The most heartbreaking scene in Blue Is the Warmest Colour comes when the female couple meets in a café after their savage breakup. They make small talk that builds to Emma asking Adèle if she is seeing anyone: "And no boyfriend? Girlfriend?"
Though that moment is by no means the most poignant in the scene (that is when Adèle desperately shoves Emma's hand between her legs in public) it implies something important about Adèle's sexuality and that of many women today: she oscillates between relationships with men and women.
Adèle is sexually fluid, a person who dabbles with either sex but unlike a bisexual, identifies as gay or straight. It's a category more and more women fall under -- there's a reason Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" was a No. 1 hit for seven weeks. But Justin Timberlake has yet to release "I Kissed a Boy." Why aren't men as eager to go with the sexual flow?
Researchers used to think it was a matter of biology: women simply had a greater capacity to be sexually fluid. One famous study revealed that erotic clips of any kind -- we're talking even fornicating apes -- made women's vaginas pulse. Men, however, were mostly turned on by porn that reflected their sexual orientation.
But when psychology professor Lisa Diamond analyzed more complete data sets, she found that male sexuality isn't so rigid after all. Many more men than she expected identified as mostly straight, meaning they also want to get it on with other men. Yet only women are acting on their desire.
The latest survey on sex and lifestyle from Britain showed women have experienced a 400 per cent increase in same sex sexual experimentation since 1991, whereas men have shot up a measly one per cent. Between 1992 and 2008, the number of bisexual women quadrupled while the number of bisexual men stayed roughly the same.
Blame the one-sided nature of objectification in North American culture. A normally straight female who is attracted to another woman doesn't face nearly the same stigma as a man in the same situation. Everyone is taught to view women as sex objects, whereas Playgirl never had the potential for a Hugh Hefner-like empire. The silver lining to this patriarchal attitude is that ladies actually gain more sexual flexibility.
I grew up reading magazines for women that showed pouty-lipped covergirls with plunging necklines. Was I supposed to feel attracted to them? Was I supposed to want to be them? It was all a little confusing and resulted in many embarrassing high school parties at which I would get drunk and tell the older girls how pretty they were. I didn't want to sleep with them, but I had internalized the obsession with attractive women that was all around me.
When I kissed my female friends on our grad trip in Cancun (yes, I am that stereotype) or made out with a girl a few times while at university (that one too), I didn't feel embarrassed or like I had to reconsider my sexual orientation. Maybe part of me was trying lady love to satisfy that evil "male gaze" many feminists rail against, but the bigger part of me was just curious and aroused. I knew I wouldn't be judged for my attraction so I felt free to experiment.
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I can imagine that for a man who identifies as straight, the notion of being attracted to another man feels pretty consequential. Indeed, a biology professor from Indiana University reported that men characterized their potential for sexual fluidity as "very threatening." A recent Pew Research Center survey found 33 per cent of LGBT Americans said there was a lot of social acceptance of bisexual women while only eight per cent said the same of bisexual men.
We have a hard time conceiving of same-sex attraction between men as casual or temporary. Male bisexuality and fluidity are considered the training wheels before you're ready to ride the big gay bicycle. Why would someone choose chest hair over breasts, the universal symbol of sexiness, unless their orientation is entirely different?
So it's no surprise that most heterosexual men I know don't feel comfortable telling one of their buddies about a same sex attraction, god forbid an actual hook-up. Yet I can't count the hours my friends and I have spent dissecting our attractions and sexual encounters with other women, despite the fact that 99 per cent of us mostly date men and don't identify as lesbian or bisexual.
Pop culture also tells women fluidity is all right. In addition to Blue Is the Warmest Colour, there's Piper from Orange Is the New Black, Samantha from Sex and the City or the infamous kiss between Britney Spears and Madonna. Even the freakin' mayor of New York's wife, Chirlane McCray, has gone public about her previous relationships with women.
For men, public inspiration is harder to come by. There's no solace in Robbie Williams, who recently declared himself "49 per cent gay" due to his love of "musical theatre and a lot of other things that are often associated with gays." Nothing says sexual fluidity like the message that being a little homseoxual is a mental rather than physical exercise.
There is, however, a flicker of Hollywood hope. All-American Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson said in a recent interview that he considers himself "mostly straight." Screenplay writers, please take note.
Sexual fluidity is a wonderful thing both sexes should be able to enjoy. It's a freeing idea that instead of choosing a sexual label and sticking to it you can let yourself be ruled entirely by desire. It will take time and a collective open-mindedness to reverse entrenched notions of sexuality, but I have faith that in a few decades, a new generation's version of Brokeback Mountain could have a much happier ending.
*This piece originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen