The Vagina Dialogues

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"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.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske