ACCORDING TO A SCIENTIFIC STUDY GONE VIRAL, ALL WOMEN ARE BISEXUALS OR LESBIANS.
Yes, you read that correctly. Straight girls don’t exist, at least so far as the University of Essex is concerned. A psychology professor from the university conducted a small study of 345 women, and found that, while many were sexually aroused by titillating images and videos of women or heterosexual couples, none were turned on exclusively by men.
While I love anything that will send people into conniption fits over their sexualities, I have to put my foot down on this one. Sure, it’s funny and makes for a catchy headline, but conflating sexual arousal with sexual orientation is harmful to all women and all people with vaginas. Here’s why.
Sexual orientation is defined by what who you want to bang. That’s it. It’s all about self-identity. There are plenty out there to choose from: gay, straight, bi, pan, omni, poly, ambi — the list goes on.
I’ve heard plenty of people say: “Well, you know, everyone’s a little bit bi.” Most of these people have completely honorable intentions. Some may be bisexual, while others might consider themselves allies.
These statements aren’t entirely wrong. Alfred Kinsey’s orientation scale revolutionized the way we think about sexual preference in the modern age. Since studies have shed light on situational homosexuality — which often happens in sex-segregated environments, such as schools, prisons, and military installations — the fact that a same-sex encounter or relationship could happen to anyone does appear to give credence to the everyone-is-bi claim.
There’s one big problem with calling bisexuality universal, however, and that’s bi-erasure.
Misunderstandings about bisexuality abound. One popular myth holds that bi individuals cannot be truly happy unless they are partnered with individuals of both sexes. The counterpoint to this is that, when bisexual people enter into monogamous relationships, their sexualities change. Bi women are assumed to be straight when they partner with men, and lesbian when they partner with women.
Our reluctance to allow a person to hold onto their bisexuality when they partner with a single individual is bi-erasure. In the same way, saying that “everyone’s a little bit bi” denies bisexuals their distinct sexual orientation. It’s just as wrong and harmful as saying: “You’re not gay, you’re just confused.”
But what about trans* folks? Does the University of Essex study classify “women” according to sexual identity — which is distinctly different from both sexual orientation and sexual arousal — or according to their chromosomal makeup? The literature isn’t clear, but it is probably safe to say that transwomen and transmen were not included in the research, which makes the claims of its findings about “all women” even less credible.
Unlike sexual orientation, sexual arousal acts independently from self-identification. Scientists measure arousal by monitoring pupil dilation, pulse, and genital blood flow. It’s a purely physical response, and, because it can happen without the subject’s notice, it can also be completely separated from conscious arousal.
That means that you could be getting turned on by watching dogs hump in your yard, without even realizing it. But, of course, you are not turned on, not in any meaningful way. Your body is, because it anticipates a sexual encounter, but your mind isn’t thinking dirty thoughts about those horny mutts, because ew.
At least as far back as 2010, researchers assumed that the wide range of stimuli that prove physically arousing to people with vaginas was part of a biological protection against rape injuries. Given that ur-humans probably did not have any real concept of consent (the prefix ur– meaning”original” or “primitive,” so I’m talking about our early hominid ancestors here), it is likely that this biological response carries through to today simply because the people that had it were easier to impregnate. Today, this response can protect vaginas from being physically injured during rape.
Anyone who has watched enough Law & Order: Special Victims Unit knows that this biological response does not constitute consent, in any way, shape, or form. Ignorance about the subject causes rape victims to experience extreme guilt and shame. They may question whether they were “asking for it,” simply because their bodies were prepared for penetration. Men like Todd Akin and Rick Brattin — who use terms like “legitimate rape” to parse between violent assaults and incidents of marital rape, date rape, and statutory rape — use this response to accuse victims of making false claims.
And this is exactly what makes misunderstandings about the University of Essex study harmful to anyone with a vagina. If we consider sexual arousal to be a form of consent or an indicator of sexual orientation, then we play right into the rape culture that questions and blames victims in order to excuse criminals. It isn’t fair to anyone, of any identity or orientation, to perpetuate that toxic corner of the patriarchy.
So, ladies, keep your sexual orientations. You aren’t bisexual or a lesbian unless you — and only you — identify as such.