Why do more women than men identify as sexually fluid?


Women’s sexual orientations are becoming less rigid than men’s as definitions of sexuality change and expand. Why?

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Our attitudes toward sexuality are evolving. Where once there was a single, well-known rainbow pride flag, there is now a plethora of colourful flags flying to represent the diversity of orientations. People appear to be more open to discussing their sexuality, and more unconventional, even previously “invisible,” identities have become part of a more mainstream discourse. Sexual identities are becoming less rigid and more fluid as a result of open dialogue.

However, new data show that this shift is more prevalent in one group: women are embracing sexual fluidity at much higher rates than men in many countries, and at a much higher rate than men overall.

So, what explains this disparity? Many factors, according to experts, contribute to this progression. Changes in the social climate, in particular, have enabled women to break free from traditional gender roles and identities. With these new findings, the question remains: what does this mean for future sexual fluidity for all genders?

A notable shift


For nearly a decade, Sean Massey and his colleagues at the Binghamton Human Sexualities Research Lab in New York have been studying sexual behaviours. They asked participants to report their sexual orientation and gender in each of their studies. They’d never looked at how that data changed over time until Massey and colleagues realised they were sitting on a gold mine of data on sexual attraction.

“We thought, gosh, we’ve been collecting this data for ten years,” says Massey, a Binghamton University associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. “Why don’t we look back and see if there are any trends?”

They discovered that between 2011 and 2019, college-age women shifted away from exclusive heterosexuality. In 2019, 65% of women said they were only attracted to men, a significant decrease from 77% in 2011. Between those years, the number of women who only had sex with men decreased. Meanwhile, men’s sexual attraction and behaviour remained mostly stable during the same time period: roughly 85% reported sexual attraction to women only, and nearly 90% reported engaging in sex exclusively with women.

Other surveys from around the world, including those from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, show similar results. Year over year, more women have reported more same-sex attraction than their male counterparts.

Power and freedom


“It’s too complicated to pin it on one thing,” says Elizabeth Morgan, an associate professor of psychology at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. However, gender roles – and how they have and have not changed – could be a significant factor.

Massey and his colleagues attribute the notable shift to cultural shifts such as the advancement of feminism and the women’s movement, both of which have significantly altered the socio-political landscape over the last several decades. These changes, however, had different effects on men and women.

“Progress has been made more around the female gender role than the male gender role,” says Massey. Though he acknowledges the LGBTQ+ movement’s impact on people who identify as sexually fluid today, Massy believes that feminism and the women’s movement play a role in why more women identify this way than men, especially since no comparable men’s movement has enabled men to break free from historical, gender-based restrictions in the same way.

In 2019, 65% of women reported only being attracted to men, a notable decrease from 77% in 2011


“Fifty years ago, you couldn’t have a life unless you married a man and settled down because he needed to provide for you,” Morgan continues. In that sense, rejecting exclusive heterosexuality could be viewed as a sign of women breaking free from traditional gender roles.

Meanwhile, as women have gained more freedom, men’s gender roles have remained relatively static as they have retained power in society. “To maintain that power, [men] must maintain a very masculine gender role, and part of masculinity is heterosexuality,” Morgan says. Expressing same-sex interest may diminish that power. Masculinity is a “fragile concept,” according to Massey. Same-sex attraction can “violate” it.

Violet Turning, a sex coach and educator, is 24 years old. also highlights the “fetishization” of two women having sex or making out, particularly under the male gaze. It has increased the social acceptance of same-sexual attraction between women, albeit for the wrong reasons. Meanwhile, people appear to find the idea of two men having sex far less appealing. A 2019 study of attitudes toward gay men and women in 23 countries discovered that “gay men are disliked more than lesbian women” across the board.

An open dialogue


The number of places where women can openly discuss their sexuality has grown over time.

Lisa Diamond, a psychology and gender studies professor at The University of Utah in the United States, began researching sexual fluidity in the early 1990s with a focus on men. Many study participants, she says, came from gay support groups, with mostly male members, so men were “easier for researchers to find”.

Diamond, on the other hand, wanted to investigate women’s sexuality. She began a ten-year study in which she interviewed 100 women about their sexual orientations and behaviours every two years. Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, her book, was published in 2008. It discusses how love and attraction can be fluid and change over time for some women. This contradicted the previous line of thought, which depicted sexual orientation as rigid – a view that Diamond’s studies on men only espoused.

Around the time her book was released, US celebrities who had previously dated men, such as Cynthia Nixon and Maria Bello, spoke out about their feelings of same-sex attraction. Oprah Winfrey then invited Diamond to appear on her show to discuss female sexual fluidity. The idea and practise had officially entered the mainstream conversation.

Turning also observes that language has evolved to recognise women as sexually non-binary. Turning, for example, claims that her lesbian partner participated in a “Gay Straight Alliance” at her high school around 2007. That phrasing encouraged a binary – members were either gay or straight, with no real options for those who identified somewhere in the middle – and no word that specifically embodied female sexuality, with the ‘L’ conspicuously missing from the GSA acronym.