Saturday, November 27, 2010

Studying LesBians: Does having lesbian parents make you bisexual or just more open-minded?

Studying Lesbians is a monthly column discussing recent (and not so recent) research involving lesbians. This time we look into another interesting study that had its results taken a little out of context.

A study was published in the December issue of the Archives of Sexual Behaviour journal that looked into the sexual behaviour and identity of 17 year-olds raised by lesbian parents. The data were part of the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, which is the most extensive long term study into American lesbian mothers and their children. 

The journal in question publishes all kinds of research revolving around sexual identity, experiences and disorders and makes for quite an interesting read if you are interested in that sort of thing. The study I want to discuss is no exception.

Photo credit: Gigi Kaeser

78 adolescents (39 boys and 39 girls) who were raised by lesbian parents were followed for a period of time and were asked a whole range of questions about their sex life, including sexual experiences, sexual identity etc. etc.

They were also asked about other aspects like sexual abuse, to which none answered affirmatively. This led to quite some news coverage about there being no abuse at all in lesbian households.

Of course, 78 participants is way too small a sample to make any kind of general claims about the entire population of kids growing up with two mommies. Those reporting about research findings tend to ignore that part and just go for the juicy headlines.

Still, not that much research has been done on sexual orientation and experiences of kids growing up with two mothers, so it is interesting and important to look at the results.

When asked to indicate their sexual orientation on the Kinsey scale (a scale that measures sexual orientation ranging from totally straight to totally gay, with bisexual being somewhere in the middle), 5.4 % of 17 year-old boys identified as gay and 2.7 % identified as bisexual. In stark contrast, none of the girls identified as gay, but no less than 18.9 % identified as bisexual.

This is not only a big difference compared to boys of the same age raised by lesbians, but also much higher than what you typically find in girls of the same age raised by straight parents.

In addition, it was also found that girls raised by lesbians (regardless of sexual orientation) were much more likely to have had same-sex experiences than girls raised by straight parents. They were also older when they first engaged in girl-boy experiences than girls raised by straight parents.

Photo credit: Gigi Kaeser

Should we be surprised by this? I think it is only logical that if you are raised by lesbians and all your life you have seen two women loving each other, and presumably been around to a lot more lesbians and/or homosexuals, the threshold to have experiences with a woman yourself or to question your sexual identity is much lower.

How many of us wouldn't have come out much sooner if only we had known about and/or had been made more comfortable about our feelings towards girls?

I also don't think that the 18.9 % of girls who now identify as bisexual will still say the same in ten years time. I'm not saying you cannot be sure about your orientation at 17, but it's probably more likely that a number of these girls are simply more open-minded towards same-sex experiences, but will still end up being heterosexual, whereas a number of them will realise they are gay.

It could also mean that a much larger number of women are bisexual than is always assumed, but because of upbringing and experiences the same-sex loving part is never fully developed and being around lesbians is activating it (I don't mean to imply that bisexuality is something like being a Cylon that can be triggered without your control).

A more anti-lesbian standpoint would be to say that lesbian mothers are making their daughters bisexual. But then again, if that were the case we would expect lesbian mothers to make their daughters lesbians as well, and to also have more of an influence on boys.

But before we try to explain these results, let's not forget that 18.9% of 39 girls is only 7 girls. Seven girls saying they are bisexual is very very little.

Photo credit: Gigi Kaeser

I would love to see more studies like these, and I would especially be curious to see what has come of these girls and boys 10 years from now. Will they still be more queer or will they be more comparable to kids raised by straight parents?

What do you think of this study? Do you think parents' sexual orientation influences those of the kids? Are girls with lesbian parents more likely to be bisexual or just more open-minded?

This post was first published on eurout.

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