Whenever my boyfriend asks me what kind of porn I want to watch, I usually say, "Two girls, one guy." Why? Because women turn me on. To be clear, I am straight—but I've always found that watching two women in sexual situations is pretty hot.
Turns out, I am not alone. A new study from the University of Essex that's making waves has found that straight women are pretty unique when it comes to what turns them on physiologically, compared to both straight men and gay women.
The big bombshell? Straight women are likely to be turned on by both men and women—while straight men and lesbians are likely to be turned on only by their stated preferred gender.
For the study, published in Personality and Social Psychology, researchers from Essex, Cornell University, and Northwestern University recruited nearly 500 straight, bisexual, and lesbian women in the United States to come into a lab and have their arousal levels measured in response to various sexual stimuli. The researchers then compared that arousal with each participant's stated sexual preference.
Specifically, researchers showed the women porn that included a female masturbating, a male masturbating, two females together, and two males together.
From there, they measured sexual arousal in two different ways. One group of women—a mix of straight, lesbian, and bisexual—were asked to use a device placed near the genitals that sensed a change in vaginal blood flow and recorded those genital responses every five milliseconds.
The other set of women, not involved in the vaginal-response lab tests, had their sexual arousal measured through eye-tracking technology that examined the women’s pupil dilation. Past research has shown that pupil dilation can accurately measure sexual response to stimuli.
The researchers found that the majority of straight women (72%) were aroused by both men and women, whereas the majority of lesbians (68%) were mostly aroused by just women. Previous research suggests that the majority of straight men, too, are aroused only by their stated preferred gender.
“If you’re a man, whatever you tell me you’re attracted to I bet in the laboratory your penis will verify that,” Gerulf Rieger, lead author of the study, told The Times in England, citing previous research into straight men and arousal. “If a woman has the same conversation with me and tells me she is straight, even if she believes that, in the laboratory her body will contradict her.”
This finding, of course, led many media outlets to report the study's findings as "no woman is totally straight!!!"—but Rieger wants to clarify that's not what it really means.
"I would like to stress that we did not find or say that there are 'no straight women,'" he told me over email. "Rather, we stated in the press release that even though the majority of women identify as straight, they are, in their physiological sexual responses (i.e., genital arousal or pupil dilation to images of attractive men and women) either bisexual or gay, but rarely straight." So yes, you can be straight, but also be aroused by various stimuli.
Why might this be? In the study, Rieger, who teaches psychology at Essex, cites one possible—albeit controversial—evolutionary explanation that is heavily debated in the scientific community. This theory is that, many millennia ago, forced copulation was standard practice among humans. And because forced sex is dangerous for a female and can result in injury to her genitals, "the female response to any sexual stimulus could have evolved in part to mitigate this risk."
He further hypothesized that "women may have physiological sexual responses to a variety of sexual stimuli, including stimuli representing both consensual and forced sexual acts, sexual activities of non-human primates, and male and female sexual stimuli" to protect themselves when sex is unwanted.
Regardless of how it happened, we should all take a moment to acknowledge the possibility that straight women are getting turned on a lot more than popular culture would have us believe. Let the sexual revolution begin.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.