Sexuality is commonly thought to be a spectrum. If that is true, is anyone fully straight? Does that blur the label of what heterosexual means? A study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior explores sexual preferences and experiences of people who self-identify as heterosexual.
Sexuality is a complicated topic for many people and sexualities deviating from the norm of heterosexuality often face stigma. Same-sex experiences or feelings can threaten people who identify as heterosexual’s sense of self and can have emotional impacts that leave them questioning their sexual orientations. From 1939 until 1976, Spain was under a dictatorship that criminalized homosexuality.
Although gay marriage and adoption are now legal in Spain, discrimination and prejudice linger and can have significant effects on how people identify or understand their sexuality and gender. This study seeks to understand the same-sex experiences of people who identify as heterosexual in Spain.
For their study, Juan E. Nebot-Garcia and colleagues utilized data from 2900 Spanish heterosexual participants who took part in a larger study on sexual diversity and orientation. Participants were recruited through social media and completed the questionnaire online. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 40 years of age and the sample was predominantly composed of women.
Participants completed a questionnaire on same-sex experiences, sexual orientation identification, sexual attraction, behavioral intention toward same and opposite sex individuals, aesthetic appreciation of the same-sex, and discomfort.
Results showed that 31.5% of women and 13.2% of men who identified as heterosexual reported feeling attracted toward individuals of the same sex.
Among the most uncomfortable experiences identified were having sex with someone of the same sex or having a sex dream about someone of the same sex.
“The first may cause more discomfort because it is the most explicit behavior and entails greater intimate and social exposure. The discomfort around erotica may be associated with the involuntary nature of the dreams themselves and because they are manifestations of latent motivations and desires of the unconscious,” the researchers explained.
Women were significantly more likely to indicate that they would perform sexual behaviors with someone of the same sex than men were. Male participants showed higher levels of discomfort with the idea of erotic experiences with the same sex. These gender differences are likely seen because of strict gender roles that are pervasive, despite all the steps taken toward progress in recent years.
“Our findings offer valuable information about sexual diversity among heterosexuals, which is often accompanied by significant levels of discomfort regarding different sexual manifestations,” the researchers said. “This may limit the experience, enjoyment, and full development of sexuality, especially among heterosexual men.”
This study took important steps into better understanding the nuances of sexuality within people who identify as heterosexual. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that the sample was predominantly female, which could make gender differences less accurate. Additionally, this study utilized self-report with a stigmatized topic and results are susceptible to social desirability bias.
“These findings were specific to Spain, which is a country where legislative advances coexist with an unshakable religious and machismo tradition,” the researchers noted. “It is clear that there is a need to continue studying sexual orientation as a complex construct to include the affective-sexual diversity that characterizes the population in its entirety.”
The study, “What Does Heterosexuality Mean? Same-Sex Attraction, Behaviors, and Discomfort Among Self-Identified Heterosexual Young Adults from Spain“, was authored by Juan E. Nebot-Garcia, Cristina Giménez-García, Marta García-Barba, María Dolores Gil-Llario, and Rafael Ballester-Arnal.