The Vagina Dialogues

Bi-curious women are here -- but not quite queer. Welcome to the new lesbian chic

Jen Sincero was having the best sex of her life.

And while that should have been cause for celebration, it wasn't quite that simple. After all, in the age of Oprah, you can't simply live. You need explanation. Analysis. Most important, you need written assurance that your life choices fit neatly into an Important Generational Trend.

You need a book.

Jen Sincero
Jeff Newton
Jen Sincero
Maybe it's the thought that counts.
Mike Maas
Maybe it's the thought that counts.
As we all know, sometimes fooling around leads to a relationship.
Mike Maas
As we all know, sometimes fooling around leads to a relationship.
Inquiring men want to know: Are they or aren't they?
Mike Maas
Inquiring men want to know: Are they or aren't they?
Women tend to be good at comfort and affection.
Mike Maas
Women tend to be good at comfort and affection.
Sincero (right) gives Susan Burns some pointers on picking up a girl.
Jeff Newton
Sincero (right) gives Susan Burns some pointers on picking up a girl.
Tania Katan, Professional Lesbian (left), shows Susan Burns the ropes.
Jeff Newton
Tania Katan, Professional Lesbian (left), shows Susan Burns the ropes.

Details

Workshop on Wednesday, September 21, at MADE Art Boutique, 922 North Fifth Street in Phoenix. She promises to give you "the lowdown on where to meet girls, overcoming your hesitations and fears, and the basics of girl-on-girl sex." The class is limited to 25 women, so send an e-mail to info@jensincero.com to RSVP. You can pay the $25 fee in cash or by credit card at the door.

Sincero is also reading from The Straight Girl's Guide at Changing Hands, 6428 South McClintock in Tempe, on Monday, September 19 at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

For more info, check out »web link.

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A book can put everything in perspective. You're not a doormat; you're a Woman Who Loves Too Much. It's not that you've botched a life commitment at an early age -- you had a Starter Marriage. You're not lazy if you quit your job to watch Real World reruns: You're having a Quarter-Life Crisis.

But what context is there for a girl who's straight, but who's having great sex -- with another girl?

Sincero didn't think she was a lesbian. A former punk rocker with a little-noticed novel under her belt, she was in her late 30s. She'd always liked men. She still did. And yet there she was: "All of a sudden, I found myself with an incredible woman who got it and me, and the sex was hot as hell," she'd later write. "And before I knew it I was in a relationship."

There weren't any books on that.

So she wrote one herself.

Sincero used to be an advertising copywriter, so the title was the easy part: The Straight Girl's Guide to Sleeping With Chicks. Solely on the strength of its catchiness, she sold the book to Simon & Schuster. She had yet to write even the opening sentence.

But write it she did, and fortunately for Sincero, the finished book tapped an Important Generational Trend. After all, if blow jobs defined sexual relations in the Clinton era, in the Bush years we've got nothing but, well, bush.

For all the buzz surrounding Showtime's glossy lesbian soap opera The L Word, this trend isn't really about lesbians. Mostly, it's about women who aren't gay, women who've barely paused to ask if they might be gay -- and yet are kissing their girlfriends, making out with their girlfriends, even occasionally turning their girlfriends into their Girlfriends.

Call them "bi-curious."

These women don't come out so much as try it out -- think Anne Heche, not Ellen DeGeneres. Men are in their past; men may be in their future. But for the moment, they're hooking up with a woman, and it's cool.

Dabbling isn't particularly new. Straight women slept with other women long before June Miller taught Anaïs Nin a thing or two. And female college students have long expressed their heightened consciousness by shagging their roommates. (There's even a term for that: Lesbian Until Graduation, a.k.a. LUG.)

But this is different.

Ask an Arizona State University student today which of her friends has kissed another girl, and she may well fire back, "Which one hasn't?" When Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist at the University of Washington, wrote Sex and the Yale Student in 1971, the topic of bi-curious couplings never even came up. That would be impossible today, she notes.

A pair of cute blond lesbians, Lauren Levin and Lauren Blitzer, have inked a deal to write a book called Same Sex in the City: So Your Prince Charming Is Really a Cinderella. It hits stores next spring.

It's not underground anymore. It would have been unthinkable for the girls of Beverly Hills, 90210 to jump into bed together, but when Marissa and Alex did it last year on The OC, no one even feigned surprise. It was scandalous when Ellen came out; it was just another piece of celebrity gossip when she started hanging with the once-married Portia DiRossi.

And so just like that, Jen Sincero found herself landing smack in the middle of the zeitgeist.

The Straight Girl's Guide made it to number 7 on the Los Angeles Timesbest-seller list. Sincero's Web site started getting 8,500 hits a day. And Sincero began teaching workshops to girls who want to learn more, including one next week at Phoenix's MADE Art Boutique. The workshops almost always sell out.

Even Sincero is shocked by that. "These are people who not only want to have this taboo sex, but they're willing to show up in public and admit it!" she exalts.

The reason for that is simple enough: Sex between two women isn't taboo anymore. Instead, it's become so damn trendy that it's changing the way we understand feminism, gay rights, and even human sexuality itself.

And now, some researchers are questioning whether it all points to a startling conclusion: Maybe, they say, most women aren't strictly gay or straight after all. Maybe there's a bi-curious woman in all of us.


It's 11 p.m. on a Friday, and the scene at Radius is just heating up. A downtown Scottsdale meat market that shares a $10 cover charge with its sister club, Axis, Radius boasts a clientele that's precisely half ex-sorority chicks and half ex-fraternity jocks. Even though the place isn't exactly crowded -- not yet, anyway -- the floor is sticky with Skyy and Bacardi.

As is usually the case, the interaction on the dance floor is strictly girl-on-girl. One twentysomething grinds her friend up against the railing. Another, a big lush of a brunette, actually takes off her belt and loops it around her friend, using it to draw her closer as they bop to the beat. The half-dozen guys at the edge of the dance floor don't even bother to watch.

They're too busy panting as the two hotties at the center of the dance floor simulate sex.

The girl in the tiny kilt and even smaller tee shirt has Lucy Liu's face, topped by an improbably tawny mane. She's the tease, undulating up against her friend, a dirty-blonde, then backing away as she mouths the lyrics. "Billie Jean is not my lover! She's just a girl, who claims that I am the one . . ." She practically purrs with self-satisfaction.

Suddenly the kilted girl moves in for the kill. She crouches low, then slowly shimmies her way up, her face not an inch from the blonde's pelvis, then her chest, then her neck. Their faces get closer and closer. The blonde is blushing; the kilt just grinds closer.

"She's just a girl, who claims that I am the one!"

The guys on the sidelines start holding their breath.

They're going to kiss. They have to kiss.

The girls are smiling at each other, soft secret smiles, and their lips are practically touching --

And then "Billie Jean" is over and the DJ offers "Ice Ice Baby" and the kilted girl smiles and the blond girl smiles and the kilt shakes her hips and they're gone. Just like that! The guys kind of stand there, and you can see the reverie break and the wheels start, slowly, to turn again.

The boys are certainly cursing Vanilla Ice. But more than that, they're wondering if, hope against hope, those girls are having sex somewhere. And, if so, can they watch?


Lesbian chic arguably made its mainstream debut in 1991, when two attractive lawyers on L.A. Law shared a kiss. Even one of the actresses involved in the embrace denounced the smooch as a ratings stunt, but the floodgates were open, and they haven't shut since.

Girl-on-girl kissing has become the ultimate ratings boost for any flailing program. The titular characters tried it during Sweeps Week on both Roseanne and Ally McBeal. Jennifer Aniston actually kissed two women in a single episode of Friends; Madonna topped that by snogging both Christina and Britney at the 2003 Video Music Awards.

Girl-on-girl action has long been a mainstay in porn targeted at straight guys. What Sweeps Week kissing did was take an age-old male fantasy and deliver it directly to women who might never have perused porn. Suddenly it wasn't just okay to kiss your girlfriends; it was what you were supposed to do.

It was hot.

Today, you can't go to a club or a frat party without seeing girls dancing with each other. And holding hands. And sucking face. (If you're too lazy to go out, just consider the ubiquitous TV ads for Girls Gone Wild. Those bikinied spring break lushes aren't just showing you their boobs; they're grabbing their girlfriends'.)

At Axis, Radius' sister club and another spot with no shortage of skinny chicks in short skirts, the number of girls grinding up against each other dwarfs male/female couplings by a ratio of five to one. The only difference at Myst -- home to a throbbing dance beat and a slightly hipper crowd -- is that at Myst, it happens under a strobe light. Even at Palazzo's Tranzylvania night, which caters to the ghoulish and the goth, two dreamy-looking women sway against each other while a guy watches approvingly.

Like most Sweeps Week kissing, girl-on-girl action in clubs seems to exist mostly to attract viewers. As soon as no one's watching, the moment is over. When Mr. Goth steps out for drinks, the women immediately pull away from each other. They look slightly bored. As for those hotties at Radius, long after "Ice, Ice Baby," they turn up in a quiet corner of the club -- having drinks with their boyfriends.

"It's very obvious to me that girls are doing this for the benefit of whatever men are standing there," says Elizabeth, a 22-year-old massage therapist who frequently parties in Scottsdale and Tempe.

(Like many of the women interviewed for this story, Elizabeth asked that her full name not be used.)

Ashley, 20, a student at Northern Arizona University, agrees. "It's become this totally hot thing," she says. "And the reason why is that it promises this sexual experimentation to guys. They think, 'She'll kiss another girl; she's gotta be pretty wild.'"

Ashley hasn't made out with that many girls: "I've only done it like a dozen times." It's been fun, she says, but mostly because of the titillation: "There's people watching it, and that makes me feel good. The first time I did it at a party, I thought, 'So this is what it takes to get the guys' attention.'"

Girls who do it say it's just fun and games, but there are some dissenters. Elizabeth, who's actually interested in a relationship with a woman, thinks it's cheapening. "Everybody knows it's flighty and shallow if you're just doing it for guys," she says.

Perhaps the most vocal objectors are lesbian women. Myspace.com features a group called "The Coalition Against Drunk Bi-curious Girls" -- with 262 members nationwide.

The group's Web site features a poignant parable: A lesbian starts dancing with a female stranger at a club. Dancing turns to making out, and making out, the lesbian thinks, is turning into love:

with every kiss, you seem to fall more and more. . . . the next day, all you can do is think about her. you can't wait until you can talk to her again. you think of all the great stuff that is to come in the future. you call her.

it hits you all at once.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! LIKE OMG! DID WE HAVE FUN LAST NIGHT OR WHAT? . . . ALL THE BOYS LOVED US!!! TOO BAD I COULDN'T FIND A HOT GUY!!! I WAS SOOOOO DRUNK! . . . WHEN ARE WE GOING TO FIND SOME HOT GUYS AND MAKE OUT AGAIN?!?!?!

cue rem's "everybody hurts."

Lisa M. Diamond, an associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah, says that today's bi-curious woman certainly has high visibility -- but that doesn't mean she's actually getting it on.

"I wonder if that many girls are dabbling in it, versus just talking about it," Diamond says. "It's much more common for girls to say, 'I can see trying it.' Actually doing it is a scarier topic."

But just like Sweeps Week kissing seems to have made it cool to suck face in bars, all that face sucking seems to be ushering in new tolerance for the next step: Following through.

Ashley, the NAU student, now thinks she's open to hooking up with a woman, if the circumstances are right. An ASU undergrad who doesn't want her name used at all says she kissed girls in bars more than half a dozen times before she found herself in a group of six women where everyone was making out.

The only spectator was a mostly-finished bottle of tequila.

"I really enjoyed it," the student says. "You feel this great esteem boost. You feel loved."


This is what happened to Jen Sincero.

She grew up in New York. Went to college in Colorado. Played in a rock band in Manhattan and wrote advertising copy, then fled to Albuquerque for six years of hiking and playing in bands and not much else. After moving to Los Angeles, she wrote a novel, Don't Sleep with Your Drummer, which was published by a division of Simon & Schuster, MTV Books. (HBO optioned the novel, but recently dropped plans to use it.)

She was bi-curious before it was cool.

"I'd done my fair share of dabbling," she writes in The Straight Girl's Guide, "made out with a few drunk friends, and groped the occasional boob here and there, but nothing all that intimate ever happened. It was the result of being wasted and figuring that if there were no cute guys around I might as well pin Sharon to the couch."

All the while she dated men, and not just a few of them. "I used to be a big 'ho bag'," she notes, in passing, during a lunch interview at Zen 32.

An angular 6'1", with a voice that manages to boom despite its raspiness, Sincero is funny and enthusiastic and still a little gawky, despite recently turning 40.

"We're so uptight," she rasps into her sushi, oblivious to the fact that a stuffy couple two tables down is listening to every word. "People should just do what they want to do and not worry about it.

"Although," she adds quickly, "I don't want to promote everybody running around fucking all the time. There are consequences." The stuffy woman nods her agreement.

It was in October 2002, when Sincero was well into her 30s, that she found herself, to her great surprise, having sex with a friend she calls Amanda.

That winter, she found herself wondering if she might be a lesbian. Was that possible? She'd always liked guys, but suddenly she was liking -- really liking -- sex with a woman.

That's when she went looking for a book to explain things. And that's when, after none turned up, she made a pitch to the literary agent she'd landed after writing Don't Sleep With Your Drummer. And that's when she started writing The Straight Girl's Guide.

By the time she was done writing, she and Amanda were done.

And so there's something kind of funny about the way her six-month dabble now defines her. She's the poster girl for bi-curious sex, a title she hopes to parlay into something bigger: A radio show, a sex column, a job as a life coach. It's easy to picture her as a West Coast Carrie Bradshaw, albeit one in rubber flip-flops.

That means Sincero has got to sell Sapphic sex, and sell it she does.

"This has so much to do with empowerment and self-love," she says in her booming voice. "It's about rejecting society's uptight guilt trips! It's really exciting to see people doing what they want do."

But for all her talk of empowerment, Sincero admits that much of the wave she's riding is propelled by male libido.

Many of the girls who come to her workshops, she admits, hope to pick up the skills to pull off a threesome with their man. Traffic on her Web site multiplied by thousands after a phone interview on the Howard Stern Show.

She's convinced, though, that lesbian chic is more than titillation.

"Sure, the only reason it's 'okay' for a lot of girls is that straight guys think it's hot," she says. "That's definitely part of it.

"But what I'm teaching isn't that. These women feel like they have permission to explore it because it's hot -- but then they go do it for themselves and find out they really like it."


Once, Ani Davis kissed a girl, and she liked it. Then she got married and had a baby, and it wasn't until she found herself struggling with post-partum depression that she realized she wanted more.

"My therapist made me realize that I had feelings for women and I needed to explore them," says Davis, a 26-year-old Tempe resident with wide blue eyes.

"You married too young," he told her. "You'll never be happy unless you find yourself."

So while Davis was visiting her family back in Atlanta, she went to a lesbian bar and met a woman.

"We had sex and it was wonderful," she says. "The first time I had sex with a woman, I felt like I was coming home."

She decided she was a lesbian and got divorced, a decision she doesn't regret. But she didn't quite stick with it, either. Not exactly. She found herself unexpectedly falling for a male coworker last year, and after that relationship went bust, she decided she really wanted to date both men and women.

But while she tells men about her bisexual lifestyle -- "That's, like, the opening line," she says, laughing -- she doesn't tell women. She's found that too many lesbians are sick of bi-curious women who want to be "broken in."

"They assume now that if you say you're bisexual, it means you're 90 percent straight but you want to try things, like you want to kiss and mess around with girls," she says. "I want them to know I don't need any training."

Indeed, lesbians say they've been flooded with requests to learn their ways. Shine, a fresh-faced bartender at the lesbian club Ain't Nobody's Bizness, says she gets entreaties from women at least once a month: "I've never done this before, but I think you're hot." (Unfortunately for them, she's got a girlfriend.)

It's been four years since Jessica Stein found herself intrigued by a personal ad from a bisexual woman in the sleeper hit film Kissing Jessica Stein. These days, straight girls aren't stumbling toward their first time with another woman. They're begging for it.

The craigslist Web site in Phoenix draws personal ads virtually every week from women who say they've never been with a woman, but want to give it a try.

"I just moved here to phoenix . . . and since it's new to me, I thought, I would experience something else new also," a 25-year-old wrote. "I'm seeking to have my first sensual experience with another female."

A second ad, posted on the same day: "I am a young 23 year old woman curious about what it would be like to be with another woman or couple . . . Like I said I am a little new to this so I am a little shy and not sure how this works."

Andy Sutcliffe, whose Tucson ad company has been handling adult personals for alternative weeklies across the country since 1988, says the percentage of personal ads placed by women seeking women has doubled in the last decade. At the Seattle Stranger, Washington City Paper, and Portland Mercury, more than 20 percent of the women who place ads are now looking for a chick.

Lisa, a 44-year-old lesbian who lives in Phoenix and frequently uses personals, says nearly 40 percent of the women she's met in recent years have been bi-curious or bisexual.

"Do you know how many bi women I've pulled?" she brags. "At least 10."


Ritch C. Savin-Williams, a professor of human development at Cornell University and author of The New Gay Teenager, says he was first introduced to the term "bi-curious" through his female research subjects, who kept using it to describe themselves.

"I had to ask, 'What does this mean? Is the emphasis on the curious or the bi?'"

In time, Savin-Williams honed his definition: "It's young people who really haven't settled on a definite route they're going to go. They're open to sexual relationships with either gender, and they see no reason to make a commitment to pursue one at the expense of the other."

That bi-curious women are suddenly so ubiquitous -- both on the dance floor and in pop culture -- caught the experts off guard, Savin-Williams says. "It's causing a lot of researchers to say, 'What do we know about women's sexuality?'"

One of the biggest problems, says Savin-Williams, is that studies of homosexual behavior have mostly focused on people who identify themselves as gay. But the evidence is increasingly clear that these people are only the end of a very complicated continuum.

For example: Most studies show that only 2 to 3 percent of adolescents identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. About 4 percent report sexual behavior with the same sex, if "sexual behavior" is broadly defined.

Those are the groups that researchers used to study. But, as Savin-Williams points out, there's a much bigger group of kids that bears looking at. Most studies show 10 percent of boys, and a whopping 20 percent of girls, report same-sex "attractions."

Historically, those kids might have called themselves "straight" and thought no more of it. But with bisexual behavior not just accepted, but downright hot, it's now likely that some of them will end up in more complicated couplings.

Meanwhile, researchers have long urged kids to check boxes limited to "gay" or "straight," Savin-Williams says. But today, they're giving them a broader choice -- and finding a swatch of bi-curious girls who prefer "not sure" or "no label." That fluidity is reflected on the options for female users at the busiest Web site for early twentysomethings, myspace.com: "bi," "lesbian," "straight," "not sure," or "no answer."

For girls like Miriam Grill, a 23-year-old ASU undergrad, it's all about the possibilities. Grill has never done more than make out with a girl, although she's done that "a lot," she admits, and not because guys are watching. She thinks there's something sensual about it.

Grill has a boyfriend of two years, but she doesn't consider herself strictly straight -- she prefers "bi-curious."

"I don't think I ever see myself with a woman, but I have thought about it," she says. In the long run, "I'm open to it. I don't want to eliminate half the people on this earth and say, 'My soul mate is going to have to be a guy.' That's not something I'm carving out."

Elizabeth, the 22-year-old massage therapist, agrees. Before she got serious with her current boyfriend, she twice kissed girls. If she and her boyfriend break up, which she admits is a distinct possibility, she's not going to limit her options by gender.

"I think for me, things are still kind of wide open," she says. "I'm equal opportunity all the way."

The new freedom affects lesbians, too. Elaine, a 35-year-old Phoenix sales rep, says she originally "came out" as gay when she was 18. But she had to admit as time passed that she was attracted to men, too.

"I wouldn't even know how to label myself anymore," she says. "I'm just a woman who's open sexually. That's how I put it."


In her workshops, Jen Sincero typically talks to a group of 20 to 25 women and explains how to meet another woman, how to flirt with another woman, and finally, how to satisfy another woman. The girls in attendance might be anywhere from 20 to 45, though they're most typically in their 30s. To Sincero, they look more conservative than not.

Their biggest question? "How do I find another girl who's up for it?" Sincero usually tells them to look around the room.

During a visit to Phoenix last month, Sincero agreed to do a one-on-one session for a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, 25-year-old Susan Burns.

The plan: Sincero would do an hour of tutoring, and then they'd hit Ain't Nobody's Bizness, the central Phoenix bar that hosts a wildly popular dance night on Thursdays.

Burns, a recent ASU graduate who waitresses while she hones her theatrical skills, has never hooked up with a woman. But she's decided she wants to.

"I hang with a crew that's very open," she tells Sincero, sipping Cabernet on a friend's couch. "One of my girlfriends starting talking about it, how fantasizing about a girl really does it for her. And I thought, 'Me, too!'"

Burns is short and cute, with curly dark hair and glasses with hipster purple frames. "She's such a cutie," Sincero joked after meeting her. "I'll totally do her at the end of the night if we don't find somebody."

But Burns is shy.

"I get nervous," she tells Sincero. "It doesn't matter what the sex of the person." She considers herself "unlabeled," but she's relatively inexperienced with guys, too.

"It's been a lot of missed signals," she says, grinning.

Sincero gives her tips on flirting. She also gives her a pep talk. It's always flattering to be hit on, Sincero notes. What does anyone have to lose by making a move? "If you're always trying to figure out exactly what's going on, it's a total excuse not to get it on," she says.

At the Biz, Burns is barely through the door when a slender, boyish girl starts chatting her up. The girl is clearly interested -- but Burns ducks away to get a drink and meet some of Sincero's friends instead of taking the bait.

One of those friends, Tania Katan, produces a business card she made up, years ago, as a joke. "Can't decide if you're a lesbian? Tania can help," the card promises, before identifying Katan as a "Professional Lesbian." "Tania has been seducing women for 12 years!"

Katan, who's there with her girlfriend, takes Burns out to the dance floor. Katan is goofing, but Burns is a great dancer. Katan bounds from the dance floor after a few songs to report proudly that someone is all over Sincero's little protégé. "Three girls were dancing in a circle, and the one just swooped in!" she exalts. "I smell fresh kill." Sincero is proud.

But Burns comes back from the dance floor soon after. She's having a good time, she says, but the whole situation is just confusing.

"I keep noticing the guys," she confides. "I've got to keep reminding myself I'm here to look for the ladies!"


For the most part, the case for gay rights has been framed by biology. Gay people don't ask to be gay, the argument goes. They're born that way. Since they can't help it, don't they deserve equal rights?

Gay rights proponents still eagerly trumpet two studies from 1991. One showed that an area of the brain called the hypothalamus differed between gay subjects and straight ones. The second study found that identical twins (who share the same genetic code) were more likely both to be gay than fraternal twins (who share an environment, but not exactly the same DNA). The implication: Genetics matters more than environment.

But those studies both focus on men. And Lisa Diamond, the University of Utah professor, says it's become increasingly clear that studies of women do not show similar links.

Instead, recent studies of female sexuality show results different from anything researchers imagined -- complicating the question of nature versus nurture. For many women, the studies show, attraction is often less about gender than about the person.

In essence: More women may be bi-curious than gay or straight.

Yep, you read that right. The very trend that seems like no more than post-millennial exhibitionism may come closer to explaining women than anything we've seen to date.

For example: If you show most men a picture of an attractive man and an attractive woman, Savin-Williams says, the guy is drawn to the opposite sex. Repeat the test with women, and the results are quite different: Just like the men, they're checking out the chick.

Obviously, women might be admiring the other girl's haircut -- or, in classic catty style, assessing how they match up. But another study provides stronger evidence that there might be something else going on. Perhaps even attraction.

That study, published in the journal Psychological Science, measured the genital arousal of men and women watching porn.

What the researchers found was, in many ways, to be expected: Gay men like watching men have sex with other men. Straight men like watching women have sex with other women, and they also like watching guys and girls together. Men banging men? Never.

The surprise was in the women's reactions.

Sure, lesbians liked watching women together -- but those same lesbians were almost as turned on by watching a guy with a girl. And while straight women liked the girl-on-guy stuff, they were just as excited about watching girls with other girls.

Taken as a group, the difference between the reactions of gay and straight women was almost imperceptible.

The study's authors are quick to explain that their study doesn't mean all women are bisexual. But the only evidence they offer is a generalization.

"The large majority of women in contemporary Western societies have sex exclusively with men," they write, as if that explains it. "A self-identified heterosexual woman would be mistaken to question her sexual identity because she became aroused watching female-female erotica; most heterosexual women experience such arousal."

Meaning: If all women are closet cases, it must be okay.

That explanation may comfort the uptight, and might have passed muster in 1950, but in 2005 it hardly offers a final verdict. Times are changing, and complicated desires are no longer easily dismissed.

Indeed, the study seems to raise two real questions: What if many heterosexual women are actually dying to get with a woman? And what if most lesbians wouldn't mind sleeping with a man?

While the researchers don't go there, their conclusion is still interesting. A woman's pattern of sexual arousal, they write, doesn't constrain her behavior to nearly the degree that it constrains a man's.

In other words, a gay man feels compelled to sleep with a man because that's what excites him. But a woman may be physically turned on by women and still have a happy, healthy sex life with a guy. Her body is mostly bisexual, and her decision to be straight or gay, or neither, isn't biology so much as choice.

To some extent, the research wipes out the biological argument for gay rights. If orientation is a preference, and not a fact of DNA, a lesbian isn't born. Society may push her one way, and circumstance another, but it's still ultimately her decision.

That fluidity is reflected in a 2003 study that Diamond did with 80 lesbian college students.

At the beginning, all 80 women considered themselves gay. (Roughly half were lesbian, while the rest were bisexual or unlabeled.) Five years later, 49 percent had changed their label. A full 12 percent decided they were straight after all.

While the "Lesbian Until Graduation" concept is old news, the way the women explained the experience was revealing. The students who'd decided they were straight still reported being attracted to women. Every single one said that she'd be open to hooking up with a woman in the future.

Their attractions didn't change. What changed was how they thought about them, and who they chose to be with.

Researchers are now debating whether women even have a sexual orientation. The question has become so hot that one academic journal has decided to devote an entire issue to the subject, says Cornell's Ritch Savin-Williams.

"You'd never ask a question like that for guys," he says, laughing. "It's clear some women do have a sexual orientation: They're so into women, or into men, that they could never consider going another way. But the interesting thing is that there's a big group in the middle. And now we're wondering: Maybe it's not that their orientation is fluid -- but that they just don't have one."

It's easy to see conservative Christians seizing on such findings. If orientation is fluid, after all, it shouldn't be hard to straighten everybody out, one Exodus program at a time. Indeed, one of Diamond's studies now pops up on a Web site that pushes therapy to help gay people re-orient as straight.

She's careful to caution against such interpretations. As her study makes clear, just because women change their orientation doesn't mean their attractions change. Bi-curious women who settle into heterosexual couplings, she says, are still going to be attracted to women.

Still, she knows the new research is going to change the paradigm. When it comes to women, you just can't argue anymore that homosexuality is as simple as biology.

"There are certainly people in the gay community who will acknowledge that we've taken the biological argument and pushed it beyond truth or usefulness because it served the political agenda," she says. "It's a bargain with the devil that the gay community has made."

Diamond believes gay activists will need to abandon the biology argument for a new thesis: One that focuses on sexual freedom.

After all, the research contradicts the idea that gay people are doomed to be gay. But it also shows, clearly, that it's not just lesbians; most women are attracted to other women on some level.

It's not about being a victim to an innate preference. But it is about picking from a smorgasbord of options and finding one that fits. Every woman, the idea goes, should be able to enjoy the freedom to choose.

It's an interesting argument, and it certainly makes sense to most bi-curious women. Still, it's hard to see it playing in Peoria.


Two years have passed since the poster girl for bi-curious love ended her Sapphic affair, and Jen Sincero hasn't dated a woman since.

She won't talk about "Amanda" -- which isn't, of course, a great sign. Her book seems to hint at the problem. "If you wind up having an emotional connection with someone, it can get very confusing, which can hurt you or her or both of you," she writes.

Sincero thinks she probably won't date a woman again.

She wanted to be into women, she says. She wanted to believe that her confusion about her relationship with Amanda was mere cultural brainwashing. But in the end, even her 80-year-old Italian father came around and accepted her decision to date a woman. "It's good to experiment," he said. Her married sister wrote a long e-mail confessing she wished that she'd had the guts to give women a chance.

Eventually, Sincero had to admit something fundamental about herself: She prefers men.

Still, every day, she gets e-mails, e-mails from people who've read her book and found her site. They don't always have questions. Often, they just want to share.

"You were right about how incredibly soft kissing chicks would be," one wrote. "Mmmm . . . that part actually weakens my knees! No guy has ever done that! I thought that was just a saying until now!"

"My problem is this," another woman, a recent divorcée, wrote. "I am totally in love with my neighbor and am wondering if there is anything I can do to get her to have sex with me?"

And then there was the married woman who wrote that she was about half finished with Sincero's book.

"I will be 70 in two weeks," she wrote. "When I was 64 I fell hard for a woman I had known for awhile. . . .

"It was the best thing that ever happened to me sexually."

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