Lesbians and anal sex: Why are bisexual women more likely to have tried it?

Science, technology, and life.
March 7 2011 7:42 AM

Impure Lesbians of Sodom

Why are bisexual women more likely to have tried anal sex?

(Continued from Page 1)

Move on to anal sex, and the pattern gets even stranger. Again, women attracted mostly to men are more likely to say they've had anal sex with a man than are women attracted only to men. And in the case of anal sex, the gap is huge: While 30 percent of the totally straight women say they've had anal sex, 55 percent of the mostly straight women say they've done it. But get this: Among women who say they're attracted equally, mostly, or exclusively to women, the figure is 41 percent. Lesbian and bisexual women are more likely than totally straight women to say they've had anal sex with a man.

If you find this number hard to believe, check it against a related finding in the same table: 48 percent of women who self-identify as gay or bisexual report having had anal sex with a man, compared with 33 percent of women who self-identify as straight. This gap is true of anal sex, but not of vaginal or oral sex.

What could explain this?

Advertisement

The last time I wrote about anal sex, I learned not to generalize too much. In some cases, the key factor might be how much pleasure a woman gets from vaginal sex. That factor could correlate with female heterosexuality and, at the same time, make a woman less likely to try anal sex. In other cases, a history of inconsiderate male partners might correlate both with anal sex and with a woman's statement that she's more attracted to women than to men. Or maybe calling yourself fully heterosexual is simply the default answer of women who have limited or no sexual experience. But each of these theories has trouble accounting for the data on vaginal and oral sex.

Here's my best guess: In many if not most cases, openness to experimentation is driving everything else. Adventurousness makes a woman more likely to try various sex acts with men. And at the same time, it makes her more likely to express interest in other women. This factor would have to be strong enough in bisexual women, on average, to overcome the statistical effects of clear-cut lesbians who do nothing sexual with men.

The unkind way of putting this, from a liberal point of view, is that women who claim to be exclusively heterosexual are, on average, more conventional or uptight than women who report having some interest in other women. These "exclusively" straight women might not even be exclusively straight. They're just obtuse to their wayward feelings, or afraid to admit them. The equally unkind view, from a conservative perspective, is that sexual mores are collapsing in all directions.

To me, this theory does the best job of explaining why the experience gap between mostly and exclusively straight women increases as you go from vaginal to oral to anal sex—and why lesbian and bisexual women exceed exclusively straight women only in the case of anal sex. The kinkier the deed, the more it correlates with a woman's lesbian interest, her awareness of that interest, or her willingness to admit it.

But that's just my guess. Let's hear yours.

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Human Nature's latest short takes on the news, via Twitter:

Latest Twitter Updates
    Follow William Saletan on Twitter.

    TODAY IN SLATE

    Frame Game

    Hard Knocks

    I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

    Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

    After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

    Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

    If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

    Sports Nut

    Giving Up on Goodell

    How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

    How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

    My Year as an Abortion Doula       

      News & Politics
    Weigel
    Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
      Business
    Moneybox
    Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
      Life
    Outward
    Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
      Double X
    The XX Factor
    Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
      Slate Plus
    Tv Club
    Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
      Arts
    Brow Beat
    Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
      Technology
    Future Tense
    Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
      Health & Science
    Bad Astronomy
    Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
      Sports
    Sports Nut
    Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.