College Years Not So Gay, Study Says
Many stereotypes about gays and lesbians have turned out to be wrong, from the canard that they are unwilling and unable to form stable, long-term relationships to the myth that all gays are more affluent than their heterosexual counterparts.
Now another rumor has crashed onto the shoals of fact: A new study says that college is not the gay old time for female students that it’s long been reputed to be, the New York Times reported on March 17.
Moreover, the National Survey on Family Growth--carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--found that women who completed their bachelor’s degrees were actually less likely to have experimented with a same-sex relationship than women who did not graduated from high school. Only 10% of the survey’s respondents with bachelor’s degrees said they had dabbled in relationships with other women, while 15% of women without high school diplomas said the same thing.
"It’s definitely a ’huh’ situation, because it goes counter to popular perceptions," Carleton College’s Kaaren Williamsen told the New York Times.
"It’s like a Rubik’s cube of sexuality, where you turn it a different way, and the factors don’t fit together," said the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Rea Carey. "It may be that the commonly held wisdom was wrong, that people just liked to imagine women in college having sex together, or it may be that society has changed, and as more people come out publicly, in politics or on television, we are getting a clearer view of the breadth of sexuality."
A mere 1% of the survey’s respondents identified themselves as lesbian, though a total of 13% out of the 13,500 women who answered the survey said that they had had sexual experiences with other women.
For some, the news that so-called LUGs--"Lesbian Until Graduation"--are more myth than reality was not so surprising, the article reported.
"I always thought the LUG phenomenon was overblown, in the context of it being erotically titillating for young men," said University of Illinois at Chicago sociologist Barbara Risman.
That might simply be a function of evolving social attitudes: Young people who try sex with a partner of the same gender may be less likely to conclude, based on such limited experience, that they are gay. Another possibility is that younger people are more secure in their sexuality and more willing to accept that it may be more fluid than any single label can accommodate.
"It’s becoming more acceptable, at least in some parts of society, to see your gender identity as fluid," New York therapist Joan Westreich posited. "I see women whose first loves were women, who then meet and fall in love with a guy, and for whom it seems to be relatively conflict-free."
Risman speculated that the higher rate of same-sex experimentation among women without high school diplomas might indicate that those women had fewer acceptable male partners from whom to choose a mate.
But for Queers for Economic Justice’s interim executive director, Amber Hollibaugh, the findings indicated other politically relevant possibilities. Hollibaugh suggested that an apparently higher rate of same-sex experimentation among women with less education hinted at an unnoticed lesbian subclass among the poor and disenfranchised.
"Working with a gay-rights group is now something you’d put on your résumé," Hollibaugh told the New York Times. "Lesbians who aren’t college-educated professionals are pretty much invisible."
Another possibility is that those women who do experiment in college might be more vocal about it.
"A lot of them are out to prove something and want their effort to smash the patriarchy to be very visible," openly gay columnist and "It Gets Better" originator Dan Savage told the publication.
"Maybe our stereotypes are just behind the times," University of Utah professor Lisa Diamond theorized, pointing out that another stereotype--that of the white, affluent single-sex couple with kids--has also been dashed. Studies have shown that "it’s less likely to be upper-middle-class same-sex couples than ethnic minorities and working-class couples" of the same gender who are also parents, Diamond noted.
A Jan. 19 EDGE article noted the same trend.
"A great many gay Americans live in smaller cities," the article said. "Many of us live in the Deep South. We have children--in some cases, a great many children. We are continually struggling with financial issues. We are religious and belong to a congregation of like-minded souls."
The article referenced a Jan. 18 New York Times piece that took note of the greater number of single-sex parents in the rural South, in spite of persistent stereotypes of such families living in Northern urban areas.
The article drew from Census data that showed that more same-sex parents were working class and minorities than had previously been perceived.