Sexual Fluidity, Images & Biology

Sexual fluidity

Sexual fluidity

Why are women more sexually fluid in the Western world today?

Here’s one theory from University of Utah professor, Lisa Diamond’s book, Sexual Fluidity.

First, let’s make a distinction between orientation and arousal:

  1. Orientation is stable and biologically-based
  2. Arousal depends more on society’s ideas of what’s sexy

And “what’s sexy” varies from culture to culture.

1890's erotic dancer

1890’s erotic dancer

In parts of West Africa obesity is thought attractive. But 1960s Americans thought skinny was sexy. Later it was skinny but big boobs. And nowadays big boobs and big butts are both thought sexy. Before the turn of the last century erotic dancers were often plump and pear-shaped.

Who’s eroticized, men or women?

In ancient Greece the male body was celebrated in painting and sculpture. And male homosexuality was thought the highest form of sexual expression.

But in today’s world women are much more eroticized than men, with sexy women plastered all over magazines, billboards, TV and silver screens. Plus, we fetishize women’s breasts — and we are beginning to fetishize their butts, too. But we pretty much ignore men’s body parts. So our sexualized images are mostly feminine.

But a biological difference between men and women might also help explain women’s greater fluidity.

Sexual fluidity and sex drive patterns

Sex drive typically measures as constant and high for men.

So whether a man is gay or straight, his sex drive will keep him noticing sexy men or women (depending on his preference) pretty much constantly. Perhaps reinforcing his basic preference.

But women’s sex drive is higher at ovulation and lower at other times of the month.

Ovulation cycle

Ovulation cycle

One theory is that when sex drive is lower, it might only be sparked when something sexy pops up. And of course, women’s bodies are constantly eroticized and displayed, and more constantly popping up. Heightening it all, their body parts are fetishized via this process (as I’ve written about before):

  • Selectively hide and reveal — creating sexual tension
  • Declare a body part hugely sexy, and then demand, “Don’t look at it!” — creating sexual tension
  • Obsess over the body part: The camera zeros in. People discuss it incessantly… Because it is deemed SO SEXY.

Et voilà, women’s arousal becomes more cultural and situational. More fluid.

Women may or may not want to actually have sex with women, but their bodies might be more responsive to female imagery. Or going further, the thought of a little woman-on-woman could seem down right hot.

But that’s not all. More on the tie between fluidity and emotional connection later.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 19, 2015, in psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. this is such amazing and informative. Bravo – My mother who is a doctor she agrees with the concept of your post.!

  2. Yeah, definitely. I guess it’s not something you’re that aware of as a male where the sex you’re mostly attracted to is fetishised, but I’ve noticed it more and more. Most ‘sex objects’ are still female, as is most sexualised advertising. Female nudes are much more depicted, not surprising since painting like many things was so male dominated for so long. But even ads targeted to women, portray women sexually, because like in your previous post women want to feel sexy and desirable. Would be interesting to imagine a world where men where much more eroticised, Ancient Greece might be one example, or at least certainly less female-biased. Why, for instance, are bare legs now associated with females when in their natural state female legs aren’t really much different than men’s? If anything, the desire for long, skinny legs goes against women’s natural tendency to carry more body fat than men, including the limbs. I wonder if the breasts weren’t so fetishised, like in many cultures, and women didn’t shave or tan their legs, their bodies would be considered that much different or more erotic. I mean obviously men also have buttocks too, lol. It’s funny in some traditional cultures like take the Balinese or Ceylonese of the 19th and early 20th century the women whore long skirts/sarongs but went topless.

    • Yeah, I don’t think that women’s legs ot butts are any less inherently attractive than men’s. But because of the barrage of sexy women images, women start to seem like the sexy half of the species. It makes logical sense but it’s also kind of weird.

  3. 1. Orientation is stable and biologically-based

    Orientation is only semi-stable, and can it be purely biological? I am attracted to women, but what constitutes “an attractive woman” is a bit of a hornet’s nest. And is asexuality an orientation or a state of mind?

    • Well, professor Diamond sees it differently, and what she says makes sense to me. So I would say that I am heterosexual in my basic orientation but have become more asexual (less so as Ive tried to work on it) in terms of arousal (or DIFFICULTY experiencing arousaL). But someone who has been asexual from birth would see that as their orientation.

  4. So, are you saying then that fluidity is cultural/psychological more than coming from personal orientation? The term sexual fluidity is not one I’ve heard until recently.

    Also, I know this isn’t the focus of your topic but intrigued that the female sex drive is lower when not ovulation- it makes me think of women who feel bad when they aren’t feeling horny when their partner might be when really the lack of impulse is biological, or rather, hormonal than anything wrong with their drive.

    • Yes, the fluidity is cultural, according to this theory. And that point about not feeling horny fits too. Plus, women are more targeted for sexual repression and they are also more susceptible to it, which partly ties into what I wrote here. I’ll write more about that later.

  5. There was a woman saying that she used to buy men’s fitness magazines. I know it’s an exception but it seems that there are a few women that be turned on by the male body.

  6. In ancient Greece the male body was celebrated in painting and sculpture. And male homosexuality was thought the highest form of sexual expression.”

    There was homosexuality and more so what would be “pedophilia” of young boys and adult men during ancient greece. But from what I believe most men were still straight and attracted to women or many and the subset with the homsexual attraction. I think the painting and sculpture wasn’t exactly because it was the belief among alll the men that men were sexually attractive or sexier, but the high standard and appeal that ancient greece had of the male physique. Don’t forget like many times in ancient times, especially ancient greece.

    Women were like second class citizens in ancient greece. I think the male body as idealized, because of the high esteem of ancient greek men of the power, and virility it represented of the athletic male body, not because it turned them on or for arousal purposes, though could be for some. I think it was the appreciation of a sublime, utilatarian beauty of the male physique as in it’s look and how the looke represented it’s high performance ability with power and speed, and athelticism. Don’t forget, remember, ancient greece didn’t begin playing the first sport, but many popular ancient sports and competitions did arise from ancient greece and we all know of the olympics that began and originated in Greece. So it makes sense that the male body, because of the high view of men and high view of sports, and athletes,, that it would be shown in sculptures because of this “male pride and ego” or the performance ability of the male body athletically and how the aesthetics of a toned, athletic male body represents such ability and virility of a fit male body.

    • I think you’re right. Thanks for the addition.

      • I say that, because while there were sculptures of the male body and I explained why, I think you can’t deny or forget the high sexual attractiveness that women were to men still even in ancient Greece. I mean it was a beautiful woman that launched ten thousand ships according to ancient greece literature right? Helen of Troy? Wasn’t it a woman, that a war was fought over, a beauitiful woman that was loved and lusted after highly and highly sought? It wasn’t another man that sunk ships and other men fought for right? I mean men doing stupid things, because of the powerful beauty a woman encaptures.

        And in another greek play, I can’t remember the name. Where women were tired of their husbands, and men fighting in war. The men were hell bent on war, so a woman talked amonst other women and they basically boycotted sex and affection with their men. Nothing could stop war from these men, yet women, because of the powerrful effect their beauty and body and the great lust men had of women and their bodies that ended up causing a truce between rival groups and end war. Nothing else was that powerful to have such effect on men, but something men yearn so much and lust so much for and the beauty of women having that strong effect on men even for ancient greece. It wasn’t “david” as in the boy/man that is well known person who was scuplted of Ancient Greece was it. Even with homosexual acts, not only have men been effected by women’s beauty through many times, it was still the paramount lust and effect on men, not other men. Women and their beauty and bodies for these non tribal cultures during ancient times have always captured men’s lust and love, It’s amazing how much literature and poetry through human history has been written by men and inspired from their lust, love or romance and awe inspired direction toward women.

      • Well, men’s sexuality does seem to be less flexible.

      • Sorry for the trio of comments, last one for now I promise, haha, but I was just wondering, if you have any theories on why some women are more appreciative or aroused by the male form than others? Would you say it has to do with openness, willingness to transcend societal conditioning as much as possible? I think it’s impossible for us to fully escape it, but some might be able to see more how they’re being influenced. Higher sex drive? Or just being more visually oriented. Like some men are less ‘visual’ than others, too. There are heterosexual men who are barely turned on or not turned on just by the physical aspect of a woman’s body. I mean take blind men, for instance, who still enjoy sex. Arousal is far more than visual of course, there’s touch, sound, smell, even taste I guess lol.

      • Okay, that’s a lot of comments and a lot of words, And I don’t usually approve that many — unless someone hasn’t done it before. Because I won’t have enough time to answer all the comments if I get a lot of comments that are super long.

        I can only guess at the reason some women are more appreciative or aroused by the male form, and even then I can’t really give specifics. This involves unconscious processes, and humans are a mix of 1) natural personality 2) social interactions 3) culture. Since they are going against culture it must not be cultural. So it must be something having to do with the first two. Some exposure to erotic male images? Not sure.

        The thing is that women seem to be visual too. Everything I’m talking about here has to do with visual. That’s why I’m wondering if those women were just more exposed to erotic male images than usual. Maybe they found a stash of porn at a youngish age?

  7. Well obviously, the strong male sex drive is a feature of our species and many other species, it is still primarily the male who is the sexual – I’m not sure if initiator or instigator is the right word, but the one who seeks to reproduce more, since according to evolutionary biology that was what was required to keep the species going. Yet the male also attracts, of course, like the colourful male bird attracts females with his plumage and dance. While females certainly can have certain advantages that make them genetically ‘fitter’, the fact that men compete more means there is still generally more of that drive. I do actually think, in general, the male sex drive is still at least outwardly stronger, and while the female sex drive can be, it’s a bit more of being the receptor rather than the pursuer.

    I think historically men just got it wherever they could. Without the condemnation against homosexuality that Abrahamic religions (and a few others) brought, male bisexuality was the norm in many societies, and is in many species. Does that mean all or most men are ‘bisexual’? Ultimately I see them as labels. Psychology is interesting. I still think most people are primarily heterosexual, since it would make sense, but many have the capacity to happen to use the other sex for a sexual outlet. Ancient Greece is often cited since it’s what the West is most familiar with, but it’s not necessarily the best example. Many erotic paintings/art in ancient China and Japan, to give one example, depicted a lot of homosexual acts between men, often with women included (threesomes, orgies.etc), as well as sometimes homosexual acts between women. It certainly seems the male form was celebrated sexually in some capacity, which does support the idea that bisexual behaviour is at least possible in many or most of us, no matter what we identify us. I think the idea that women are naturally more bisexual or even that men ‘can’t be bisexual’ is obviously ridiculous and a product of modern societal conditions and things like pop culture and pornography.

    Regarding cultural influences, it’s interesting that it’s only been in the past 15-20 years that more women than men identify as bisexual. According to Kinsey’s research more men than women did, but the numbers were much lower, and it was in the sexually repressive/conservative 1940s/50s. Going back to erotic art in Asia, I remember a random ok cupid poll that showed the number of Asians – both East/South Asians – on ok cupid (i’m not sure if it was worldwide or just the US) who identified as gay or bisexual was considerably lower than whites or blacks. Obviously, there’s no biological reason for it, so obviously, like the case with females vs males, something cultural is going on.

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to make it just about sexual orientation, but yeah, how societies sexualise or fetishise genders or body parts varies over time/place.

  8. I would also say comparing relative ‘flexibility’, you could say the female sex drive seems to be more flexible, but for various reasons they’re still not the same (though there are similarities), so it’s not surprising the female sex drive might be more seen as more flexible, or influenced by other factors, or less visual or whatever. I read somewhere someone that there was a theory it’s more malleable because it’s less powerful. Again, I do think comparisons like this have to be taken with a grain of salt. We’re comparing apples with oranges, not apples with apples, so more this or more that has limited significance. Sexuality is part of psychology, which is endlessly complex, and individual variations/experiences play a huge role.

  9. Yes, interesting point – women may or may not want to have sex with other women, but we still find them sexy because women’s bodies are so sexualised in our culture.

  10. Hey! This is such a great book, I love that you’re referencing it! Keep it up!

  11. It is usually the women’s body that is emphasized everywhere; on billa boards, commercials, television, etc. From a very young age we see this and when we think about what is “sexy” we automatically think of these women plastered everywhere. Being a woman I am not physically attracted to women, but I can appreciate the woman’s body. I think that every woman can relate to this because for the obvious reason that we are women and know how much maintenance goes into ourselves. So when we see other girls who are confident in themselves, it makes us happy that they’re doing their thing. Or at least that is how I feel.

  12. Well, here’s female sexual fluidity ha. You said women see women as sexier, or see it that way due to culture. But I don’t know seems like more women just like women’s bodies even if they are supposedly straight. Maybe because women equal sex and there’s a strong sexuality to women dancing, like this clip is sexual. But still, look at the female judges faces. They seem turned on and I think they are ready to go lesbian for that female dancer right there. The men, especially the bald male judge is obviously turned on, he made that very obvious. https://www.facebook.com/TheJackSleimanPage/videos/420345058160461/

    It’s sad when I don’t think even sexy men shirtless, create facial expressions toward them, like the female judges had toward that female dancer, especially the red dressed woman judge.

    • It seems like in addition to women’s bodies being more symbolized as sexual, women’s bodies are also allowed more sexual expression in the way they move. Like that scorching video.

      Yeah, if a man were to dress and behave the same way people would probably just think it’s weird and feel really uncomfortable. And even though men can be sexy, I can’t think of any equal and expression that they could get away with.

      • well yeah if a man dances like the woman did there or how women do, then it would be weird. In order to express, a sensual, erotic, sexuality, you kind of have to dance in such a way. Men don’t dance that way, but it also doesn’t cause arousal either, because it’s more from a virile, aggressive, dominant show off form. Like male strippers, when they dance, it’s usually pelvic thrusts mainly, athletic flips, spins, push ups, and putting their crotch near or on the women’s faces. It’s because it’s a masculine act, to make sure and portray masculinity in the light of “dancing” which could be seen as feminine.

        But that’s why moving in that way is weird is not simply because women are sexualized and people see it normal to gaze and be turned on and see and enjoy and the portrayal of eroticism and sensuality. Our gaze is not made to see men doing that, because of them not being sexualized so it’s assumed it’s “gay” or for the gay male gaze and not for women. But the other reason I think too, maybe more importantly is because how we see men as strong and dominant and women as weaker.

        I think it looks weird for men to dance like that is because it doesn’t look right for men who in society are deemed as “tough, strong, dominant” to be moving and acting in a way that is feminine and makes a man look “weak” soft and delicate. And the thing is women see men that way too, and like men and want men to be “men”, and not act and dance like women. Women attracted to men for their masculinity like men for women’s femininity. How much of it is culture and how much of this view partly coming from simply seeing the differences, akcnowledging the physical differences and categorizing on that basis? Do men and women see and want men to act and appear strong, because men are simply the “bigger, more muscular sex, so that role logically assigned based on appearance to the rugged, bigger sex? And women seem natural to move graceful and such sensual way, because of their body form and it doesn’t look weird because women’s bodies are smaller, so there isn’t a dance that makes women look weak, because its a dance and movement that just goes with the small, curved body?

        I’m talking about human nature and psychology and natural inclinationss and perceptions.. For example, I see two boys to pick for a basketball game, one tall boy and one short, scrawny, geeky looking kid who doesn;t look athletic. I’m going to expect and assume and assign the tall one based on his apperance to be the better basketball player and one I picked, because of how height can help in basketball. the small geeky one, might actually be better, but like I’m talking about, it’s from a purely visual perspective and how we assign people based on their build and appearance. Men being graceful? well it doesn’t seem right if done the way women do, because of how men look and build, therefore we assign what they should look and act based on their build. Even though men do ballet and have graceful movments for that and ice skating. But i still notice with that, it’s still different from women’s too. And men in both are liftiing women over their heads and doing masculine, strong acts right, showing their virility

      • If you want me to respond to this you’re going to need to make it a lot shorter.

  13. ok I cut the two first paragraphs and just pasting the last two here.

    I think it looks weird for men to dance like that is because it doesn’t look right for men who in society are deemed as “tough, strong, dominant” to be moving and acting in a way that is feminine and makes a man look “weak” soft and delicate. And the thing is women see men that way too, and like men and want men to be “men”, and not act and dance like women. Women attracted to men for their masculinity like men for women’s femininity. How much of it is culture and how much of this view partly coming from simply seeing the differences, akcnowledging the physical differences and categorizing on that basis? Do men and women see and want men to act and appear strong, because men are simply the “bigger, more muscular sex, so that role logically assigned based on appearance to the rugged, bigger sex? And women seem natural to move graceful and such sensual way, because of their body form and it doesn’t look weird because women’s bodies are smaller, so there isn’t a dance that makes women look weak, because its a dance and movement that just goes with the small, curved body?

    I’m talking about human nature and psychology and natural inclinationss and perceptions.. For example, I see two boys to pick for a basketball game, one tall boy and one short, scrawny, geeky looking kid who doesn;t look athletic. I’m going to expect and assume and assign the tall one based on his apperance to be the better basketball player and one I picked, because of how height can help in basketball. the small geeky one, might actually be better, but like I’m talking about, it’s from a purely visual perspective and how we assign people based on their build and appearance. Men being graceful? well it doesn’t seem right if done the way women do, because of how men look and build, therefore we assign what they should look and act based on their build. Even though men do ballet and have graceful movments for that and ice skating. But i still notice with that, it’s still different from women’s too. And men in both are liftiing women over their heads and doing masculine, strong acts right, showing their virility

  14. First, let’s make a distinction between orientation and arousal:

    Orientation is stable and biologically-based
    Arousal depends more on society’s ideas of what’s sexy”

    Well that;s true as far what we find sexually attractive of the sex one is attracted to. The bodies and shapes you exemplified are what men found sexy of women and the varying body shapes. But you see even though culture has that effect, it only has an effect on the sex, men find sexually attractive right? (women). That’s why I see orientation and arousal together and why it doesn’t make sense for arousal to be separate from orientation and them working together and connected. For example, you said it’s what society tells us is sexy. True greece men felt highly of male beauty, but I think it was more admiration and pride of the aesthetics of the male physique because of how they valued men and male athletes. Remember ancient greece was the origin of olympics and I think it’s more male pride of what the male physique “represents” especially male fit athelte represents as far as virility and performance. It’s more of that to me, than actually “male bodies are sexy or why the male body had high esteem then.

    But like I said, you can have culture telling you what is sexy and have men’s bodies shown as “sexy”, but guess what? Men are still going to find women sexy and sexier and still be aroused by women and not men. I mean you see how gay men’s arousal have their innate view of men being sexy and not women, despite society giving the idea that women are sexy right? You think it’s because woman are suppressed and lower sex drive. But I wonder if women would be as immune to sexy female images as gay men are if women weren’t slut shamed and not shamed of their sexuality, thus stronger sex drive. If they have the stronger sex drive would women not be affected or turned on by women’s bodies? Is that it, or biologically women don’t have concrete orientations?

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