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Less Bangers, More Mash: 20% Rise in Brits Lesbian Encounters

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Wednesday Apr 23, 2014

The stats are in. And if the findings of a recent study are true, England could quite well be the most girl-on-girl friendly island since Lesbos.

The latest figures are in from the UK's National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) and they reveal that a full 20 percent of British women have had a sexual experience with another woman --- twice as many as 10 years ago. By contrast, the number of men having gay sex remained stable and stands at 4.8 percent, as published in the Lancet.

As reported in the UK's Diva Magazine, Natsal interviewed 15,000 Brits aged 16-74 and found that, while they may not be running to the altar, British babes were experimenting more with same-sex snogging and, to a lesser degree (8 percent) shagging. This is compared to just 1.8 percent in 1990. The study's author said that women are just more accepting of sexual orientation -- and more sexually adventurous.

"In some areas of sexual behavior we have seen a narrowing of the gender gap, but in others we have seen women overtaking men in the diversity of their behavior," said Professor Kay Wellings, who co-authored the study.

Not surprisingly, the survey found that as women get younger, their rate of sexual experimentation goes up, so that nearly 20 percent of women younger than 35 say they've had a lesbian experience. British women are also reporting a higher number of sexual partners in general-in fact, nearly twice as many, 7.7 partners on average.

In a recent article published on conservative news outlet Breitbart, Indiana University Research Scientist Debra Herbenick echoes this sentiment, positing that the increase in lesbian dalliances demonstrates a cultural shift that includes the "loosening up and encouragement for both women and men for exploring the desires that they do have."

Herbenick also pointed a finger at technology’s role, saying, "The Internet changed a lot of things for many people."

Critics posit that the diminishing stigma around same-sex relationships have just allowed women to feel more comfortable talking about their conquests, but the study’s co-author said that this doesn’t explain the wide gap over the past decade. She notes that the proportion of men who report engaging in bisexual or same-sex sexual activity is only about 7 percent.

The trends are "so large," they can’t just be explained by "an increased openness in reporting," said study co-author, lecturer in Sexual and Reproductive Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine, Dr. Kirstin Mitchell. "[They] need to be seen against the backdrop of the profound changes in the position of women in society, the norms governing their lifestyles, and media representations of female sexuality."

Perhaps it is as Lisa Luxx, lesbian "preditor in chief" of counter-culture website Prowlhouse said in a recent article in the UK Guardian. Speaking of the rising number of straight girls who have come on to her in past years, Luxx said, "It seems like the wild thing to do because it’s more talked about." She thinks it’s partly about "women allowing one another to be sexual beings rather than seeing other women as a threat."

But while British betties may be more willing to hit the hay with their Sapphic sisters, they are only in Lesbian Land on a short-term visa. Mitchell said that men were quicker to adopt the label of "gay" than women were to adopt the moniker of "lesbian" or "bisexual."

"For some reason, men are more willing to identify as gay than women are," said Mitchell. "We need to know more about these women and their behaviors; are they moving towards a lesbian identity or are they happy being someone who experiments? As researchers, we think of it as a continuum. We’re all somewhere along there."

Unfortunately, with the increase in images of gays and lesbians in the media, there has been a concurrent increase in hate crimes. Another recent UK study showed that one in six LGBT people have been the victim of a homophobic attack within the past three years.

Mitchell was at a loss to explain this behavior, which held true in the Natsal study, saying only that it was "an interesting question, and one that we unfortunately don’t have the answers to. We can only show the trends."

According to Ruth Hunt, deputy chief executive of Stonewall, "these figures show the disturbing levels of violence and intimidation faced every day by lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain. Most victims don’t report abuse and, if they do turn to the police, they have low expectations that anyone will listen or act."

"We tend to think that these days we live in an increasingly sexually liberal society, but the truth is far more complex," said Professor Anne Johnson of University College London, which was also involved in the study.

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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