Some see it as the latest cool trend among girls in America's high schools. Others claim it is just teenagers doing what they do best -- being rebellious. Either way, a wave of "bisexual chic" is sweeping the US.
Emboldened by such images as Madonna kissing Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on a TV awards show, girls are proudly declaring their alternative sexualities at a younger age than ever before.
"It's a countrywide thing," said Jessie Gilliam, a project manager for the Washington-based gay and lesbian support group Youth Resource.
Denise Pell, president of BiNet USA, a network for bisexuals, says it has become more acceptable for younger girls to experiment with their sexual identities well before their college years.
"I don't think it's possible statistically to say it's increasing, but it seems more girls are comfortable to identify themselves as bisexual," she said.
"For some, it may be what they really feel; others may be questioning themselves and their sexualities; and it's possible that some are doing it because they think it's chic. It doesn't necessarily mean these kids are sexually active, but they are learning about themselves, not just in their sexualities but in their lives in general. And that should only be encouraged."
The "chic-chick-on-chick" phenomenon seems to be particularly prevalent at teenage and college parties, where it is common to find two or more girls kissing each other, often egged on by a rowdy, supportive group of males.
"Girls go for the whole mystery thing," said David Sternberg, a senior high-school student in Boca Raton, Florida. "And guys usually think it's a turn-on. It's more of a teasing thing. At parties, girls randomly kiss and guys think, `Oh, that's awesome.'"
A recent study by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel revealed that many girls think this way.
"I liked the attention," declared one 17-year-old, who admitted "experimenting" with another girl because she liked the way her boyfriend reacted.
"He thinks it's fun," she said.
The parties emulate scenes captured on commercially available videos, such as the best-selling Girls Gone Wild series, in which soft-porn actresses pose as college students and are paid to kiss, fondle and stroke each other and flash their breasts at gathered male students, who are often drinking heavily.
"It's a bisexuality that's focused on heterosexuality, in that it's still focused on pleasing a man, and in that sense it's not progressive," Gilliam said.
Images of lesbian or bisexual females in the mainstream media have played a part, some experts say. The Madonna-Britney clinch at last year's MTV Music Awards was constantly replayed, and the music of openly gay artists such as KD Lang and the Russian duo Tatu can help to influence young people's minds.
"Obviously if you are seeing pop icons or role models doing this, and they are OK with it, then you will feel more comfortable with it yourself. I don't think girls will emulate that behavior if it makes them feel uncomfortable, but they see that it's OK to do so," Pell said. "It's important to take bisexuality as a serious identity. It's a myth that it is just a phase."
One difficulty, others say, is that girls who declare themselves to be bisexual to be trendy or impress boys may harm the cause of those who genuinely are.
Oregon student Toby Hill-Meyer, who is researching how people define their sexuality, said that, because of the so-called bisexual chic, genuine bisexuals are turning away from the word.
"They don't want to be associated with that trendiness," he told the Sun-Sentinel.
Many US schools have set up support groups for gay or bisexual students, supporting the theory this is more than a fad.
"Ten or 15 years ago, these sort of groups didn't exist, so that's pro-gress," said Pell. "There have always been bisexuals in high schools, but many girls have been forced to identify as lesbians. People like to categorize so they can frame their own thinking about us."
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