The Independent summarizes the truth about women and sex this way: "They start younger and have more partners - and those are not necessarily men:"
"We can see that the pace of change has been different for men and for women in the last decades. The gap previously seen between them has been closing," said Professor Kaye Wellings of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, one of the survey's lead authors.
"For some aspects of sexual behaviour, for example numbers of partners, it has narrowed, for others, such as age at first sex, it has closed and yet in other respects, such as same-sex experience, women have overtaken men," Professor Wellings said.
"Whilst same-sex experiences have remained relatively constant among men, it has increased markedly among women. Although a minority of women have reported sex with another woman, that proportion increased from 4 per cent in 1990 to 16 per cent in 2010 and 2012," she said.
Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory notes that "This isn't just a British thing:"
Indiana University sex researcher Debby Herbenick tells me that her U.S. research has yielded similar results: 8 percent of men and 15 percent of women report same-sex sexual behavior in their lifetime. Unfortunately, we Americans don't have reliable historical data to show how this has changed over time.
Girl-on-girl behavior is fetishized in our culture to a degree that boy-on-boy is not, and women are given much more leeway to explore sexually or have a fluid identity than are men. (How often is a kiss between two heterosexual men allowed to be just be a kiss?) That is perhaps evident in another aspect of the study's findings: More men than women identify as gay, and more women than men identify as bisexual. Chivers summarizes it like so: "Men's sexual behaviors remain more polarized and stable."
Note that the majority of women's same-sex encounters do not involve genital contact. Roughly 18 percent reported getting sexual with a woman without going downtown, compared to the 8 percent that did venture there.
Will Saletan also looks at the Natsal data as it pertains to lesbian sex:
In Natsal-1, less than 4 percent of British women aged 16-44 said they'd had any sexual experience or contact with a partner of the same sex. In Natsal-2, that number rose to nearly 10 percent. Now it's 16 percent. By any measure, that's an enormous increase, more than doubling the reported rate among men. Even if you attribute most of it to changes in candor or interpretation, the willingness of so many women to admit to same-sex activity represents a big cultural shift.
That doesn't mean these women are going all the way. When they're asked more specifically whether they've had a same-sex experience that includes genital contact, only half as many say yes. But the trend line is identical, rising from 2 percent in Natsal-1 to 5 percent in Natsal-2 and 8 percent in Natsal-3. The same holds true when women are asked whether they've had a same-sex partner in the last five years. On that question, the percentage who say yes has climbed from less than 1 percent in Natsal-1 to more than 2 percent in Natsal-2 and nearly 5 percent in Natsal-3. [...]
When asked whether they've had any sexual experience or contact with another female, only 3 percent of women aged 65-74 say yes. That number rises to 7 percent among women aged 55-64, 9 percent among women aged 45-54, 12 percent among women 35-44, 18 percent among women 25-34, and 19 percent among women 16-24. If the prevalence of lesbian sex were constant and evenly reported, you'd expect it to increase with age, based on the accumulation of experience. Instead, the trend runs sharply the other way. Apparently, in later cohorts, it's more common, more honestly reported, or both.
The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles report (PDF) includes this infographic summary:
Today's news, coincidentally enough, featured a pair of coming-out stories. The first one was the revelation of actress Maria Bello to her 12-year-old son Jackson, as relayed to the NYT:
"So are you romantic with anyone right now?" he asked.
I took a deep breath, knowing that my answer, and his response, would have an impact on our lives for a very long time.
He was right; I was with someone romantically and I hadn't told him. I had become involved with a woman who was my best friend, and, as it happens, a person who is like a godmother to my son. [...]
I exhaled and finally said it: "Clare."
He looked at me for what seemed like an eternity and then broke into a huge, warm smile. "Mom, love is love, whatever you are," he said with wisdom beyond his years. (Yes, he obviously attends one of those progressive schools in Los Angeles!)
I like her anti-label frankness, her preference that "I would like to consider myself a 'whatever,' as Jackson said:"
Whomever I love, however I love them, whether they sleep in my bed or not, or whether I do homework with them or share a child with them, "love is love." And I love our modern family.
Maybe, in the end, a modern family is just a more honest family.
Honesty, though, scares some people who still rely on comforting lies. For example, the hyper-masculine homophobia prevalent in the sports world. British diver Tom Daley, who won Olympic bronze in 2012, announced today that "I'm dating a guy and I couldn't be happier."
"I've been dating girls and never had a serious relationship to talk about and now I feel ready to talk about relationships this year."
"Come spring this year, my life changed massively. I met someone and they make me feel so happy, so safe, and everything just feels great. And that someone is a guy.
"It did take me by surprise a little bit. It was always in the back of my head something like that could happen. Something just clicked. It felt right. My whole world just changed right there and then.
"I still fancy girls but I'm dating a guy and I couldn't be happier. It just really does feel right.
"People are going to have their own opinions and I think people are going to make a big deal over this. Is it a big deal? I don't think so.
Salon praises Bello's great "whatever" coming out by observing that "We like to keep people in tidy boxes with neat labels on them: Gay, Straight, Conservative, Religious, Vegan:"
Fluidity is, in its own way, a harder thing for a lot of people to accept. But the world is full of believers who have questions and Republicans who aren't Tea Party lunatics -- and men and women who love who they love without a lifetime exclusive preference for one sex. Maybe it makes for less simplistic headlines, but it's a lot more accurate. [...]
Only time will tell what -- if any -- consequences there will be for Bello for simply acknowledging the person she's in love with, a person who happens to be a woman. But it's encouraging that she's done it, and in such a straightforward manner.
The piece calls it "a different kind of coming out, one that recognizes that not everybody fits in one tidy box."
update (12/3 at 1:43pm):
In summarizing the reactions to Tom Daley, NCRM observes that "much of the world cheered him for being a 'role model,' and a 'champion.'" This contrasts with Michelangelo Signorile's take:
Judging from the horrendous attacks on Daley on Twitter, if you admit to sucking dick, even in the most overt way, you're still "a gay" and a "faggot" and a "fag" no matter what you call or don't call yourself.
It's kind of like a homophobic variant of the racist one-drop rule, the weight of which is lifted somewhat by his subsequent remarks:
These two revelations have confounded a lot of people, and it's been fascinating to see how the public figures' planned and controlled but nonetheless emotional announcements were received like Rorschach tests.
He goes on to observe that "not only are they [Daley and Bello] not hiding their same-sex romantic involvements, but they're shouting them from the rooftops:"
Making a YouTube video titled "Something I want to say..." -- which would go viral in an instant -- as Daley did, or writing an op-ed in The New York Times with the headline "Coming Out as a Modern Family," as Bello did, is about as out and proud regarding a same-sex relationship as you can get. They just rejected, for the moment, choosing an identity -- and either of them could change that in an interview, or a video, or a tweet tomorrow.