Why Every Straight Woman You Know Has Kissed Another Woman

Researcher Samantha Stevens and her team discusses the motivation, sexualization, and sitgmatization of young straight girls kissing.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | July 29, 2023

A recent article by Samantha M. Stevens, Flora Oswald, and Jes L. Matsick, published in Personal Relationships, explores the motivation behind a relatively common occurrence of same-sex performativity (SSP) among college-aged women, where heterosexual women publicly engage in same-sex behaviors like kissing.The study identified three distinct groups with different motivations namely, other-motivated, sexually motivated, ambiguously motivated, that drives women to engage in same sex performativity.

I recently spoke to Samantha Stevens, Research Scientist at Equity Accelerator, and the lead author of the paper, to discuss the findings. Here is a summary of our conversation.

Can you explain the concept of same-sex performativity (SSP) and why it is considered a relatively common relational experience among college-aged women? What motivated you to conduct this research?

Same-sex performativity refers to public performances of sexuality, such as kissing, between women who identify as heterosexual. It's believed that between 20 and 33% of heterosexual-identified college women have kissed another woman at a party, suggesting that same-sex performativity is relatively common.

We wanted to conduct this research to shed light on the heterogeneity of women who participate in same-sex performativity. 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.

What was the methodology of your study? What were your key findings?

We conducted an online survey of undergraduate women, focusing our research question on the sample of 282 heterosexual women who had indicated having participated in same-sex performativity. We asked these women questions about their identities, attitudes, motivations, and evaluations of their experiences. Then, we used a technique called latent class analysis to identify subgroups of women who reported common patterns of motivations for engaging in same-sex performativity.

We found that there were 3 distinct subgroups of women in our sample, suggesting that women have distinct patterns of motivations for engaging in same-sex performativity and thus demonstrating the heterogeneity among women who participate in same-sex performativity.

Moreover, we found that the motivational profiles were linked to things like evaluations of the experience, which supports that the groupings are meaningful for women's experiences. Overall, our findings shed light on the nuances of a phenomenon (i.e., same-sex performativity) that is often oversimplified and misunderstood.

Could you explain the three classes of motivational patterns that were identified through latent class analysis?

The three classes correspond to the three common patterns of motivations for engaging in same-sex performativity that manifested in our sample.

  1. We found a class that we dubbed Other-Motivated because the women in this class tended to be highly motivated by their relationships with other people (e.g., desiring male attention, wanting to bond with others).
  2. We also found a Sexually Motivated class that was distinctly characterized by motivations of sexual desire and experimentation.
  3. The third and largest class (over half of the sample) was Ambiguously Motivated—this class was characterized by relatively low endorsement of all of the potentially motivating factors we asked about.

Notably, all of the classes were characterized by some endorsement of alcohol intoxication and fun as motivators for their engagement in same-sex performativity, so there were also commonalities which we think reflect the party setting that same-sex performativity tends to occur in.

How did the classes of motivational patterns differ in their evaluations of the SSP experience? Were there any significant variations in their self and identity, sexuality, or experiences of heterosexism?

The women in the Ambiguously Motivated class evaluated their experiences as significantly less positive than women in other classes. Similarly, Ambiguously Motivated women reported less desire to engage in same-sex performativity again. Other-Motivated women found the experience more objectifying (but not more negative) than other women.

In terms of self and identity, we didn't find associations between class membership and self-esteem, femininity, privilege, or political conservatism, but we did find that Other-Motivated women were more likely to be in or want to be in a sorority than women in other classes.

Regarding sexuality, we found that Sexually Motivated women reported the most same-sex desire, which seems to align with the motivational profile of this group.

We didn't find any significant class differences in heterosexist attitudes (that is, prejudiced attitudes against bisexual people and comfort with queer women rather than experiences.), so there's no evidence to suggest that heterosexist attitudes are linked to women's reasons for engaging in same-sex performativity.

What are some recommendations and practical takeaways from your research for the layperson?

What I would recommend is for readers to recognize the variation in women's motivations and experiences with same-sex performativity. Not all women engage in same-sex performativity for the same reasons, and not all women experience the activity in the same way.

The nuances we found in our research suggest that it's important not to oversimplify and stereotype the women who engage in same-sex performativity and similarly important to avoid assumptions about what's best for an individual.

Broadly speaking, same-sex sexual experimentation is developmentally typical, and our findings suggest that same-sex performativity may be a comfortable way for some women to explore their sexuality.

As such, it's important to avoid stigmatizing women who participate in same-sex performativity.