Let’s talk about sex
gay, fluid: everyone’s welcome!
And by that, we mean really talk about it – in the way that allows for all sorts of approaches, experiences and desires.
“Labels like ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ are just starting to feel too narrow.”
It’s crazy to think that just two little words – ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ – could be enough to explain the complex experience that is human sexuality. Is it any surprise, then, that some of us don’t abide by them?
The coming-out moment has been part of pop culture for decades, spanning a trajectory that goes from ’90s TV sitcoms to Youtube videos.
But for some of us, the concept of coming out doesn’t quite work. The reason for that: because labels like ‘gay’ and ‘ straight’ are just starting to feel too narrow.
“The binary still exists, but we’re realising that many more types of sexuality reside between and outside of those two categories,” comments Juliet, a 13 year old who identifies as pansexual. And her attitude is characteristic of Generation Z and the current cultural climate.
Just consider one recent survey, in which participants were asked to assign a number to their sexuality (0 being ‘completely heterosexual’ and 6 being ‘completely homosexual’). Around 35% of Generation Z youth fell somewhere in the middle – compared with 24% of millennials. Perhaps more telling was the fact that only 48% of Generation Z participants identified as completely heterosexual.
But more and more people seem to be comfortable living in the in-between. “I identify as sexually fluid,” says Mysterie, 18, a transgender man. “My desires have changed a lot just throughout my life.” President of the Gay- Straight Alliance at his university, Mysterie – and many younger LGBTQ people – identifies somewhere between straight and gay.
Of course, nuance has always existed within the LGBTQ community, but this new way of thinking is gaining mainstream acceptance. While coming-out moments used to make headlines (à la Ellen’s “Yep, I’m Gay” Time magazine cover in the ’90s), today’s celebrities are just as likely to leave their sexuality ambiguous.
Consider that actors like Kristen Stewart and Cara Delevingne don’t hide their relationships with women, yet neither plays by the Hollywood narrative of gay or straight?
And celebs aside, the internet has been an amazing place for making all of us more sophisticated about sexuality.
“I’ve used Youtube and Tumblr to help educate my friends and family,” says Mysterie, who first discovered the term ‘sexually fluid’ on a digital video. The irony is that by ditching conventional labels, we’re finding more words to talk and learn about love.
In the age of easy access to porn, adult entertainment is the new sex ed. But what is it teaching us?
Not long ago, getting the real deal on sex meant talking to counsellors or your coolest friend’s older sister. Now there are millions of pornography sites, with ones like pornhub.com reporting 23 billion visits last year.
A big story about porn has been its effects on teenagers, with commentators saying it can trigger everything from fear of intimacy to body issues. Yet some experts say we’re missing the point.
“The issue isn’t porn. The issue is we don’t talk about sex in the real world,” says Cindy Gallop, a sex positive feminist whose educational website, makelovenotporn.com, focuses on demystifying real-world sex.
“Many issues are laid at porn’s door that should be laid at society’s,” Cindy explains. Issues like rape culture, consent and the fact that women are far less likely than men to orgasm during intercourse could be worked out in a healthy dialogue, but are too often glossed over on screen.
And even young kids are being exposed to hardcore porn. To prevent that from becoming de facto sex education, Cindy encourages frank discussions, treating porn as just another form of entertainment, and inviting readers to share and discuss their true-life sexual experiences.
Of course, some teens take any intel they can get. “There are things that can be learnt by watching – like how to kiss,” says Andrew, 18. But there are those who are concerned with the false perceptions and damage porn can create.
Says Corie, 21, “porn pressurises people to do things they aren’t comfortable with because they think it’s the right way to do it.”
The most exciting way to learn about sexuality, according to Cindy, is pretty low tech. “Our message is talk about sex, openly and publicly,” she says. When it comes to sexuality, like so many things, only the truth will set you free.
Kiss and tell
Does a first kiss hint at your future relationship status?
What constitutes a ‘good kisser?’ Whether it’s full lips, the right amount of tongue, skyrocketing levels of attraction, or all three and more, kissing is subjective – which is tricky, since a new relationship can hinge on hookup skills.
Believe it or not, scholars are hard at work studying the chemistry of kissing – and not the romantic brand of chemistry that makes us feel all loveydovey. The official term is philematology, which means, quite literally, the science of kissing. Experts are less concerned with whether people are ‘bad’ or ‘good’ kissers than with the chain reactions that a single kiss can set off in the brain.
“Romantic kissing doesn’t just make you feel warm and fuzzy. It’s ultimately a mechanism of mate assessment,” says Dr Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor for match.com.
As weird as it sounds, exchanging saliva is like sipping a chemical cocktail of hormones. Varying levels of these hormones can potentially function like a love drug, and the act of kissing can light up the pleasure centre in your brain as soon as your lips meet.
“The mouth is a gatekeeper to the body,” Dr Fisher notes. “A great deal of information is collected by both the lips and the tongue.”
Research shows that saliva contains trace amounts of testosterone, which could account for men’s tendency to be sloppier kissers – some believe that the transfer of testosterone via tangling tongues can be an unconscious prelude to sex.
Kissing may also fuel romantic fire by boosting levels of oxytocin – known as the cuddle hormone – in long-term relationships, as well as lowering cortisol levels, which creates a sense of calm.
Could that explain why you may have been drawn to someone until a first kiss mysteriously extinguished the initial attraction?
Young, gay and feminine as hell, writer Nicolette Mason explains why sexuality shouldn’t dictate your style.
I can trace the moment I knew I liked girls right back to a boy: Taylor Hanson. When I first laid eyes on the long-haired 14-year-old singer of the all-brother trio Hanson, I paused and said to my friend Danielle, “I don’t know if that’s a boy or a girl, but I think they’re really hot.” I was in grade three, and part of my after-school ritual was calling Danielle to watch music videos on MTV together and gossip about the day.
I didn’t realise the weight of what I had admitted – honestly, I’m not sure I even knew what it meant. But Hanson’s 1997 single ‘Mmmbop’ was undeniably catchy, and Taylor’s keyboard playing and blond hair swaying back and forth captivated me.
My attraction to a person like Taylor, who wasn’t distinctly male or female at first glance, planted the seeds of my own queer identity. In the years that followed, before I understood that I was interested in girls, the boys I crushed on were sensitive and gentle, and always objectively pretty.
In high school I developed a crush on a tall member of the girls’ basketball team, whose blonde hair also swayed back and forth. She looked like Taylor. That’s when it started to click. I had wondered if maybe I wasn’t interested in long-haired pretty boys, but rather in the girls that they reminded me of.
It was a confusing time. I was the kind of girl who loved makeup, wore skirts and dresses exclusively, plastered my walls with fashion editorials and wanted all-pink everything. Yet society taught me that being queer meant that I had to be a tomboy and chop off my hair. By keeping a stereotypical girly look, people automatically assumed my sexuality because of my style. I wondered if there were other girls like me out there. I felt invisible.
Years later, I discovered the word ‘femme’. It’s a queer gender identity that adopts aspects of traditional femininity. While this looks different for everyone, to me it meant applying lipstick and nurturing those I love.
It might seem retrograde, but that conscious adoption of femininity is quite subversive – especially in the context of queer relationships. Learning I did not have to conform to a masculine aesthetic and could love wearing pencil skirts and pursue queer relationships was pretty revolutionary.
As progressive as we’d like to think our society is, people don’t always know what queer looks like, which is probably why some are often surprised to hear I’m not straight. Negotiating your own identity is a process – one for which I’ll always have ‘Mmmbop’ to thank.