Going with the Flow: Male and Female Sexual Fluidity

Joe Kort, Ph.D., LMSW

The assumption that females are more sexually fluid than males is a falsehood. In my 30 years of practicing as an openly gay sex therapist, I have seen and worked many men who exhibit sexual fluidity. What is increasingly happening now is that these men are being discovered and “outed” by their female partners who find their browser histories, and it is causing them distress.

Straight couples often come to me, worried because the man in this couple has looked at gay porn or had bisexual fantasies and may be, in fact, gay or bi—and “what does this mean for our future?” In these situations, I find it crucial to explore the phenomenon of “male sexual fluidity” and how it tends to manifest somewhat differently than the sexual fluidity of women.

Sexual fluidity is the understanding that sexual preferences can change over a lifetime and be dependent on different situations. It is a person’s ability to engage in sexual behaviors and interest in members of both genders. Sexual preference and sexual orientation are two different things. One’s sexual preference is not always equal to one’s sexual orientation, but rather to the things one fantasizes about and enjoys sexually in bed. Sexual orientation is how one self-identifies from gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, etc., and is separate from, but related to, one’s sexual preferences. 

In the past few years, evidence has suggested men’s sexuality is more fluid than we thought. Lisa Diamond, Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies at the University of Utah, presented a convincing amount of data to this effect in her 2013 lecture at Cornell University. Ritch Savin-Williams is doing his own research on “mostly straight” males at Cornell University, studying men who fall into number one on the Kinsey scale.

But male and female sexual fluidity are expressed in ways that may not yet be showing up on paper. If a guy marks a box on a survey saying, yes, I’ve been attracted to another man, or, yes, I’ve had sex with another man in the past year, it may not be at all the same thing as when a woman checks the same box. There’s a big difference between sex with an emotional bond and a quick 5-minute casual sex encounter.

By culture and biology, men are pushed into limited modes of sexual and tenderness expression. Straight women can touch, hold hands, kiss in greeting, even lie in each other’s arms without being vilified or (for the most part) misconstrued as lesbian or bisexual. By contrast, little boys are rigidly de-feminized, discouraged from being affectionate with each other from the time they are about eight years old. While this may be changing, open-minded parenting with regards to gender behavior is far from the current norm. In essence, men, under threat of physical violence and ridicule, learn to compartmentalize tenderness, sex, and love.

Plenty of research exists suggesting that, in general, men are big on objectification and separating sex from feelings. Whereas, a fluid woman (tenderness-entitled) might say, “It’s not the gender, it’s the person.” The fluid man (tenderness-repressed, but sexuality-entitled) might say, “Hey, if it feels good, I’m going to go for it.” 

This corresponds to Diamond’s data analysis suggesting that while more women in general tend to report being bisexual, men who consider themselves exclusively-straight, while half as likely to report a same-sex attraction than their exclusively-straight female counterparts, have been shown to be more than four times as likely to get it on with a same-sex partner. 

This reminds me of the old Billy Crystal joke: “Women need a reason to have sex, men just need a place!”

No matter what the ratio is between biological vscultural, there’s no doubt cultural influences play a part. For example, whythe recent need to name any sexuality or affectionate relationship betweenstraight men as a special category? If a guy has a new friend, he has a bromance.If he has a strong admiration for a male celebrity or sports figure, it’s a mancrush.If he only digs guys when he’s stoned, it’s highsexualism (See theReddit thread “Weed Makes Me Temporarily Gay. Anyone Else?) As a gay male, I prettymuch love seeing this sort of flirting with same-sex attraction. But dostraight men see it this way? On one hand, the very definition of these termsis that they are non-sexual or non-threatening to their hetero-orientation. Onthe other, there’s something more tender there—and it appears liberating to theguys blurting out the names of their mancrushes on TV. Is this homophobia? Achink in the armor of male tenderness expression? Or both?

In contrast, women don’t have all these categories for themselves. Why would they? Society doesn’t misread affection between women in the same way. 

I’ve found it interesting and rewarding to explore these differences with straight couples in ways that lead to better communication, empathy, and understanding. Maybe it’s true that sexual expression is as diverse as human beings themselves.
Follow Joe Kort, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drjoekort 

This post was written by Joe Kort, Ph.D., and first appeared on www.huffingtonpost.com. It was republished with permission from the author.
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