Romantic opportunities appear to influence women’s sexual identities — but not men’s, suggests a new study that will be presented at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in Chicago.
“This indicates that women’s sexuality may be more flexible and adaptive than men’s,” said study author Elizabeth Aura McClintock of the University of Notre Dame.
McClintock’s study relies on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) and considers its first (1994-1995), third (2001-2002), and fourth (2007-2008) waves. More specifically, she tracked 5,018 women and 4,191 men as they moved from adolescence to young adulthood. On average, they were 16-years-old in Wave I, 22 in Wave III, and 28 in Wave IV.
Confirming previous research, McClintock found that women were more likely than men to report bisexuality, while men were more likely to report being either “100 percent heterosexual” or “100 percent homosexual.”
She also found that women were three times more likely than men to change their sexual identities from Wave III to Wave IV of Add Health. Add Health participants, who were not asked about their sexual identities until Wave III, could identify as 100 percent heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, bisexual, mostly homosexual, and 100 percent homosexual.
In each wave of Add Health that McClintock used for her study, participants were also asked if they had ever experienced same-sex attraction or participated in same-sex sexual activity.
“Women have a greater probability than men of being attracted to both men and women, which gives them greater flexibility in partner choice,” said McClintock. “Having flexible sexual attractions may grant greater importance to contextual and experiential factors when it comes to sexual identity.”
McClintock said, “It is important to emphasize that I am not suggesting that same-sex unions are a second-best option to heterosexual unions,” McClintock said. “And I do not think that women are strategically selecting an advantageous sexual identity or that they can ‘choose’ whether they find men, women, or both sexually attractive. Rather, social context and romantic experience might influence how they perceive and label their sexual identity.”