Same-gender performance, or public displays of affection between heterosexual women, is particularly prevalent in educational institutions, but what are the reasons behind it? A study featured in Personal Relationships delves into the motivations behind such behavior.
If you have ever been in an academic setting, chances are you have witnessed or heard about heterosexual women engaging in kissing or other displays of affection with other women at parties or in bars. Studies estimate that 20% to 33% of heterosexual college women have kissed another woman at a social gathering. Several factors, including hookup culture and the college party scene, are believed to contribute to these occurrences. This recent study aimed to gain a better understanding of the motives and patterns associated with same-gender performances.
“Given the frequency of this behavior during a crucial period of women’s psychological, social, and sexual development, it is important to comprehend the unfolding process for young women,” wrote Samantha M. Stevens and her colleagues in their research.
Stevens and her colleagues selected 282 undergraduate heterosexual women, ranging from 19 to 41 years old, as their sample. The sample consisted mostly of white participants, primarily college freshmen. The participants completed online surveys covering demographic information, personal identities, and attitudes.
The participants were presented with a definition of same-gender performance and indicated whether they had ever engaged in such behavior. Those who confirmed their participation proceeded to answer questions about their experiences and were included in the study.
The participants completed assessments regarding their motivations, emotional response, likelihood of future engagement in same-gender performances, as well as their political affiliations, self-esteem, masculinity/femininity, privilege, and sorority membership. Additionally, they responded to questions about their sexuality and attitudes towards heterosexism.
The results categorized women who engaged in same-gender performances into three motivational patterns: other-motivated, ambiguously motivated, and sexually motivated. Sexually motivated women were driven by sexual desire, sexual exploration, and attraction to women, despite identifying as heterosexual. This group constituted the smallest portion of the sample, comprising approximately 13%.
Other-motivated women engaged in same-gender performances to shock others, attract male attention, or conform to social pressure, and they were more likely to be associated with sororities. This group represented around 33% of the sample.
Ambiguously motivated women displayed the lowest level of motivation, perceived their experiences as less positive, and were less inclined to repeat similar behaviors. Their motivations were primarily influenced by alcohol and the pursuit of fun. This group constituted the largest portion of the sample, encompassing approximately 54% of participants.
This study represents a significant step toward understanding same-gender performances in college women. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge its limitations. One limitation is that the assessment of same-gender performances and their motivations relied solely on self-report measures, which can be susceptible to bias. Additionally, more detailed inquiries about the specific circumstances and frequency of engagement in such behavior would have provided valuable insights.
“Our findings shed light on the complexities of characterizing women who engage in same-gender performances. They complement previous research by illustrating how motivations manifest in different subgroups of women and how these distinctions have meaningful implications for evaluating same-gender performances,” the researchers concluded.
“Notably, women who focused on same-gender desire and the exploration of their sexuality tended to evaluate their experiences positively, supporting the idea that same-gender performances can be a beneficial and safe means of sexual exploration for certain women. However, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the potential positive and negative consequences of same-gender performances for women with different motivation profiles, future research should employ complementary approaches to thoroughly examine individual and relational outcomes.”
The study, “Latent class analysis of college women’s motivations for engaging in same-sex performativity“, was authored by Samantha M. Stevens, Flora Oswald, and Jes L. Matsick.