Bert and Ernie: Let me tell you a secret / 20090917.10D.53994.P1 / SML

How do you label your sexuality? Do you consider yourself lesbian, heterosexual, gay, bisexual? A study published in the June issue of The Archives of Sexual Behavior shows that while most people pick one label to describe their sexual preference, they may still behave in ways contrary to this identity: “A man might identify as heterosexual but still experience some attraction to men; a woman might identify as lesbian yet enter into a romantic relationship with a man,” write UCLA authors Mariana Preciado and Kerri Johnson.

What are the consequences of these experiments outside the dominant label? To find out, Preciado and Johnson sampled 283 participants they recruited through Facebook and through the UCLA psychology program, whom they pointed to a questionnaire at the site SurveyMonkey.com.

The researchers wondered how subjects who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or straight would be affected by imagining scenarios in which they were romantically involved with a person of the non-preferred gender. How would a gay man be affected by imagining a liaison with a woman? Or a straight man with another man? Or a lesbian with a man? Or a straight woman with another woman? Limiting this study to gay, lesbian, and the two heterosexual categories, the researchers measured opinions about overall change, self-perception, stigmatization, the potential for physical harm and social network change.

Overall (as you might guess!), heterosexual men imagined that a romantic interaction with the non-preferred sex – in this case another man – would bring about the most overall change in their lives. Straight women were less concerned about the effects of an experiment with another woman. Gay and lesbian participants were equally, minimally concerned. And overall (again as you might guess!), both categories of heterosexual participants imagined more consequences from identity-inconsistent sexual experiences than gay and lesbian participants.

But when you look deeper into the categories underneath this “overall change,” some interesting differences emerge. For example, lesbian women were more concerned about the effect of non-identity sexual fantasy on their self-perception than were gay men — gay men felt like they could fantasize about a woman without the fantasy affecting their sexual identity, but women who identified as lesbians thought it could challenge their sexual self-perception as lesbian to fantasize about a man. And both gay and straight men thought that an identity-inconsistent experience could lead to stigmatization or physical harm, whereas both lesbian and straight women were less concerned.

Then the researchers looked at the perceived consequences of various types of behaviors – sexual fantasy, sexual attraction, sexual behavior and love. Interestingly, the only group that saw sexual behavior as more consequential than love was heterosexual men. For the other groups – lesbians, gay men and straight women – love with the identity-inconsistent gender seemed as if it would have more impact on their lives than sexual behavior.

The study admits its limits: while focused on these four categories, many other sexual identity labels exist, and the study explored opinions about hypothetical situations, rather than the true effects of real situations. But still, these differences in opinion can help to show how society perceives these non-identity sexual experiences, and how participants see themselves as a consequence. “While sexual identity-inconsistent experiences have consequences for the way people think about their own sexuality, their status in society, and their social relationships, the present research demonstrated that people’s perceptions of the severity of these consequences varied depending on the person’s sex, the person’s sexual identity, and the type of experience,” the researchers write.

I’m aware this is a deeply personal and controversial subject. And so I would very much appreciate your opinions! Please let me know your reaction to this research, either in the comments here or at the social media links below.

Twitter: @JenKrombergPsyD

Facebook: www.facebook/Dr-Jennifer-Kromberg

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    Last reviewed: 11 Jun 2013

APA Reference
Kromberg, D. (2013). Study: Sexual Identity and Consequences of Non-Identity Sexual Experiences. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/inside-out/2013/06/study-labels-of-sexuality-and-non-identity-sexual-experience/

 

 

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