Sexual Agency and Experimentation

Deborah Tolman’s Adolescent Girls’ Sexuality brings to light the idea of sexual subjectivity, or a young woman’s sense of self as a sexual person who is entitled to have sexual feelings and make active decisions about sexual behavior. Being sexual subjects requires young ladies to have more agency with their sexuality–to be active agents in the choices they are making. It also requires that these young women have sexual well-being, including sexual and reproductive health, comfort with one’s body, feelings and desires, and awareness of and having the freedom to act upon sexual desires.

Acting with sexual agency applies to all women, heterosexual and homosexual. As described in Kerwin Kaye’s Sexual Intercourse, intercourse is an extremely social affair. Involving multiple people means that there is variations within sexual intercourse, depending on environment, time, race, class, etc. Different sexual acts are associated with different social groupings. With sexual agency, women in particular have the choice with where, when and whom to engage with sexually. Now although Tolman’s article rests on a heterosexual scope, we know from reading Sexual Narratives of “Straight” Women by Nicole LaMarre that heterosexuality, especially among women, is not as one dimensional as it may seem.

Sexuality is comprised of many facets, and although you may identify as one orientation, your sexual practices, desires, and fantasies are fluid; they change over time and circumstance. This fluidity challenges the notion of fixed sexual identities and thereby allows for women to have more chances to exert their sexual agency. Heteroflexibilty describes this fluidity in a way that does not bind a woman (or man) down to one side of the binary; it is helpful to think about sexuality as a spectrum in which a person moves back forth along. There is a depth to sexuality that hetero- or homo- categorizations don’t allow people to truly explore.

Sexual categorization seems to be an attempt to maintain and limit the sexual freedom women may have; and so, in asserting sexual subjectivity and agency, women work against these categorizations as they create their own sexual freedom.

When it comes to college aged women, though, we see them in homosocial gatherings constantly. Sororities, women’s sports teams, all girl dorms, etc. are situations in which women may feel more comfortable partaking in “homosexual” behaviors, just given the circumstance. Perhaps it is the environment or access to beautiful women, but it seems that many college girls are often more willing to engage in girl-on-girl activity.

Without losing their “heterosexuality,” like some of the young ladies in LaMarre’s article, women can engage in sexual relationships and encounters with other women because of a multitude of reasons. Proximity, specifically on college campuses as addressed in Kathleen Bogle’s Hooking Up, contributes to the ease in sexual encounters; additionally, alcohol and other drugs also seemingly make young people more comfortable with situations they may not have been comfortable with while sober.

Regardless of external attributes, young women hooking up with other women is common.

Women are, stereotypically, affectionate and emotional creatures. It’s not out of the ordinary to see young women sitting on one another’s laps, touching, rubbing, or even kissing. But differently, we hardly ever see the same for young men. In fact, men seemingly run away from the idea of being affectionate with their male friends outside of the locker room or frat house. It feels as if women’s comfortableness with being emotionally and intimately involved with one another carries over into their being more likely to engage in same-sex, sexual activity.

Now whether these encounters are solely “experimental” or not is obviously up for debate. But, because heterosexuality holds such privilege in our society, it’s understandable why young women by simply label their sexual intimacies as just that–experiments. Living in a heteronormative society leaves numerous non-heterosexual people outcasted. Even if women assert their sexual agency by acting as sexual subjects (agents), power structures embedded within our society’s framework still put limitations on some women.

You may feel encouraged to go forth and assert your sexual freedom, but if you have a natural (or unnatural) tendency to direct that sexual freedom towards a person of the same sex outside of an “acceptable” setting, you become susceptible to judgement and alienation. As women we are already disempowered in many ways, so it’s frustrating to think about how we try to take accountability over the power we do have with our sexuality, and still face limitations with it.

Do you think sexual subjectivity applies to non-heterosexual encounters as well between women? What additional reasons do you think make college campuses vortexes for same-sex intimacies? In what ways does sexual fluidity apply to your own life, whether at college or not?


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