real life

The five-word phrase that will make you rethink your sexuality.

Unpacking your sexuality later in life is a little like living out that scene in The Matrix where Neo is offered a choice between two pills. 

"You take the blue pill... the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe," Morpheus tells him.  

"You take the red pill... I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

Like most people, I grew up swallowing the idea that sexuality and gender were binary constructs, so interrogating my sexual identity essentially meant accepting the existence of another entirely different (and frankly terrifying) reality – something feminist essayist Adrienne Rich coined 'compulsory heterosexuality'; a term that's since become internet canon.

Rich's alternate reality isn't dystopian, though. It's simply the argument that what we think we know about sexual attraction is actually just the byproduct of social conditioning. Case in point: women are told to view an exclusive attraction to masculinity as evidence we're straight. Even though this logic ignores a rarely spoken truth: masculinity doesn't belong to men.  

Perhaps these five words aren't particularly ground-breaking to you. Women can be masculine, too – butch, tomboy and so-called "masc" women are proof of this. Okay, fine? So??

So, here's the red pill: are you attracted to MEN? Or are you simply attracted to MASCULINITY?

But first, here's an explainer on the correct terms to use when it comes to the LGBTIAP community. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

Try this thought exercise to help separate the two: Call to mind the masculine characteristics you find sexually attractive. Are they physical and gender-specific? Or are they merely attributes hetero-normative culture has taught you belong to men – things like assertiveness, dominance, taking up space, strength, toughness, and grit (things which – spoiler alert – can be embodied by anyone of any gender)?  

If you answered the latter, you aren't specifically attracted to men.

Before you come for me, I'm not here to redefine anyone's sexual identity. I'm not even arguing being attracted to the aforementioned characteristics means men don't factor into your sexuality or that you should stop dating them.

Recognising the role hetero-normative conditioning plays in your perception of sexuality isn't about labelling yourself differently (though to be real, it may very well have this effect on you; it certainly did for me when I began the process of unpacking my sexuality several years ago). It's about consciously choosing to acknowledge the cultural matrix we all live in that compels us to believe social constructs around gender and sexuality are absolute truths.


In a study published in the International Journal of Sexual Health, which included a survey of over 27,000 women, 62 per cent of female respondents reported some level of attraction to other women. What's striking about this result isn't that a larger than expected portion of women displayed same-sex attraction (most research estimates around 90 to 95 per cent of the population is heterosexual), it's that all the study participants identified as straight, despite not being exclusively attracted to men. 

Some of this can be attributed to religious and cultural influences, shame, and internalised homophobia. But my guess is, that many, if not all, of these women weren't aware of the role of compulsory heterosexuality in their lives.

The "I just prefer lesbian porn because it's more sensual," and "The naked female body is objectively more attractive" narrative that exists among self-identifying 'straight' women confirms just how insidious hetero-normative conditioning is. Even in the presence of information indicating otherwise, women will consider themselves straight (to be crystal clear, there's nothing straight about lesbian porn, and no, it's not a fact women's bodies are more attractive than men's – it's a sexual preference).

This is because, as Rich explains in her 1980 essay, Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, "Women place men above women, including themselves, in credibility, status, and importance... Interaction with women is seen as a lesser form of relating on every level."

Living in a hetero-normative patriarchal culture that assumes attraction to men and centres women's value around our relationships with men and how desirable they find us, makes it nearly impossible to identify where our genuine sexual attraction begins and social conditioning ends.


Listen to HER with Sophie Cachia where Zara Cooper shared the moment she knew she was in love with another woman. Post continues after podcast.

It's a little like trying to ascertain whether you're buying something because you really need it, or because you live in a capitalist institution that functions off convincing you to spend your money on stuff you don't need (read: my entire collection of unused eyeshadow palettes).

Because in essence, heterosexuality is an institution. Just as you don't stop to question if actually NEED another Urban Decay palette before handing over your credit card (no? Just me then?), like a lot of people, you probably go through life blindly obeying what you've been told about yourself. And it's this very ambivalence that keeps you comfortably anesthetised to an alternate, arguably more authentic reality.  

If you take the metaphorical blue pill, that's where the story ends. But if you're brave enough to risk scratching beneath the surface and stumbling upon something potentially unseeable, you have the power to break free from the program and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Nadia Bokody is a queer sex columnist, YouTuber and professional over-sharer. Follow her on Instagram for more.

Feature Image: Instagram @nadiabrokody.