Legacy of feminism sees female students adopt more diverse sexuality


Most adults identify as heterosexual, which means that they report only being attracted to and having sex with members of the opposite sex. However, women between the ages of 18 and 29 increasingly reject exclusive heterosexuality and describe their sexual orientation in a different way. These changes in women’s sexuality are not reflected by their male peers.

This is the main finding of our most recent report on nine years of investigations at the Binghamton Human Sexualities Research Laboratory, which has just been published in “Sexuality in Emerging Adulthood”. Together with our colleagues at Binghamton University Richard E. Mattson, Melissa Hardesty, Ann Merriwether and Maggie M. Parker, we conclude that changes in the sexual orientation of young adults are not just the result of acceptance. social growth of LGBT people – but are also linked to feminism and the women’s movement.

LGBT progress

These results are consistent with recent Gallup Organization polls, which found that American adults increasingly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or more of them. The Gallup Report attributed these changes to growing public awareness and acceptance of people who identify as LGBT, as well as the influence of a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. Another potential factor has been the proposed federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

But our study goes beyond these survey results, showing that young American adults are moving away from heterosexuality not only in how they identify when asked about their identity, but also how they describe themselves. who they are attracted to and who they have sex with. This indicates that there is something more going on than a growing desire to “get out” and identify as LGBT.

The fact that these differences are larger for women than for men indicates, in our view, that feminism and the women’s movement have, in fact, begun to change female sex and gender roles.

Compulsory heterosexuality

In the early 1980s, lesbian feminist Adrienne Rich argued that what she called “compulsory heterosexuality” was the root cause of gender inequality. She said that because social pressures and threats of violence – as well as actual violence – force heterosexuality on women, it makes women dependent and submissive to men in all walks of life, including roles. gender and sexual expression.

Our research indicates that one of the outcomes of more than a century of feminist activism and advancement may be the growing resistance of women to forced heterosexuality and its consequences. As a result, more women under 30 are moving away from exclusive heterosexuality than men in the same age group.

In a related development, we found that women in this age group also report more open attitudes towards sex than previous generations of women. They separate sex from traditional romantic relationships, describing themselves as enjoying casual sex with different partners and more likely to have sex with one person before being sure the relationship becomes serious or long-term. These attitudes are closer to those of their male peers.

The change is more pronounced in women who move away from exclusive heterosexuality, and less evident in women who report being exclusively heterosexual.

There is much more to learn

We still have a lot of questions about these trends. We wonder how they affect the way these young adults engage in sex and relationships. We also don’t know how women who identify as not exclusively heterosexual negotiate and navigate sex with men – or if these trends will continue with age.

We are also interested in why men in this age group are less likely than women to reject exclusive heterosexuality, but are more likely to report exclusive homosexuality. And we’d like to know if, or when, those who aren’t exclusively heterosexual might reveal themselves to their family and friends – and if they are dealing with things like anti-LGBT prejudice.

As human sexuality becomes increasingly diverse, it remains unclear whether the political and social landscape will confirm these changes or threaten those who express this diversity. We hope that the continued success of the LGBT and feminist movements will push the society towards an affirmative future.

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