Carol – A Study in Female Bisexuality

Carol is a movie based on a novel, The price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith. Carol and Therese are lesbian lovers. The movie (unlike the book) is played from Carol’s point of view with the assumption that she is the more vulnerable character (certainly a point to be argued). Even though the movie is widely acclaimed for its content and quality, I had difficulty defining my feelings and understanding of female bisexualism during the movie. However, I was challenged to try to see and understand female bisexuality, and discover the similarities between male and female bisexuals.

The first question then arises – are these women lesbian or bisexual? Carol is in the process of a divorce, and has a child, and is therefore by definition a bisexual woman.  Therese has a boyfriend, and according to her own admission has a hard time saying no, which I presume means she is also a bisexual.  Which of course, for women or for men, begs the question – according to label and definition, who is gay, who is lesbian and who is bisexual? According to my simple definition, if you are attracted to and can have sex with either men or women (and I assume enjoy it) then you are bisexual.  Beyond that point, your preferences may change and you make different choices, not to be bisexual because that is what we are, but we have the ability to enjoy relationships with either men or women.   At first Carol choses to be married to a man and chooses to have a child whom she loves dearly, but she  is willing to give up parental custody for the sake of the child, and in order to peruse her love for Therese. Therese has a boyfriend, makes plans to get married and live a straight life.  She is then overcome by her attraction for Carol and enters into a lesbian life, I assume because of her need for genuine connection and the opportunity to share deep feelings and desires.

As a man, I find it totally incomprehensible why two women would want to live together with such potential for emotional turmoil and chaos. So much easier being a man and being with a man.  Interestingly enough, Carol and Therese felt the same way; that is, they found living with a man so difficult and preferred the predictability of living with a woman – emotion, chaos and all. In my search of the internet I found this quote from a woman claiming to be straight but with bisexual tendencies, “I am attracted to the beauty of other women — and they’re so much easier to understand psychologically than men. We girls form deep relationships through friendships, which some say are the basis of love. And personally I believe that emotional connection and physical attraction are linked”[1]. Well, maybe for women, but not necessarily for men. I can be very attracted to a man on a casual basis without ever wanting intimate relationship.

However, I think it is important, as a male bisexual, to try to understand female bisexuality and why most bisexual women eventually give up on the heterosexual relationship and choose to become lesbians. First of all let’s look at the differences. Women are much more likely to be bisexual then men. I found a study conducted by researchers at Boise State University that found that in a group of heterosexual women, 60 percent were physically interested in other women, 45 percent made out with a woman in the past, and 50 percent had fantasies about the same sex[2]. The researchers also found that men were more likely than women to report being “100 percent heterosexual” or “100 percent homosexual” continually throughout their lives. This explains a lot about Carol and Therese and their natural attraction for one another. Women are allowed socially to hold hands, hug,  and even kiss in girl to girl relationships.  For boys this is a taboo.  A man is supposed to be a man.  Begs the question – are we all really bisexual in nature but straight or lesbian or gay only due to social factors? Perhaps for women, but I think there is more to it for men.  For men there is an animal competition to spread our genes around so the dominant genes will be passed on.  This means ‘women only’ as men cannot reproduce with another man.  Whereas women seem to be straight only about 40 to 50% of the time, it appears that men are definitely straight about 95% of the time, definitely gay 4% of the time and about 1% of the time they seem to be either-or.

Research suggests that gay men tend to engage in promiscuous sex and lesbian women tend to seek long term relationship[3].  According to my research (I know four lesbian couples), of the eight individuals, five started out in a marriage or heterosexual relationship and then settled into a long term lesbian relationship, two were dominant (butch) lesbians from adolescence on,  and only one started out in a lesbian relationship and then later got married to a man and had children.  From the research, and from my observations, some have definite lesbian desires starting at a young age but most come by it later in life, almost as if they choose to leave the straight and sometimes chaotic life behind and seek out genuine intimate relationship. On the other hand, most of the bisexual men I know have known from an early age that they had gay tendencies but also felt a strong attraction for women and a strong desire to marry and be fathers.  They live for years going from one to the other, usually intimately with their wives and casually with their gay lovers. When they divorce, they usually go gay and then many of them again seek out another heterosexual relationship.  It seems they cannot make up their minds. They seem driven to be both.  Men are true bisexuals.  Most women seem to feel the need to be one or the other.
Even though this movie indicates major differences between bisexual men and women, I do believe we have a lot in common.  Like Carol, we have a very strong urge to explore our gay or lesbian sexuality.  Like Carol and Therese, we find same-sex experiences sensuous and erotic. Like Carol, we come to a time in our life where sexual freedom of expression becomes a deep expression of our inner self, and we choose to leave the security of a marriage and strike off into the unknown in spite of the turmoil and pain it will cause.  Like Carol, we are caring people who do not want to hurt anyone, especially our children, but being true to ourselves becomes more important that being true to everyone else.



[3] 2 Sanford et al, 2001; Kulkin et al, 2000

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