat, and penis—could be eradicated within just a few decades.

Porn doesn’t change how men feel about their relationships.

A classic study from the 1980s found that heterosexual married men reported less love for their wives after viewing images of sexy magazine centerfolds compared to images of abstract art. This year, researchers tried three times to replicate the effect, but found nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. These findings suggest that porn probably doesn’t kill love after all.

BDSM acts can produce an altered state of consciousness.

In May, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE looked at the psychological experiences of people who took part in an extreme masochistic ritual in which their skin was pierced with hooks that had weights attached. These participants demonstrated evidence of an altered mental state known as transient hypofrontality, described as “reductions in pain, living in the here and now, little active decision making, little active logic, and feelings of floating and peacefulness.” This suggests that BDSM acts have the potential to be a very spiritual experience.

We might be able to treat low sexual desire by electrically stimulating the brain.

In a November study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers found that delivering electrical stimulation to the brain changes the way we respond to sexual stimulation. Specifically, a targeted cranial “zap” appears to enhance the response that occurs in the brain’s pleasure centers. This suggests that we might actually be able to use brain stimulation as a treatment for people who complain of low sexual desire in the not too distant future.

Sexual arousal puts us in a risk-taking state of mind.

A January study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reveals that being horny can make us susceptible to taking risks, including those that are both sexual and non-sexual. In one study, participants who watched an X-rated film subsequently expressed more willingness to keep having sex after noticing a broken condom. In another study, sexually aroused participants made riskier moves in a game of computerized blackjack. These findings suggest that, when we’re feeling hot and bothered, well, we can’t be bothered to properly evaluate risks.

Women can detect when other women are ovulating, an ability they might use to protect their relationships.

In an April study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers showed female participants photos of a woman who was either ovulating or not. Those who saw an ovulating woman were the most worried about keeping their partners away from her, but this was only true for participants with attractive partners. This suggests that women may have evolved the ability to pick up on other women’s ovulation status as a means of helping them to guard desirable mates from potential relationship threats.

Having a cat might increase your interest in kinky sex.

A July study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology reported that people’s attraction to kinky sex depended upon whether they had been infected with toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that can be passed from cats to humans. Specifically, those who said they had been infected were more into bondage, violence, zoophilia, and fetishism. Why is that? The researchers suspect that it’s because this infection affects the circuits of the brain involved in fear, given that in mice and rats, toxoplasmosis switches their natural fear of cat smell into an attraction toward it.

Here’s to hoping 2017 is another mind-blowing year for sex research!

Complete Article HERE!

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Lack Of Penis Bone In Humans Linked To Monogamous Relationships, Quick Sex

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Scientists reveal why humans do not have a penis bone.

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Many of us call erections “boners,” although there’s no actual bone in the penis. This bone has been the subject of many debates as several animals have them in diverse sizes and lengths, but humans don’t. Evolutionary scientists at the University College London suggest this strange anomaly is a consequence of monogamy and quick sex.

The penis bone, also known as the “baculum,” evolved in mammals more than 95 million years ago, and was spotted in the first primates that emerged about 50 million years ago, according to the researchers. The baculum became larger in some animals and smaller in others. For example, in the walrus, it can be two feet long, while in a monkey it’s about the length of a human fingernail.

Previous research has found the penis bone increases the potential duration of intercourse, and the frequency with which sex can take place. A lioness can copulate 100 times per day, sometimes with only four-minute intervals, but has just a 38 percent conception rate. This means males need to have better sexual stamina to achieve the best chance of paternity.

So, why do humans lack a penis bone?

The recent study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society, found a link between penis bone length, promiscuity, and sex duration. Some species have longer penis bones because they engage in “prolonged intromission,” which means the act of penetration lasts for more than three minutes. Longer intromission times are more common among polygamous mating species, where multiple males mate with multiple females, like bonobos and chimps. This mating system creates an intense competition for fertilization, and reduces a female’s access to more mates by having males spend more time having sex with them, according to the study.

The penis bone is attached at the tip of the penis rather than the base to provide structural support for animals who do prolonged intromission, and to keep the urethra open.

The researchers believe humans lost their penis bones when monogamy became a dominant reproductive strategy about 1.9 million years ago.

“We think that is when the human baculum would have disappeared because the mating system changed at that point,” Kit Opie, a co-author of the study at University College London, told The Guardian.

Opie and his colleague Miranda Brindle believe the male does not need to spend a long time penetrating the female since she is not likely to be leapt by other amorous males. Therefore, the reduction of competition for mates means humans are less likely to need a penis bone. Opie adds, despite popular belief, humans do not generally need longer than three minutes to get the job done, and successfully impregnate a woman.

“We are actually one of the species that comes in below the three minute cut-off where these things come in handy,” he said.

Scientists have just begun to put together the function of this mysterious bone. They do agree changes in the penis bone are driven as part of a mating strategy. This means a bigger penis bone is better when it comes to sexual competition.

Human males, do not feel bad — if the penis bone is damaged, it could take as long as other broken bones to heal.

Complete Article HERE!

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

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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!

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A graphic history of sex: ‘There is no gene that drives sexuality. All sexuality is learned’

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Changes in sexuality over time have made the modern family what it is. What next? Homa Khaleeli asks the authors of a groundbreaking graphic guide, The Story of Sex

The Story of Sex … some images from the book. Illustration: Laetitia Coryn

The Story of Sex … some images from the book. Illustration: Laetitia Coryn

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Philip Larkin famously announced that sexual intercourse began in 1963 (“Between the end of the ‘Chatterley’ ban / And the Beatles’ first LP”). Being French, and a psychiatrist to boot, Philippe Brenot takes a rather longer view. In his latest book, The Story of Sex, a bestseller in France, he runs an anthropological eye over the sexual mores of human societies from prehistoric times to today. Yet Brenot believes that the sexual revolution did spark a dramatic change, creating the modern couple, which is the basis of our families today. Now, however, he thinks this partnership of equals is under assault from all sides.

The academic, who has the wonderful title of director of sexology at Paris Descartes University, has spent his life studying sexuality. The Story of Sex is an irreverent, graphic novel (in both senses), filled with fascinating – if alarming – history. Cleopatra used a vibrator filled with bees; the word “trousers” was considered to be positively pornographic in Victorian England. Illustrator Laetitia Coryn’s extremely cheeky, but never sordid, pictures liven up the page and keep the narrative zipping along. The book was a real collaboration, says Coryn, who says it was made easier by Brenot’s firm ideas – and the fact he liked her jokes.

The illustrator admits she hesitated slightly over collaborating on the book. “I told my publisher we have to be careful with the drawings and with the jokes – we have to be sensitive,” she says, because she wanted the book to have as wide an audience as possible. “I didn’t put any porn in it!” As a reader, however, the frankness of the pictures still shocked me (you, er, might not want to whip out the book on public transport or in the office).

philippe-brenot-and-laeticia-cory

Philippe Brenot and Laeticia Cory.

Talking to Brenot over the phone (through charmingly accented English that becomes somewhat eccentric as he struggles with the complexities of his ideas) it’s impossible to escape the psychiatrist’s anxiety about our attitudes to love and intimacy today. We have never been freer to define our own relationships, and follow our own pleasure, he says, but despite this we are far from satisfied; and the modern couple is looking dangerously fragile.

“It’s incredible the difficulties couples have,” Brenot declares, in a tone that makes me imagine he is throwing his hands in the air in despair. Of the couples he sees in therapy, he says, “there is nothing wrong with them psychologically, but still they cannot communicate quietly, live calmly and have sexual fulfilment”.

While we think of lovers as a timeless relationship model, it has been the family that has been paramount in society for most of history, the 68-year-old says. “The couple used to get together for the sake of the family,” he explains. And the idea of equality in long-term pairings is even more recent, with “traditional” marriages putting men firmly in charge of their spouses.

“Love marriages have only been widespread for a century or so, and homosexuality was condemned until very recently,” Brenot notes.

“Since the 1970s, we have begun to invent modern couples with respect for each other and equality between the sexes,” he says. “This only came about after ‘marriage’ as a concept began dying out. Not because people stopped getting married, but because marriage stopped being seen as a sacred union – couples instead started developing on their own terms.”

Yet the rise in divorces since the 1970s and breakups of long-term relationships shows that the modern couple is not surviving, Brenot argues. In part, he says, this is because we are demanding more than ever before.

“It is difficult to live intimately, because we want perfect love and perfect sex and that is very difficult in a long-term relationship. We want a lot more than a reliable person to raise kids with.”

The solution, he says, is for us all to learn more about sex – which is where his book comes in. “It’s not possible to understand our intimate sex lives without looking at centuries of history, and even the origins of human life,” he says. “We understand what we live today if we understand from where we came.”

For instance, he says, if we look at the way relationships were formed in early human societies we can see echoes of our own problems. “We came from primates, but in chimp society there are never couples or families. There are lone males and females with children.” It was only as our brains evolved and emotions developed – including love – that monogamous relationships set in. For the first time (“somewhere between 1 million BC and 100,000BC”), it was possible to know the paternity of a child.

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While the beginning of family life may sound like a wonderful moment, Brenot argues that it was also the start of women’s subjugation, with men taking possession of their female partner and offspring – which traditional marriage legalised. “Paternity is the beginning of male domination,” says Brenot simply. “The day that happened, men took possession of women.”

In the animal kingdom, Brenot argues, there is none of the domination of female partners that has been a hallmark of human societies through history, nor is there domestic violence. Instead, among animals “males fight against other males and females fight with other females,” he says.

“Violence between men and women is only in humans – because of marriage, which puts men above women.”

During antiquity, meanwhile, a woman’s role was to provide a child – and female sexual pleasure was dismissed. But this role was also a dangerous one. “There were so many impediments to female pleasure. In the 18th and 19th centuries, one in six pregnant women died in childbirth. Then there were the infections and sexual violence.”

For men, of course, things were different. “Men have always done what they wanted,” says Brenot.

Even for men, sex for pleasure was something that happened “outside the home – for instance with prostitutes. Women were seen either to provide offspring or pleasure.” In ancient Rome, these rules were so strictly upheld that women could take their husbands to court for ejaculating anywhere but inside her body during intercourse, “because sex within marriage was for procreation, and the wife’s role was to receive sperm”.

Even during periods that today we think of as being golden ages for same-sex relationships, such pleasures were “reserved for the elite” – and the reality was often less accepting than we think. In ancient Greece, for instance, it was only the man who was “receiving” who was not stigmatised in a pairing. Similarly for the libertines in the 18th century, “there was a fluid sexuality, but it was also the top end of society – the intelligentsia and aristocracy. Throughout the centuries and the world’s rural populations, to be gay – or for women to have control of their own sexuality – has always been frowned upon.”

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Today too, Brenot argues, while much has been written about more people exploring fluid sexualities, entering polyamorous relationships and breaking down gender norms, “we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that this is trickling down to all sections of society”. And he warns too about a backlash from “new moralists” who oppose gay marriage, and will, no doubt, do the same for trans rights and alternative relationships as they gain more legal rights. Coryn says this is one of the reasons she enjoyed creating the book. “In France, people who don’t want gay people to be married, is a huge phenomenon. It’s awful. We say in the book this is a misunderstanding of sexuality; homosexuality is normal. I hope this is one topic on which people will change their mind in reading the book.”

For heterosexual couples, relationships began to look up about the time of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Up until this period, “men were having fun outside the home – hunting animals or chasing women. While women were always at home,” says Brenot. But the new spirit of education and the pursuit of knowledge changed this. Finally, says Brenot, men and women could be friends and even have platonic love.

Yet it took contraception for men and women to gain a semblance of equality. Previously “women were immobilised by marriage. They can’t get out of it, they don’t have the possibility of working or being free. The story of sex is, first of all, the story of marriage and the difficulties [it creates] for women.”

To start combating the problems that these historical inequalities have left us with, the psychiatrist insists, we need better sexual education, and one that starts at an early age. “People think sexuality is just an instinct,” he says, “that it is natural like eating and drinking. No. There is no gene that drives sexuality. All sexuality is learned.”

Because of this, says Brenot, the models for our sexuality are very important. Today, talking about sex is still taboo, and the dissemination of pornography has filled the void. “People say pornography changes adolescent life. But it changes everyone’s sexuality,” he says. “We have sex differently now; we try to imitate what we see [on our screens]. People feel bad and say, ‘I can’t do what they do.’”

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To displace this dangerous model, “sexual education should teach the rules that should govern relationships; it should teach us about communication, about consent and respect. This is not natural [to us]. We have to learn this.”

Coryn says that while the Story of Sex is not a sexual education manual, “we wanted it to be uninhibited”, to make talking about sex seem as natural as it should be.

“From the time children are little girls and boys, we have to teach them that everyone should be respected and to start accepting difference,” says Brenot. But, he says, while men and women are equal, that does not mean that they are the same. Railing against the teaching of “gender studies” departments, he says that a refusal to admit this difference is allowing gender inequality to become entrenched.

“They say, ‘Don’t speak of differences – a man is the same as a woman. Society is guilty of making differences, but underneath we are the same.’”

Unpicking these ideas, he says, is the only way to combat our most pressing problems. For example, “physical strength is different from a very young age. So [children] need to understand boys are stronger and take that into account – because that is the start of domestic violence, which is a real problem.”

If we leave this teaching too late, he says, the battle is already lost: “In children’s fairy stories it is the boy who seduces the girl, so there is power play early on.” Then there is the fact men have always been free to have multiple partners throughout history, because men don’t get pregnant. It is only by introducing the idea early on that “contraception is a joint responsibility” that we can challenge this.

Today’s modern couple, he points out, faces new challenges from the rise in options for dating to “new forms of relationship,” says Brenot. Yet Coryn stresses, as does Brenot, that there has never been a better time for people to live in terms of sexuality. Yet one thing has not changed, says Brenot – everyone still wants to find somebody to love. “People are afraid to be alone at the end of their life. They are afraid not to find the perfect person to live with. It is a difficult problem for everyone today.

“We have to learn how to live together anew.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Why more and more women are identifying as bisexual

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By Megan Todd

This is the pro-LGBT rights image that saw an Italian woman suspended from Facebook after the social media site claimed it violated rules on 'nudity and pornography'

This is the pro-LGBT rights image that saw an Italian woman suspended from Facebook after the social media site claimed it violated rules on ‘nudity and pornography’

The Office of National Statistics has released its latest data on sexual identities in the UK, and some striking patterns jump out – especially when it comes to bisexuality.

The number of young people identifying as bisexual has apparently risen by 45% over the last three years. Women are more likely to identity as bisexual (0.8%) than lesbian (0.7%), whereas men are more likely to report as gay (1.6%) than bisexual (0.5%). That last finding chimes with other studies in the UK and the US – but why should this be?

Women’s sexuality has historically been policed, denied and demonised in very particular ways, and for a woman to be anything other than passively heterosexual has often been considered an outright perversion. Lesbians have historically been seen as a more dangerous breed, a direct challenge to patriarchal structures, perhaps explaining why women may be more likely to self-identify as bisexual. Some research into women’s sexuality has also suggested that women take a more fluid approach to their relationships than men.

But then there’s the more general matter of how much sexual labels still matter to people – and here, the ONS findings really start to get interesting.

Among young people aged between 16 and 24, 1.8% said they identified as bisexual – exceeding, for the first time, the 1.5% who identified as lesbian or gay. In total 3.3% of young people identified as LGB, a significantly higher proportion than the 1.7% of the general population who identified as such. (Just 0.6% of the over-65s did).

In a society that still tends to see the world in often false binaries – man/woman, gay/straight, white/black and so on – how can we explain such a difference?

A pessimistic view of why more young people are identifying as bisexual rather than as gay or lesbian might be that conservative, rigid and polarised understandings of what gender is still hold sway. This, in turn, might also have an impact on attitudes to sexuality, where an investment in a lesbian or gay identity may be more frowned upon than a bisexual one – which in many people’s minds still has a “friendly” relationship with heterosexuality.

And yet it’s clear that identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual carries less stigma for the younger age group than it does for their elders.

 

Older generations grew up in a time where any orientation besides heterosexuality was taboo, stigmatised and often criminalised. The lesbian and gay movements of the 1970s and 1980s, inspired by the US’s Civil Rights movement, were often staunchly radical; the concept of the political lesbian, for instance, was a very prominent and powerful one. At the same time, both heterosexual and lesbian and gay communities were also marked by misunderstandings and distrust of bisexuality (in a word, biphobia).

But in the UK at least, gay and lesbian identities have lost a good deal of the political charge they once carried. Once “peripheral”, these sexual categories are well on the way to being normalised and commercialised. Many in the community remember or identify with a more radical era of political lesbianism and gay activism, and many of them are dismayed that non-heterosexuals’ current political battles for equality and recognition are often focused on gaining entry to heterosexual institutions, especially marriage.

Bisexuals march at Pride in London.

Bisexuals march at Pride in London.

But that doesn’t mean people have become more rigid in the ways they think about themselves. So while many in society will be the victims of homophobic and biphobic hate crime, things have improved, at least in terms of state policies.

This, alongside the now extensive reservoir of queer thought on gender and sexual fluidity, and the increasing strength of trans movements, may explain why the younger generation are taking labels such as bisexual, lesbian and gay in greater numbers than their seniors. That celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevigne and Anna Paquin have come out as bisexual in recent years can’t have hurt either.

Beyond labels?

The ONS survey raises empirical questions which are connected to those of identity. It specifically asked questions about sexual identity, rather than exploring the more complicated links between identity, behaviours and desires.

The category “bisexual” is also very internally diverse. Many would argue that there are many different types of bisexuality and other sexual identities which the ONS survey does not explore.

This much is made clear by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle (NATSAL), which has taken place every ten years since 1990 and is perhaps the most detailed picture we have of what people do (or don’t do) in bed. It suggests that the number of people who report same-sex experience is much higher than the number of people who identify as gay or bisexual.

Laud Humphreys’ infamous 1970 book Tearoom Trade, a highly controversial ethnographic study of anonymous sex between men in public toilets, showed us that plenty of people who seek out and engage in same-sex sexual contact do not necessarily identify as exclusively gay or even bisexual – in fact, only a small minority of his respondents did.

However far we’ve come, there’s still a social stigma attached to being lesbian/gay/bisexual. That means the statistics we have will be an underestimate, and future surveys will need a much more complicated range of questions to give us a more accurate picture. If we ask the right ones, we might discover we live in a moment where people are exploring their sexualities without feeling the need to label them.

But are we headed towards a point where the hetero/homo binary will collapse, and where gender will play less of a role in sexual preference? Given the continued privilege that comes with a heterosexual identity and the powerful political and emotional history of gay and lesbian identities and movements, I don’t think so.

Still, it seems more people may be growing up with the assumption that sexuality is more complicated than we have previously acknowledged – and that this not need not be a problem.

Complete Article HERE!

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