9 Things We Learned About Sexuality In 2016

Ashley Batz for Bustle

In 1948, Dr. Alfred Kinsey created the Kinsey Scale. The scale, ranging from zero to six, was meant to put people into one of seven sexuality categories: exclusively heterosexual (zero); predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual; predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual; equally heterosexual and homosexual; predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual; predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual; exclusively homosexual (six). There was also an X factor: no socio-sexual contacts or reactions.

Although at the time, it was somewhat groundbreaking because it did recognize that there was some leeway in sexuality, in that someone could fall somewhere in the middle, like at number three, which is essentially being bisexual, to state that human sexuality could only fall into one of those seven categories was fairly short-sighted.

But what the Kinsey Scale doesn't address is that human sexuality is far more complicated than seven categories — something that has become abundantly clear in the last decade or so. There's an entire world of sexuality that isn't included in his scale — sexuality runs the gamut, and it’s a really beautiful thing. And while we still have a lot of work to do in terms of acceptance around non-heterosexual orientations, different sexualities are starting to be expressed and accepted in ways that they haven't been in the past. In fact, a YouGov survey from 2015 found that 43 percent of young people identify as sexually fluid.

With every year that comes, we continue to learn more and more about human sexuality, and this year was no different. Here are nine things we learned about sexuality in 2016.


Bisexuality Still Isn’t Getting The Respect It Deserves

Although bisexuality has been proven to be a legit sexual identity, that hasn’t stopped people from sort of scoffing at it with the notion of how can someone be sexually attracted to both genders. A 2016 study by Adam & Eve found that, of the 1,000 participants (all over 18), 47 percent would not date a bisexual person. Only 35 percent said they were open to it, and 19 percent said they weren’t sure. The study proved that the stereotype of bisexual men and women being more promiscuous than people who identity as either heterosexual or homosexual is alive and well — and that stereotype isn’t just in the straight community. Research has found that despite the B in LGBT, even the gay community is hesitant to take bisexuals seriously. Obviously this is a major problem and something all of us need to recognize as an issue that must be resolved.


Women Are More Sexually Fluid Than Men

According to the results of a survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control, women are more sexually fluid than men — no surprises there, right?

The CDC’s national survey of adults aged 18 to 44 was administered between 2011 and 2013. When the CDC sat down to analyze the data they found that 17.4 percent of women reported same-sex contact at least once in their life, whereas only 6.2 percent of men reported the same. Not only that, but more women than men identify as bisexual, with 5.5 percent versus 2 percent, and more men than women identify as straight, with 95.1 percent versus 92.3 percent, respectively.


Women Remain Extremely Sexual Well Into Their 70s (And Beyond)

A November study found that more older women than ever are just as sexual — if not more so — later on in life. Although menopause can put a damper on a woman’s sexuality in regard to her desire and natural vaginal lubrication, with one in seven women between the ages of 65 and 79 suffering from hypoactive sexual desire dysfunction, the fact remains that sexuality doesn’t go away with age. In fact, the best sex of your life might be 30 or 40 years away.


Gay-Straight Alliances Are Necessary To Lessen Bullying

A July study found that schools that have Gay-Straight Alliances, are less likely to have bullying within their classrooms. The study by Vanderbilt University found that not only did students who identified as gay, transgender, or non-binary experience less bullying, but so did the student population who identified as cisgender and/or straight. The presence of these alliances on campuses resulted in students being 52 percent less likely to hear homophobic slurs and 36 percent less likely to fear for their safety. Basically, the study proved that education and support through alliances, helped to keep sexuality acceptance a part of the school environment and students were better for it.


Sexual Orientation Doesn’t Necessarily Define Your Sexual Behavior

As a straight woman who has had sex with a couple women, I already knew this to be true, but it’s nice when science catches up with something that the rest of us already knew, right? According to a study from earlier this year, “sexual orientation labels and sexual behavior don’t always align — especially during the teen years.”

The study examined the sexuality and sex lives of 3,000 adolescent girls and found that although one in five identified as lesbian, four in five had recently had sex with a guy. But like I said, is anyone truly surprised by these findings?


Sexual Satisfaction Isn’t Always The Key To A Happy Sex Life

As much as that subhead confuses me, a November study by the University of Toronto found that “The secret to a happy sex life in long-term relationships is the belief that it takes hard work and effort, instead of expecting sexual satisfaction to simply happen if you are true soulmates.”

According to the findings, “sexpectations” can either undermine or sustain relationships, and when you use sex as a standard of measurement for relationship satisfaction, what goes on in the bedroom can be misinterpreted as affecting the relationship as a whole, when that’s not entirely true. Sexual satisfaction takes effort; just because your relationship is going great, doesn’t mean that you need to throw the towel in on making an effort in the bedroom.


Sexual Responses Can Be Learned And Unlearned

A March study by Leiden University of 600 participants found that sexual response can be learned and unlearned — which is a major breakthrough in treating patients with sex addiction. The experiment measured the arousal of both men and women though a series of images, while being aroused with vibrations on their genitals. Neutral images were presented without vibration stimulation, and yet some of the subjects still became aroused. Another experiment showed that arousal can be unlearned through association and adding colored light to the situation.

While, yes, this experiment sounds a wee bit confusing, the study was a big a deal in that sexual responses can be unlearned, therefore curbing the desire of those who suffer from sexual addiction.


Women May Not Have A Sexual Orientation

Just in our friendships alone, women exhibit far more physical affection than men and we're comfortable doing so.

"Women, I do believe, are capable of being mentally attracted to another person easier than a man," Dr. Dawn Michael of The Happy Spouse and author of My Husband Won't Have Sex With Me tells Bustle. "Women also have the social acceptance of openly being affectionate with another woman making it an easier transition over into a sexual connection."

In addition to social acceptance, according to an article published in Biological Reviews in May, Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa says there’s an evolutionary reason behind women's sexual fluidity as well. Kanazawa’s article states that the sexual fluidity stems from when humans were in polygynous marriages. That fluidity allowed women to sleep with their co-wives, as a means of “reducing conflict and tension inherent in such marriages while at the same time successfully reproducing with their husbands in heterosexual unions.” Kanazawa took his theory one step further when he suggested that women may not even have a sexual orientation, at least not in the way men do, and women’s sexual attraction “may depend largely on the particular partner, their reproductive status, and other circumstances.”


Non-Heterosexual Orientations Are Not On The Rise Due To Social Tolerance

In one of the most interesting studies about sexuality that came out of 2016, was by a team of researchers at Northwestern University that "wanted to correct important misconceptions about the link between scientific findings and political agendas," according to lead author J. Michael Baily. He and his team proved several facts that had already been addressed — like how people are born gay, outside influences do not “make” someone gay, nor can sexual orientation be taught or learned. The study also found that the increased social tolerance for various sexual identities isn’t playing a role at all in suddenly making someone gay, bisexual, gender-fluid, or any other identify that strays from heteronormative labels.

Although Baily and his team were quick to point out that they’ve yet to uncover everything there is to know about human sexuality, it was very clearly stated that there is no choice in sexual desire, no matter what the Conservative Right might be preaching, and the very notion that one chooses their sexual desires is completely and totally illogical.

Baily concluded his report by saying, “Sexual orientation is an important human trait, and we should study it without fear, and without political constraint." Adding, "the more controversial a topic, the more we should invest in acquiring unbiased knowledge and science is the best way to acquire unbiased knowledge."

While there's still so much to learn about human sexuality and we've probably just uncovered the tip of the iceberg, 2016 definitely proved that our understanding is becoming more and more clear. Here's to 2017 and the exciting new knowledge about sexuality that researchers are bound to discover in the next year.