Heterosexual individuals’ perception of their own sexual orientation tends to change when they are exposed to different theories about the nature of sexuality, according to a new study. After being presented with scientific evidence indicating that sexual orientation exists on a continuum and can change over time, participants reported being less exclusively straight, less certain about their heterosexuality, and more willing to engage in homosexual experiences in the future.
The study authors began by recruiting 180 university students, all of whom identified as straight. Publishing their findings in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers explain how they presented some participants with an article revealing how most people experience some degree of attraction to both men and women. The article included evidence to support this theory from several studies, including one which measured genital blood flow and pupil dilation among people watching erotic videos of men and women.
To create a control group, the researchers presented some participants with a different article that contained information about climate change. Compared to these controls, individuals that had read about the continuous nature of sexuality reported being less exclusively heterosexual and less certain about their sexual orientation at the end of the experiment. Interestingly, however, this trend was less noticeable among participants who identified as politically conservative.
Building on these findings, the researchers conducted a second experiment involving a larger cohort of 460 heterosexual people from various walks of life. This time, participants were shown either the article about sexuality being a continuum, a control article, or a separate article about how sexual orientation is “fluid” and can change over the course of a person’s life.
After reading their respective information sheets, only 7.8 percent of controls claimed to be non-exclusively straight, compared 36 percent of those in the sexual continuum group and 20.7 percent of those in the fluid sexuality group. Furthermore, 41.6 percent of those who read about the continuous nature of sexuality reported being uncertain about their heterosexuality, along with 34.8 percent of participants who read about the fluid nature of sexuality, and 19. 6 percent of controls.
Unlike in the first experiment, political persuasion was found to have no bearing on these results, with trends being equally pronounced among liberals and conservatives. However, the researchers also found that while people who read about the continuous nature of sexuality became more open to the idea of engaging in homosexual experiences in the future, the same was not true of those who read about sexual fluidity.
“Did we change people’s sexual orientation via our interventions? Surely not,” said lead study author Dr James Morandini in a statement. “I think our study may have changed how people interpreted their underlying sexual feelings. This means two people with identical sexual orientations could describe their sexual orientation quite differently, depending on whether they have been exposed to fluid or continuous ways of understanding sexuality.”