Whole Lesbian Sex
Arousal = Sexual Orientation? Not Necessarily...

Felice Newman,

In a recent study, researchers measured physiological arousal in a sampling of self-identified bisexual men to see if they were "substantially" sexually aroused by both sexes. They wired up their subjects' penises and showed them porn loops. According to their report in Psychological Science, "Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men," the researchers – Gerulf Rieger, Meredith L. Chivers, and J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University and the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – found that most of the men were aroused either by images of men or by images of women, but not both. They concluded that "with respect to sexual arousal and attraction, it remains to be shown that male bisexuality exists." In other words, get off the fence, pal.

Aside from the obvious insult to self-proclaimed bisexuals everywhere, there's a flaw in their thinking. You can't equate physiological arousal with sexual orientation.

If Rieger wired me up, he might conclude I'm a gay man. Why? I like watching gay men having sex – in person or on-screen. It gets me wet. It's different than the sex I'm actually having, so there's the excitement of "otherness." I also like straight porn if the woman has real orgasms (and real tits), and I like lesbian porn depicting hard, rough sex with butch/femme pairings (which resembles the sex I am having).

My porn preferences are not likely to make Rieger's screening list, which featured two-minute loops of either two women having sex or two men having sex. Since two women pointing their tongues at each other like kittens lapping up milk isn't my idea of hot sex, girl-girl scenes in most mainstream porn don't arouse me. If I were a subject in Rieger's study, I might have to forfeit my membership in Lesbian Nation.

Fact is, many people – lesbian, gay, heterosexual, bisexual – get off on porn that doesn't reflect their actual sexual practices (or don't get off on porn that does match their stated sexual orientation). One woman told me: "I have no doubt that I am a lesbian and have no desire to have sex with a man, but the thought of two guys doing it really makes my clit throb." Why? Well, to some of us, cocks are hot. Just because we like to look at them doesn't mean we need to marry one. (Although we might fantasize having one.) And some self-identified lesbians like having sex with men – straight men, bi men, gay men, and transmen. Plus gay male porn has the added benefit of being more accessible than lesbian porn – finding it just isn't that hard (pardon the pun).

Desire is a slippery beast. What actually stirs you to passion may bear little resemblance to what you say you want or what you think you should want. You may have no idea why a particular scenario makes your heart race. You need not understand or even approve of your desires. You can keep up with the latest theories in the popular press, but you'll probably never really know why you desire women, or men, or both. The key to developing a sexuality that will challenge and delight you is to bless every crazy twist and turn of your erotic imagination.

So conduct your own study. Rent a weekend's supply of porn DVDs – queer, straight, lesbian, gay, tranny, BDSM, fetish, vanilla, heterosexual. Hell, throw in some how-to films. Grab the remote, plug in your vibrator, and bring out the lube. Now you decide. Do you like watching a femme top, all tricked out in leather, grind her stilettos into some guy's balls? Two gay boys, corn-fed and pure, going at it in a hayloft? How about dykes with strap-ons, in all shapes, sizes, and colors, pounding the juice out of each other? Pay attention to what turns you on. That'll pay off for you far more than arbitrary check marks in sterile little boxes – straight, gay, bi – on some researcher's clipboard.

Felice Newman is a founding publisher of Cleis Press and the author of The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide for All of Us. She can be reached at Visit her at

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