Alex Blaze

You Don't Have to Go to College to Figure Out Scissoring

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 18, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: bisexual, class benefits, education policy, lesbian, LGBT, popular perceptions

The New York Times has an article about how new survey data doesn't support the idea that there's a "lesbian until graduation" phenomenon. Here's the data:

lesbiana.jpgBut according to the new study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on 13,500 responses, almost 10 percent of women ages 22 to 44 with a bachelor's degree said they had had a same-sex experience, compared with 15 percent of those with no high school diploma. Women with a high school diploma or some college, but no degree, fell in between.

Six percent of college-educated women reported oral sex with a same-sex partner, compared with 13 percent who did not complete high school.

The article is little more than a collection of quotations from various people about what those numbers mean. What the numbers don't prove is that there aren't many women who went to college who have same-sex relationships or many women who had same-sex relationships in college and then only had relationships with men - they just show that more women who didn't go to college had same-sex relationships. Which only disproves the lesbian until graduation phenomenon if one were to have believed that colleges themselves were responsible for women engaging same-sex relationships and sex.

Oh, wait....

What's interesting about the article is all the college-educated XDs and professors not really knowing how to explain these numbers (the first possibility considered when it comes to sex surveys should be that the results don't represent reality - more below). They offer a variety of explanations that focus on why college-educated women are the way they are or were perceived to be another way, but the Times didn't see fit to interview a non-college educated woman who had had same-sex relations (one such expert even says that women who drop out of college just can't find good men so they turn to each other).

One reason that's fairly easy to point to is that lesbian and bisexual women, because of discrimination, bullying, homophobic parents who kick them out of their homes, and the resulting depression, hopelessness, and anger drop out of school or just don't go to college. Bisexual women aren't exempt from this oppression and could be more likely not to go to college. Oppression isn't just hurt feelings - it has material consequences.

Could it just be that bisexual women are less likely to go to college instead of colleges being less likely to turn straight women gay? The former explanation wasn't at all in the Times article, and they talked to all sorts of people. I'm not saying it's the correct explanation, I'm just saying that it's there and the people the Times talked to either formed their response from the perspective of college experiences being powerful. Why didn't the Times find any bisexual women or straight women who had had same-sex relations but who didn't go to college to talk to? The entire article is supposedly about them.

The people who control the conversation on LGBT issues (in fact, almost every issue) are from upper socio-economic classes and have generally been to college themselves. It's not that the issue of poor and working class homosexuality is being hidden by the community or by the poor and working class queers themselves, but that in order to have access to the media and contacts at the Times nowadays, one generally has to at least have gone to college. It's not absolute, but it's enough for these discussions to stay centered around a certain class's lifestyle.

That doesn't explain the changes from the 2002 survey, but I wouldn't be surprised if women are just more comfortable talking about their same-sex experiences today than they were a decade ago. That's a major issue with sex and sexuality surveys - some people just don't want to tell the truth even if the survey is anonymous because they haven't even admitted to themselves what they've done or want to do.


Anjani Chandra was the lead author of the report, based on data from 2006 through 2008.

Although 13 percent of women over all reported same-sex sexual behavior only one percent identified themselves as gay, and another 4 percent as bisexual. To get accurate answers to intimate questions, the researchers asked those surveyed to enter their responses directly into a computer.

That's another issue when it comes to surveying LGBT people - lots of studies will just ask people if they're gay or bisexual and then take it from there. According to these data, that method leaves around 8% of women invisible or rolled into the heterosexual sample.

Anyway, the Times article quotes many people who posit many explanations for why non-college women are more likely to have had same-sex experiences, from the fact that college educated women are more vocal about "smash[ing] the patriarchy" (from Dan Savage) to stories of college co-eds being titillating to men. But the best quotation is the first one:

"It's definitely a 'huh' situation, because it goes counter to popular perceptions," said Kaaren Williamsen, director of Carleton College's gender and sexuality center.

Of course it "goes counter to popular perceptions"! Popular perceptions aren't that popular at all and are rarely based in reality (although, if they're made correctly, they can never be disproved), but they're created by people who went to college and perpetuated by other people who went to college. "Popular perceptions" in America is a game the middle and upper classes play, chattering about their experiences and the experiences of their friends and family, all taking place in the context of a classist society that drives hard, deep lines between people of differing experiences.

But you can't play the popular perceptions game if people don't pretend like their limited experiences speak for everyone. If the players become self-aware, the game's over.

img src, the text reads, "I am the lesbian your mother warn you about."

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I definitely scratched my head over this "news". Thanks for the analysis.

Om Kalthoum | March 18, 2011 6:06 PM

Cute photo and caption accompanying your article, Alex. But, you know, when I was growing up a hundred years ago, our mothers didn't warn us about lesbians, and I suspect las lesbianas are still way down on the list of dangers about which they warn their daughters, if they're on the list at all. It's men. Always men. Always will be.

Who waits as long as college to have sex any more?

According to that same study, about 25-ish percent of people.

If you define sex as "kissing on the cheek", then I did.

I don't think you realise that to some segments of society, "making out" and "intercourse' are treated exactly the same: wait till you're married. Though it's winked at that you might kiss in private if you're engaged.

Paige Listerud | March 19, 2011 2:43 PM

You mean I could have enjoyed MORE cunnilingus if I hadn't gone to college?

Shit. That's $75,000 down the drain.