A new study found that most women—even women who identify as straight—are aroused by images of naked women. Factors like pupil dilation were measured as 345 women watched videos of naked men and women. Eighty-two percent of the female participants—and 74 percent of the women who identify as straight—exhibited arousal to both sexes. The study and its results are fascinating, but the way they’re being reported on is a tad imprecise.
“Women are either bisexual or gay, but ‘never straight,’ ” declares one headline. “Most women are bisexual or gay but never straight, study suggests,” hedges another. These headlines seem to come from a quote from study author Gerulf Rieger from the University of Essex psychology department.
From the Telegraph:
Dr. Rieger said: “Even though the majority of women identify as straight, our research clearly demonstrates that when it comes to what turns them on, they are either bisexual or gay, but never straight.”
To be clear, straight women can be aroused by images of women. In scientific terms, they would, indeed be bisexual—in that they are attracted to both sexes. But when we use the word bisexual, we’re usually referring to both sexual and romantic identification. In other words, when we think of bisexuality, we’re often imagining women and men who are not only aroused by both sexes—but who would date both sexes. So, yes, these women can be called bisexual, but that’s also oversimplifying things.
Often, when we choose how we identify, we’re not only referring to our sexuality, but also to our romantic orientation. When we fail to distinguish between the two, labels can be rendered ill-fitting and confusing—as happens with this study and the discussion it has sparked. If anything, the study and its fascinating results demonstrate how imprecise—and perhaps obsolete—our labels for sexual and romantic orientation are.
Some people are already well versed in this distinction and opt instead for labels that fall on two axes—romantic and sexual—for example, describing themselves as “bisexual” and “biromantic.” But although everyone should be aware of the distinction, it seems laborious and unnecessary to demand that we all adopt such definitive labels when we could just as easily mind our own business and take everyone at their word for who they are and what they want out of life, love, and sex.