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Lust, sex and the middle-aged woman

Women’s sexuality doesn’t die with age, but the level of their desire is diverse.

By Margaret Jennings

She seemed to have it all: a loving family, successful career and beautiful home.

Then Yvonne Carmichael jeopardised everything by having a torrid affair with a random stranger, ripping apart the cosy trajectory of her life.

Yvonne is the lead character in a BBC1 mini-series currently steaming up our TV screens, called Apple Tree Yard.

And while the storyline takes us from the joys of lust to the darkness of rape, it’s rare to see a 50-something female take centre stage in such scenes.

Midlife affairs are usually the reserve of testosterone-driven, crisis-ridden males — as if females have no such needs — or so the media world would have us believe.

Apple Tree Yard, a dramatised version of a novel by Amanda Coe, challenges pre-conceived ideas about middle-age sex.

It not only affirms that it’s OK for older women to be sexually expressive, it annihilates the myth that we become “invisible” and asexual just because we are ageing.

The four-part psychological thriller has prompted a lively debate on this issue and 50-year — old actress Emily Watson, who plays Yvonne, has commented: “Your sexuality doesn’t die with your age. You don’t have to apologise for it.”

The idea that our sexuality can be compartmentalised as non-existent, especially as we are living longer more vital lives, seems absurd.

While Yvonne’s torrid affair illustrates this explicitly, it also raises the issue of how our latent sexual urges are perfectly ripe to be reignited at this stage of life, depending on our circumstances and responses.

“Many women of 50 and beyond succumb to a flagging libido, more difficult arousal and maybe a stale, longtime relationship, by retreating from sex.

“Then they meet someone new and — bam — they feel the excitement that they thought they had left far behind,” says Joan Price, a US author and blogger on senior sexuality.

“They feel on fire. Their sex drive — which they thought was dormant — goes into overdrive. It can be quite an amazing and delicious experience. It can also be bewildering and guilt-filled, if a woman has an affair when she’s in a committed, monogamous relationship.”

Price, now 72, has first- hand experience of this herself: “I was 57 when I met the man who would become my husband and great love. I had been single for decades, with occasional relationships that didn’t go anywhere — and long dry spells.

“It was distressing, because I knew I was a vibrant, sexual being, but after menopause I seemed invisible to the men I met. Many women report that they feel the same. How glorious it is then, when we meet the right person and that person is as electrified as we are!”

The on-screen electricity between research scientist and grandmother-to-be Yvonne, and her handsome lover, Mark Costley (played by Ben Chaplin), is an endorsement of this passionate potential, but is there something missing in our relationship if we yearn to seek those sparks elsewhere?

Sex in relationships is not just about sex, but about the connect between a woman and her partner, says Lisa O’Hara, a couple counsellor with Dublin-based clinic Mind and Body Works.

“If lack of libido is an issue for a couple attending for counselling, it can be part of a wider discontent than just the sexual connection. There may be a loss of closeness in general and resentments by the woman towards the partner that have built up over years, which have gone unaddressed.

“If these are addressed in therapy and things improve, sex may be back once again.”

However, some of her midlife female clients do develop a stronger curiosity about their own desires and fantasies, once free of fear of pregnancy or of other lifestyle issues that had got in the way, says O’Hara.

“Some say ‘I’m out of here’. It totally depends on their unique circumstances and how they feel about themselves.”

The myth that we become less sexual as we age was recently explored in research among women aged 55 to 81, titled Sex, Desire and Pleasure: Considering the experiences of older Australian Women.

Research author Bianca Fileborn, a lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, tells Feelgood: “One of the key findings from our research was that women are really diverse — there’s certainly not one way that older women are ‘doing’ sexuality and sexual desire in mid to later life.

Emily Watson’s as character Yvonne Carmichael in the BBC production of ‘Apple Tree Yard’.

“In fact quantitative research carried out in western countries pretty consistently shows that a significant number of older people remain sexually active — usually a majority — at least until they reach ‘deep’ old age, in their 80s and 90s. But even then, a large minority still have sex.

“Another key finding for us was that women’s desire for sex didn’t depend necessarily on how older they were, but what else was going on their lives that influenced them.”

Irish sexologist Emily Power Smith says she knows women of all ages who, although they’re living with chronic illness and pain, are “determined to find ways to feel sexual”.

“Women who enjoy sex will have sexual desire right to the end of their lives and will find creative ways to keep that spark. But I also work with a number of women in their 50s and above, who want to know what all the fuss is about, because they could quite easily never have sex again.

“Inevitably it transpires that they have never really enjoyed sex. As they begin to discover their ability to feel sexual pleasure and arousal, their drives tend to increase.”

ONCE we are leading healthy lives low libido seems more related to the kind of sex we are having, rather than our age, she says.

“I know many young fertile women who hate sex and many older women, post menopause, who love it. Increasingly, there is research to show that older women embarking on new relationships report no reduction whatsoever in their sexual desire.”

Whatever about the complex rich reality of older women’s everyday sex lives, the screening of Apple Tree Yard may nudge the film and media world towards a more rounded representation of the mature female in all her sensual glory.

And perhaps even encourage women to explore their own sexuality more.

There is a growing posse of sexy women in their 50s and older decades, gracing the fashion and beauty world, in recent times, apart from the fact that some of the original supermodels of the ’90s, such as Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson and Linda Evangelista are already past the half century mark.

This year’s Pirelli calendar also sees photographer Peter Lindbergh tap into the zeitgeist, describing the make-up free portraits of his subjects as a “cry against perfection and youth”.

Some of the high-achieving women he chose to feature were actresses Julianne Moore, 56, Charlotte Rampling, 70, and Helen Mirren, 71.

However, despite this celebration of our vitality as we age, we still may have some catching up to do as individuals, says Power Smith.

“Women do a lot of self-policing when it comes to behaviour, dress and dating over a certain age. I think we are so conditioned to believe our lives are over once we’re 50 — though this is changing slowly — we get very troubled at the thought of our peers wearing short skirts, or dating younger people. But the rules don’t serve us. They never did.

“Only now some of us have the financial freedom, confidence and ability to create new norms. So come on! Let’s break some rules!”

Apple Tree Yard, BBC One, Sunday February 5, 9pm

10 ways to feel sexy

Senior sexpert, author and blogger, Joan Price, gives us these 10 tips for hot sex after 50:

1. Slo-o- o-w- w down. It takes longer for us to warm up, and this intensifies as we get older. Make the warm-up phase of sex play last hours… or days.

2. Appreciate, decorate, and celebrate your body. Jewellery, lingerie, feathers, fringe, silk, velvet, massage oil, candlelight — whatever looks good and feels good. If you know you look sexy, you’ll feel sexy.

3. Learn what you like. Explore, experiment. If you’re partnered, communicate what you like.

4. Do sexy things on your own to get in the mood long before you get naked. Work out. Swim. Dance. Fantasise a sexy scene. Spend some time humming with a vibrator, reading erotica, or watching porn — or all of these.

5. Have sex during high energy times, when your arousal is strongest, whether solo or partnered.

6. If you’re partnered, kiss and kiss. Kiss sweetly, passionately, quickly, slowly, contentedly, hungrily, lightly. All kinds of kisses help you bond with your partner, warm up, and enjoy the moment.

7. Explore sex toys and other erotic helpers, alone and/or with a partner. Lucky for us that sex toys are easy to find, fun to try, and wow, do they work!

8. Use a silky lubricant. There are many different lubricants made specifically for sex that feel great and enhance (or bring back) the joy of friction. Make applying lubricant an erotic part of sex play.

9. Enjoy the afterglow. If you’re partnered, indulge in quality snuggle time.

Solo, don’t get back to your daily life right away — bask in your feelings of wellbeing.

10. Laugh a lot. Laughter is joyful, ageless — and sexy.

Complete Article HERE!

When You Are Old, Chinese, and Gay

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual retirees seek companionship and acceptance in old age, but some find it harder than others.

 

By Fan Yiying

Zhang Guowei, a 76-year-old bisexual veteran, is relishing his twilight years. “I couldn’t be happier with my life post-retirement,” says Zhang, who was a doctor in the army until 1994.

As a former military officer, Zhang’s monthly pension is 10,000 yuan ($1,440) — five times the average pension in Changde, the small city in central China’s Hunan province where he lives with his boyfriend. Zhang divorced his wife in 2003 and met the love of his life — Wu, who is 40 years younger — a year later on the internet. “I expect him to accompany me through the remainder of my life,” Zhang tells Sixth Tone after finishing his daily exercise routine.

Zhang says he is bisexual but prefers men. He gained support and understanding from his ex-wife and two daughters when he came out to them in 2003. When he passes on, his assets will be divided equally among his daughters and his boyfriend. “My kids have no problem sharing with Wu because they know he is the one taking care of me in my final years,” he says.

The May-December couple have been living together since 2005 in an apartment provided by the government for retired army cadres and their families. The 10-story building houses a dozen veterans in their 60s through 90s, some living alone and others with their spouses.

When Wu first moved in, Zhang told his neighbors that Wu was his gan erzi, or adopted son, whom he met online. (The Chinese concept of gan erzi allows for a sort of informal adoption of adults, with no legal or religious implications.) “I had this vague idea that they might be gay,” says 74-year-old Lu Shize, who lives downstairs. “But it’s none of my business to ask about his private life,” Lu adds.

Last year, following in other veterans’ footsteps, Zhang wrote a 218-page autobiography — including his experiences of recognizing his sexuality — and shared it with his fellow cadres. His neighbors were very understanding. “Everyone knows about us, and no one gossips or gives us a hard time,” Zhang says.

Lu, who had never before met any out gay or bisexual men, says he admires Zhang’s courage. “Being gay or not, it doesn’t change the way I see him,” Lu says. “We are in our 70s; what’s more important than being happy and healthy?”

China’s population is rapidly aging. The proportion of the population aged 60 or older was more than 16 percent at the end of 2015, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and that number is only set to increase. The nation’s changing demography brings with it challenges for managing welfare and health care, especially as fewer seniors are able to count on their families for support.

Two older men hold a symbolic wedding ceremony in Beijing, Jan. 30, 2013.

Decades of family-planning restrictions mean that even seniors who have children often must become self-reliant, as children born during the one-child policy can’t afford to support two parents and four grandparents. As a result, for many elders, being childless is no longer a major concern or an unusual occurrence.

Wen Xiaojun, 56, is single and childless. Immediately after he retired in November from working as a civil servant, he rented an apartment in Sanya, on the southern island of Hainan, where he is spending six months avoiding the cold of his hometown in the eastern province of Zhejiang. “I still feel young and restless,” Wen tells Sixth Tone. “Being childless makes it easy for me to travel after retirement.”

Like other older people, LGBT seniors want to have rich, fulfilling, and independent lives. They hope that retirement will give them the opportunity to focus on what they truly love.

Wen enjoys his slow-paced life in Sanya. He goes to exhibitions, takes walks along the beach, plays volleyball with locals, and sometimes meets up with men he contacts through Blued — a popular gay social app, on which he hopes to find a long-term boyfriend.

But dating isn’t easy for older gay men. “Younger generations can build a relationship quickly by kissing or having sex soon after they meet offline,” Wen explains. “But we want something more spiritual and stable.”

Similarly, 62-year-old Ah Shan, as he’s called within the gay community, says that finding a partner is his biggest problem these days. His finances are secure, as he owns his apartment in Guangzhou — capital of southern China’s Guangdong province — and receives a monthly pension of about 5,000 yuan, but he has been single for four years and is ready for that to change. In the meantime, he is renting out one of his bedrooms to gay friends so he has some company at home.

Ah Shan poses for a picture in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, 2013.

Most gays, lesbians, and bisexuals of Ah Shan’s generation knew little about their sexual orientation until internet access became available at the turn of the millennium. Even when Ah Shan was working in the U.S. in the late 1980s, he refused to consider himself gay because the only information he’d heard about gay topics in China was AIDS-related or implied that homosexuality was shameful or immoral. “I think I was brainwashed,” Ah Shan laughs.

Over the last two years, Ah Shan has been working on a gay oral history project, recording the stories of older gay men in Guangzhou. He has talked to more than 60 gay men aged from 60 to 90, who have experienced some of China’s most critical historic moments, from the Cultural Revolution to the nation’s opening-up era. “If we don’t record them now, part of the important history of LGBT in China will be gone,” he says.

Many of the men are married and choose not to come out to their families. “They go to this particular park to chat with other gay men in the daytime to release their emotions, but when the sun goes down, they have to return home to bear their family responsibilities,” Ah Shan says with a sigh.

Ah Shan’s own parents passed away before he was brave enough to tell them the truth. His mother died in 2000, a year before homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in China.

Compared with gay and bisexual men, older women find it even more difficult to disclose or discuss their sexual orientation. Since 2010, 45-year-old Yu Shi from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has been working on an oral history project for older same-sex-attracted women across China, but she says the process of locating participants and persuading them to share their stories is tough.

“Chinese women are in a weak position in the family, which doesn’t allow them to speak out for themselves,” Yu says, adding that of the 30 or so lesbians who have taken part in the project over the last six years, only one has come out to her family. Many won’t divorce their husbands even if they have female partners. “Chinese people are very concerned with saving face, and they think it’s a loss of face to get a divorce if you’re already a grandparent,” she says.

Yu and her 40-year-old girlfriend have lived together for over a decade, but despite their enduring, loving relationship, they can’t enjoy the security of a formal union, as same-sex marriage is not yet legal in China. Some issues can be resolved by making a will, but others — like legal or medical power of attorney — remain a problem.

According to Yu, some LGBT seniors who are single and childless have considered building their own retirement estate where they can live together and take care of one another. Although they aren’t opposed to regular nursing homes, Yu says “they prefer to live in a place where they can open their hearts and share their experiences with others in the same circumstances.”

A lesbian couple kiss each other during an event in Shanghai, Dec. 22, 2013.

As more and more seniors live separately from their children, retirement facilities in China have struggled to meet growing demand. The government encourages investment in privately owned nursing homes, but so far none have been established exclusively for members of sexual minority groups.

Little public attention is given to the needs of older LGBT people, but to Wang Anke, a 50-year-old bisexual woman from Beijing, these individuals don’t do enough to stand up for themselves, either. “We are almost invisible,” she says.

Wang married her husband in 1990 and plans to spend the rest of her life with him. Though Wang considers herself happy and fortunate, she says that most older lesbian and bisexual women she knows are pessimistic about their senior years. “They’re lonely and lack emotional care,” Wang says, adding that many would rather live alone than move into a nursing home where they fear they can’t be themselves. “Loneliness will go to the grave with them.”

But while some LGBT seniors advocate dedicated nursing homes, Ah Shan opposes the idea of separate services. “In the long run, LGBT people shouldn’t lock ourselves in a so-called safe place,” he says. “What we really need is for the overall environment to allow us to live comfortably in the community.”

Complete Article HERE!

Study ties pubic hair grooming to sexually transmitted infections

By Ronnie Cohen

Before scheduling a bikini wax, or shaving down there, consider the results of a new study.

Men and women who trimmed or removed their pubic hair were nearly twice as likely to report having had a sexually transmitted infection, or STI, compared with non-groomers, researchers found after adjusting for age and number of sexual partners.

The lesson, according to the study’s senior author, Dr. Benjamin Breyer: “I wouldn’t groom aggressively right before a sexual encounter with a partner I didn’t know well, and I would avoid having sex with an open cut or wound.”

Removing pubic hair might tear the skin, opening an entryway for bacteria or viruses, the authors write in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.

But in a phone interview, Breyer, a urology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, cautioned that pubic hair grooming also might mask other contributing factors to STIs. Groomers, for example, could be more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors – behaviors not considered in the study.

It is the first large-scale investigation into the relationship between grooming practices and STIs.

Researchers surveyed 7,470 randomly sampled adults who reported at least one lifetime sexual partner. Some 84 percent of the women and 66 percent of the men groomed their pubic hair.

The 17 percent of groomers who removed all their hair were more than four times as likely to report a history of STIs compared to those who let their hair grow naturally, the study found.

The 22 percent of groomers who trimmed their pubic hair at least weekly reported more than triple the rate of STIs compared to those who left it alone.

U.S. cases of the three most common sexually transmitted infections – chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – reached an all-time high last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But Debby Herbenick, a sex researcher and professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health in Bloomington, isn’t ready to advise people to discard their razors on the basis of the study.

“What was really missing from the paper was the aspect of sex,” she said in a phone interview. “That’s important because you’re not getting an STI from shaving or trimming your pubic hair.”

The only question researchers asked about sex was how many partners participants had in their lifetimes.

“For me, the study isn’t enough to urge anyone to change anything about what they’re doing about the body,” said Herbenick, who was not involved with the research.

A previous study found that women who removed all their pubic hair were more likely to engage in casual sexual hookups as opposed to long-term relationships – possible evidence that something other than grooming itself caused the STIs, she said.

Along those lines, in the romantic comedy, “How to be Single,” Rebel Wilson playing Robin laments her friend’s LTRP, or “long-term relationship pubes.”

Regardless of whether and how people groom their pubic hair, Breyer stressed the importance of practicing safe sex, especially using a condom when engaging in casual sex.

Pornography and Hollywood, particularly a painful-to-watch 2000 episode of HBO’s hit “Sex in the City,” with Sarah Jessica Parker playing Carrie Bradshaw getting a Brazilian bikini wax, popularized women stripping their genitals bald, Herbenick said.

The trend appeared to slow during the recession and may be reversing. Earlier this year, Vogue magazine ran a story headlined, “The Full Bush Is the New Brazilian.”

But men and women still remove their pubic hair. Because they frequently do so in preparation for sex, Herbenick sees groomers as unlikely to heed Breyer’s advice about waiting to heal after grooming and before having sex.

“We know people are grooming in preparation for sex,” she said. “So I don’t think waiting is the answer.”

In another recent study in JAMA Dermatology, more than 80 percent of American women said they groomed their pubic hair, and 56 percent reported doing so to get ready for sex. Women groomed regardless of how often they had sex, the gender of their sex partner and their sexual activities.

Complete Article HERE!

Raising a gender nonconforming child

An interview with Eileen O’Connor

By Kim Cavill

gender-nonconforming-child

Eileen O’Connor, blogger at No Wire Hangers Ever, lives life to the fullest. With her unapologetic love for wine and honest humor, she looks at life through rose-colored glasses. She has been published on Huffington Post 26 times and appeared on the WGN morning news. Recently, she wrote a blog about raising a gender nonconforming child. I asked her for an interview and she very kindly accepted.

Hi Eileen! Before we get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

I am a working mom of four. I have been married to my husband for eleven years. My kids are 9, 8, 7, and 6 years old.

Sex Positive Parent is about teaching parents how to talk to kids about sex and relationships, including conversations about gender norms. Gender norms are expectations and rules about the the way women and men “should” look and behave. As the parent of a gender nonconforming child, what do you want other parents say to their children about gender norms?

I would love people to know that my kids want the same thing every kid wants: to be loved and accepted. They may not fit the gender norms when it comes to the clothes they wear, but they are just clothes. Clothes don’t define who they are as people.

Excellent advice for all of us, I think. What sorts of things have other adults said to you about your child or your parenting. How did those things make you feel?

I have been told that I’m “making my kids this way”. That “God doesn’t make mistakes”. I have had grown ass adults tell my kids that they can’t be something for Halloween because their gender. And my favorite is “you’re the parent. Tell them no”. At the beginning I worried about what people thought. I didn’t know how to respond. Now I just laugh at people’s ignorance. I don’t have time for that nonsense. You go ahead and tell your kids no all he time. I’m going to let mine live their lives.

Wow. Any parent can tell you that making a child be anything is an uphill battle, right? On your blog, you wrote, “At the beginning we were hesitant. We said things like, ‘You’re a boy and boys don’t wear dresses. Be a man! Stop being such a little sissy!’ You know, the normal things you say to a toddler questioning their gender role. But we soon learned his love for all things fancy wasn’t going away. We could either accept him the way he is or we could make his life and our lives miserable. We CHOSE to accept him for who he is. He did not CHOOSE to be this way.” Can you describe your thought process in coming to that realization? I’ve worked with families who flat out refuse to allow their child to express their gender outside societal norms, even when that expression persists for many years. What do you want to say to those parents?

When my kids first started to show an interest in gender non-conforming clothing, I started to research it. The first article I read said that children who struggle with their gender are way more likely than gender conforming kids to commit suicide. That’s all it took. My husband and I discussed and decided we weren’t going to spend one second having them feel bad about who they were. I immediately went to Oldnavy.com and ordered them both new wardrobes. To parents who are struggling I want to say that it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. And the sooner you can accept your child the way they are the happier they will be. An the happier you will be. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Embrace your child just the way they are. Nothing you can say or do will change who they are. Nothing. Not one God damn thing.
Also would you ever try to change your gender conforming child? Would you ever try to convince your heterosexual child that they are homosexual? No, you wouldn’t.

The risk of suicide is extremely serious. Statistics consistently show that children who are gender nonconforming experience a much higher risk of suicide, as well as bullying and violence. Having a supportive family goes a long way toward mitigating those risks. And you are very right that it isn’t feasible to control someone’s gender or sexual orientation. At best, you can temporarily regulate their expression. How do you balance the parental desires to raise independent children, but also keep them safe in a sometimes dangerous world? How do you deal with fear?

We’re lucky that our kids are still little and are being raised in such an amazing community. Our kids are surrounded by family and friends that truly accept them for who they are. They are in a school with 27 cousins. That’s a built in security system. Of course I fear what will happen when they get older, but I’m not going to worry about that now. I learned a long time ago that we have to take it one day at a time.

That’s such good advice, taking things one day at a time. I absolutely loved this statement that you wrote in your blog: “And for any parent out there that doesn’t want their kid playing with our kid because he wears a dress? Joke’s on you. We decided a long time ago that our kids weren’t allowed to play with kids who have closed-minded parents. We’d much rather raise a gender spectacular child than an asshole.” A lot of people feel that the current political climate has shown a spotlight on deep divisions running through the fabric of an increasingly diverse American society. As members of that society, how do you think we should address those divisions, some of which are gender-related, going forward?

I think every person just needs to choose kind. Always remember you never know what another person is going through. If everyone could always do this and treat people with kindness, things would be fine. Also I think that things are so much better now then they were when I was growing up. So I know things will continue to improve. Over the summer I was at the pool and I overheard a convo between a group of people in their 60’s-70’s. They were talking about gender non-conforming children and how they didn’t agree with it. All the while my little boy was swimming right by them in his bikini. It made me happy. Mostly because I knew they’d all be dead soon and I won’t have to worry about them for very long.

What a perfect illustration of how simply living life can be a form of protest and bring about change. Aziz Ansari, one of my favorite comedians, does a bit about interracial sex and says something to the effect of, “Well, you can think it’s wrong, but I’m still going to f*ck white girls and there’s nothing you can actually do about it.” Finally, my favorite question from the French host, Bernard Pivot, “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”

You’ll eternally be a size two and the wine is unlimited.

LOL. Thank you, Eileen, for your time and your words. Readers, make sure get more of both by following her blog on ChicagoNow, and you can find her on Facebook/Twitter.

Complete Article HERE!

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

By

black-lesbian-couple

“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!