Brace Scholar Cohen ’08 Presents “Gay Until Graduation”

Brace Fellow Rachel Cohen ’08 believes that a woman may change her sexual orientation multiple times in a lifetime. This past Tuesday, Cohen delivered her Brace Fellow presentation, “Gay Until Graduation,” which focused on modern concepts and issues related to lesbian women. She began, “Lesbian. The word evokes a picture. At Andover, it might be a picture of…me. Anywhere else, it might be of two girls making out, or Britney Spears and Madonna.” Over the past decades, open lesbianism has consistently increased. According to Cohen, guys find it “hot,” girls find it “a satisfying alternative,” and the media was quick to pick up on the craze, particularly on TV with shows such as “The O.C.” “Sex and the City,” and “The ‘L’ Word.” According to Cohen, 14% of women have engaged in some kind of sexual relationship with a girl by their late teens. She attempted to address why women become lesbians, citing the emotional differences between men and women, the lack of equality in heterosexual relationships, and aggressive male sex drives. “It’s a mean joke on both sexes that men reach their sexual peak at 18 while women reach theirs at 30,” she said. Cohen focused on “temporary” lesbians, whom she defined as women who engage in lesbian relationships while they are in college, but end them upon leaving the microcosm of college life and entering the “real world.” According to Cohen, it can be quite difficult for a woman to maintain her homosexuality after college. She noted that women sometimes want to start families and follow the social norm. The idea that men can become less sexually aggressive after college also contributes to the high number of “college lesbians,” who return to relationships with men after their mid-twenties. Cohen also elaborated on women’s colleges and their reputations for having a larger percentage of lesbians than most co-ed colleges. Many women’s colleges have issued statements to assure prospective applicants that they do not encourage lesbianism any more than their coeducational counterparts. However, Cohen added that many heterosexual women simply feel more comfortable in an all-female environment. When asked about the politics of lesbianism, Cohen stated that unlike the “Lesbian Nation” of the ’70s, the new wave of lesbianism is generally not a woman’s way of “sticking it to The Man,” but rather a choice in sexuality and partnership independent of any political statement. During the question and answer, Cohen also discussed scientific research that supports biological claims for homosexuality, specifically a “gay gene” that genetically pre-conditions men towards homosexuality. According to recent studies, men with older brothers demonstrate a higher rate of homosexuality than men without older brothers. Cohen noted that while there is a growing amount of data on trends in male homosexuality, there are few comparable studies on lesbianism. Women are viewed as “highly sexual beings” in today’s society, and that may lead to more frequent changes in their sexual orientation. Cohen concluded that sexual orientation is “fluid” in nature saying jokingly, “Women aren’t decisive about anything…ever.”