A recent article by Samantha Stevens, Flora Oswald, and Jes Matsick, published in Personal Relationships, delves into the concept of same-sex performativity (SSP) among college-aged women, shedding light on its relatively common occurrence.
Same-sex performativity refers to public displays of same-sex attraction, like kissing, among people who identify as heterosexual. According to the research, between 20 and 33% of heterosexual-identified college women have engaged in same-sex performativity, indicating its prevalence among this demographic.
“We wanted to conduct this research to shed light on the heterogeneity of women who participate in same-sex performativity,” says Samantha Stevens, research scientist at Equity Accelerator, and the lead author of the paper. “Media and popular culture often fetishize and trivialize this kind of sexual behavior among college women, but there’s more complexity than people might realize and it’s important to avoid overgeneralizing and oversimplifying this phenomenon and the women who engage in it.”
To conduct the study, the researchers took online surveys of 282 heterosexual women who reported having engaged in same-sex performativity. They asked questions about the women’s identities, attitudes, motivations, and evaluations of their experiences. Using latent class analysis (a statistical technique), they identified three distinct groups of women with common patterns of motivations for participating in same-sex performativity: Other-Motivated, Ambiguously Motivated, and Sexually Motivated.
- The Other-Motivated group was driven by factors like seeking male attention and wanting to bond with others.
- The Sexually Motivated group was characterized by motivations of sexual desire and exploration.
- The largest group, Ambiguously Motivated, displayed relatively low endorsement of any specific motivating factors.
Interestingly, all three groups exhibited some endorsement of alcohol intoxication and fun as motivators for their engagement in same-sex performativity, underscoring the influence of the party setting in which these experiences often occur.
The study also found that:
- Women in the Ambiguously Motivated group perceived their experiences less positively compared to the other group, which subsequently led to a decreased desire to engage in same-sex performativity in the future.
- On the other hand, women in the Other-Motivated group perceived the experience as more objectifying, but not necessarily more negative. Moreover, this group exhibited a higher likelihood of being associated with or interested in sororities compared to women in the other classes.
- Regarding sexuality, the authors noted that Sexually Motivated women reported the highest levels of same-sex desire, thus aligning with their motivations for engaging in same-sex performativity.
In terms of self and identity, the groups did not exhibit significant differences in self-esteem, femininity, privilege, or political conservatism. However, one notable distinction was observed: the Other-Motivated class showed a higher likelihood of being associated with or expressing a desire to be part of a sorority.
Additionally, despite the different motivations for engaging in same-sex performativity among the three groups, no significant group differences were found in heterosexist attitudes, suggesting that women’s reasons for participating in same-sex performativity are not linked to biased beliefs against bisexual individuals or discomfort with queer women.
When asked about the key takeaways from this research, Stevens recommends that we recognize the diversity in women’s motivations and experiences with same-sex performativity. Stereotyping and oversimplifying these experiences can be harmful and can perpetuate stigmas.
Instead, Stevens points out that same-sex experimentation is developmentally typical and same-sex performativity may be a comfortable way for some women to explore their sexuality.
A full interview with researcher Samantha Stevens can be found here: Why many straight women you know have kissed other women