Have you ever seen two girls (presumed to be heterosexual) making out at a party or bar? If so, you are in the majority. According to a recent study, nearly 70% of college students have witnessed this behavior, and about a third of heterosexual women in this sample reported having kissed another woman in a public place.1 If you haven’t seen two women kissing at a party or bar, you have surely seen it in the popular media – think Madonna and Britney at the MTV Music Awards or Katy Perry’s hit song “I kissed a girl and I liked it.”
In the first empirical investigation of this type of girl-on-girl action, researchers explored women’s motivations for same-sex kissing. Researchers interviewed heterosexual women who said they had kissed another woman in a public setting and identified several motivations for these activities. The typical impetus for these activities involved alcohol and prompting from other people at the party, like a “dare” or drinking game. The most commonly mentioned motive was to attract male attention (mentioned by 56% of the sample). Next, women mentioned that these activities contributed to a fun party atmosphere (43%) or that they were drunk (42%). In particular, women reported that if you are drinking at a party it can be fun to make out with another person. They further explained that it may be safer to make out with another woman as opposed to a man since there will be less pressure to go further (because often it is presumed that the other women is heterosexual). Some women mentioned female bonding (26%) and suggested that this was something they would only do with a close friend, as opposed to a stranger. Other reasons included experimentation (23%), shock value (22%), and “instrumental” reasons (16%) such as to gain access to resources such as money or alcohol, or to detract unwanted male attention.1
One of the main questions the researchers were interested in exploring was whether these experiences were empowering for women or instances of sexual objectification? In other words, was this something women were doing for their own enjoyment or for men’s enjoyment? The researchers considered the experiences empowering if the women described them in those terms and they did not include pressure from other people. Only 16% of the women in this sample had experiences that were described as empowering. The majority of the women (64%) spoke about the experience as a way to appeal to men’s sexuality and or as objectifying or degrading to themselves. The researchers acknowledge however that this is not necessarily an either-or phenomenon, and elements of both may be present.1
In a commentary on media representations of “I kissed a girl and I liked it,” Lisa Diamond cautions against viewing these media portrayals as representing an appreciation and celebration of women’s sexuality for several reasons. First, women pursue many of these activities primarily for the men around them to enjoy. Second, the media rarely considers the idea that these women are bisexual or lesbian. In fact, instances of women’s same-sex kissing can be seen as reinforcing their heterosexuality – they are not lesbian or bisexual because they closed off to the experience, but instead because they have tried it and decided it was not for them. Finally, just because the media presents these images positively does not mean that they represent women’s empowerment.2
So it seems that in terms of heterosexual women’s same sex activities, some women can in fact say “I kissed a girl and I like it” but for many it is more like, “I kissed a girl and he liked it …” and this difference may be more subtle than we think.
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1Yost, M. R., & McCarthy, L. (2012). Girls Gone Wild? Heterosexual women’s same-sex encounters at college parties. Psychology of Women’s Quarterly, 36, 7- 24. doi: 10.1177/0361684311414818.
2Diamond, L. M. (2005). ‘I’m straight, but I kissed a girl’: The trouble with American media representations of female–female sexuality. Feminism & Psychology, 15, 104-110. doi: 10.1177/0959-353505049712.
Dr. Amy Muise – Sex Musings | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.