While the majority of men are convinced they are either ‘100 per cent’ homosexual or heterosexual, women have a much more fluid approach to relationships, based on who they meet, it is claimed.
However US researchers found that women who avoided young motherhood, were physically attractive, or had high levels of education were less likely to explore relationships with same-sex partners because they had more romantic opportunities with the opposite sex. These women were more likely to say they were ‘100 per cent heterosexual.’
The study found romantic opportunities appear to influence the sexual identity of women – but not men.
“This indicates that women’s sexuality may be more flexible and adaptive than men’s,” said study author Dr Elizabeth McClintock, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame in the United States.
“Women with some degree of attraction to both males and females might not be drawn into heterosexuality if they have favourable options in the heterosexual partner market.
“Women who are initially successful in partnering with men, as is more traditionally expected, may never explore their attraction to other women.
“However, women with the same sexual attractions, but less favourable heterosexual options might have greater opportunity to experiment with same-sex partners.”
But for men, higher levels of education were associated with a lower likelihood of identifying as “100 per cent heterosexual”, while physical attractiveness had no clear association with sexual identity.
Dr McClintock said: “Men are less often attracted to both sexes.
“Men’s sexuality is, in this sense, less flexible. If a man is only attracted to one sex, romantic opportunity would little alter his sexual identity.”
The study also found that women were more likely to change their sexual identities between the ages of 22 and 28.
Researchers tracked 5,018 women and 4,191 men as they moved from adolescence to young adulthood. On average, they were 16-years-old in the first wave, 22 in the third wave, and 28 in the fourth wave.
Dr McClintock found that women were more likely than men to report bisexuality.
She also found that women were three times more likely than men to change their sexual identities between 22 and 28.
The participants, who were not asked about their sexual identities until the third wave, could identify as 100 per cent heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, bisexual, mostly homosexual, and 100 per cent homosexual.
They were also asked at each stage if they had ever experienced same-sex attraction or participated in same-sex sexual activity.
“Women have a greater probability than men of being attracted to both men and women, which gives them greater flexibility in partner choice,” said Dr McClintock.
“Having flexible sexual attractions may grant greater importance to contextual and experiential factors when it comes to sexual identity.”
The findings are due to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.