Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Women's Sexual Identity More Fluid

Sexual fluidity occurs in both men and women, but it has been suggested that women are potentially more open and malleable in this regard – I know it’s the truth because I’m living it.

New studies show that female sexuality may change over time and that an increasing number of women are choosing women after decades of heterosexuality, so-called, “Late Blooming Lesbians.”

I find the studies accurate, but the label really offensive. A person’s sexuality is not amusing, and confusion about it even less so.

The conventional wisdom is that as people progress in life they become set in their ways. But new research suggests that women have great potential to change in middle age — at least with respect to their sexuality. Researchers say it's increasingly common for women, often after being married to a man for years, to start their first lesbian relationship later in life.

I was married – to a man – divorced and returned to college. My first (and only) lesbian relationship began in my late 20's, and continues to this day. What’s interesting, is that I love my partner in every way possible, but still find men sexually attractive.

I have classified myself as a lesbian, but am not really. The problem with declaring oneself bi-sexual in this day and age is that it’s often politically attacked by the gay and lesbian community. It's called the coward’s way out, unable – or unwilling – to declare your real gayness. It is the sexual equivalent of being an Uncle Tom or a Tio Taco, someone who wants to be accepted by both camps, but ultimately ends up being rejected by both.

Well, bullshit! My sexuality is not political, it’s real and it’s mine. I refuse to be bullied any longer into calling it something that it’s not simply to support a cause, or to avoid ridicule. This is my truth: I AM BI-SEXUAL. It is not a political stance or something I am proud of, it is simply biological. I cannot force my sexual feelings to be other than what they are. It isn’t a matter of choice, but simply one of being.

The phenomenon of women having lesbian relationships later in life is more common than many people believe. Christan Moran, a researcher at Southern Connecticut State University, interviewed more than 200 women over 30 who were married to men but found themselves attracted to a woman, and concluded that heterosexual women can "experience a first same-sex attraction well into adulthood."

U.S. researcher, Christan Moran from Southern Connecticut State University, conducted a study of 200 women who switched their sexual orientation mid life. The women had previously been in heterosexual relationships.

“[There is] great potential for heterosexual women to experience a first same-sex attraction well into adulthood," Moran said.

Moran also believes that it is a false assumption that these women were closeted or had repressed their lesbian tendencies. Moran argues there was evidence that these women may have made "a full transition to a singular lesbian identity...in other words chang[ing] their sexual orientation."

Moran also claimed that women who came out later in life were more prone to struggle with their new identity due to difficulties in leaving the "undeniable privilege" of heterosexual marriage.

Utah University professor Lisa Diamond has, for 15 years, followed a group of 79 women who reported some same-sex attraction. Every two years, 20 to 30 percent change the way they describe themselves — gay, straight, or bi-sexual. Seventy percent have changed since the study began. In August, at the American Psychological Association's annual convention, research by Moran and others will be showcased in a session called "Sexual Fluidity and Late-Blooming Lesbian."

Were these women always gay, but closeted?

Not always. In some instances, women may come out after repressing or hiding their feelings. But Diamond, as quoted in the Guardian, says that often "women who may have always thought that other women were beautiful and attractive would, at some point later in life, actually fall in love with a woman, and that experience vaulted those attractions from something minor to something hugely significant." In these cases, Diamond says, "it wasn't that they'd been repressing their true selves before; it was that without the context of an actual relationship, the little glimmers of occasional fantasies or feelings just weren't that significant."

Why might this happen later in life?

Diamond thinks it might be a combination of factors. Women's minds and bodies change with age, and their circumstances and priorities shift. "People become more expansive in a number of ways as they get older," Diamond says. "I think a lot of women, late in life, when they're no longer worried about raising the kids, and when they're looking back on their marriage and how satisfying it is, find an opportunity to take a second look at what they want and feel like."

Is this a new phenomenon?

No, but researchers theorize declining homophobia is making it easier for women to explore a new sexual identity. And some celebrity lesbians who came out later in life are encouraging even wider social acceptance. Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon was in a heterosexual relationship for 15 years before she became involved with her current partner, Christine Marinoni, in 2004. Actress Portia de Rossi was married to a man before she married Ellen DeGeneres in 2008. Comedian Carol Leifer, who was the inspiration behind the Elaine character on "Seinfeld," dated men, including Jerry Seinfeld, until the age of 40. Then she fell for a woman. "My feelings for men were very real and powerful, but I fell in love with my partner," she said. "It's been the best relationship of my life."

I find that the Guardian article is so well done and thought provoking, I have included it in full below, or read it directly from its website:

Why it's never too late to be a lesbian

More and more women are discovering after years of marriage to men, and having had children, that they are lesbians. Were they always – or is sexuality more fluid?

By Kira Cochrane

For Carren Strock, the revelation came when she was 44. She had met her husband – "a terrific guy, very sweet" – at high school when she was 16, had been married to him for 25 years, had two dearly loved children, and what she describes as a "white-picket-fence existence" in New York. Then, one day, sitting opposite her best friend, she realised: "Oh my God. I'm in love with this woman." The notion that she might be a lesbian had never occurred to her before. "If you'd asked me the previous year," she says, "I would have replied: 'I know exactly who and what I am – I am not a lesbian, nor could I ever be one.'"

From that moment Strock's understanding of her sexuality changed completely. She felt compelled to tell her friend, but her attraction wasn't reciprocated; at first she wasn't sure whether she had feelings for women in general, or just this one in particular. But she gradually came to realise, and accept, that she was a lesbian. She also started to realise that her experience wasn't unusual.

Strock decided to interview other married women who had fallen in love with women, "putting up fliers in theatres and bookstores. Women started contacting me from across the country – everyone knew someone who knew someone in this situation." The interviews became a book, Married Women Who Love Women, and when it came to writing the second edition, Strock turned to the internet for interviewees. "Within days," she says, "more women had contacted me than I could ever actually speak to."

Late-blooming lesbians – women who discover or declare same-sex feelings in their 30s and beyond – have attracted increasing attention over the last few years, partly due to the clutch of glamorous, high-profile women who have come out after heterosexual relationships. Cynthia Nixon, for instance, who plays Miranda in Sex and the City, was in a heterosexual relationship for 15 years, and had two children, before falling for her current partner, Christine Marinoni, in 2004. Last year, it was reported that the British singer Alison Goldfrapp, who is in her mid-40s, had started a relationship with film editor Lisa Gunning. The actor Portia de Rossi was married to a man before coming out and falling in love with the comedian and talkshow host, Ellen DeGeneres, whom she married in 2008. And then there's the British retail adviser and television star, Mary Portas, who was married to a man for 13 years, and had two children, before getting together with Melanie Rickey, the fashion-editor-at-large of Grazia magazine. At their civil partnership earlier this year the pair beamed for the cameras in beautiful, custom-made Antonio Berardi dresses.

The subject has now begun attracting academic attention. Next month at the American Psychological Association's annual convention in San Diego, a session entitled Sexual Fluidity and Late-Blooming Lesbians is due to showcase a range of research, including a study by Christan Moran, who decided to look at the lives of women who had experienced a same-sex attraction when they were over 30 and married to a man. Moran is a researcher at Southern Connecticut University, and her study was prompted in part by an anguished comment she found on an online message board for married lesbians, written by someone who styled herself "Crazy".

"I don't understand why I can't do the right thing," she wrote. "I don't understand why I can't make myself stop thinking about this other woman." Moran wanted to survey a range of women in this situation, "to help Crazy, and others like her, see that they are not abnormal, or wrong to find themselves attracted to other women later in life".

She also wanted to explore the notion, she writes, that "a heterosexual woman might make a full transition to a singular lesbian identity...In other words, they might actually change their sexual orientation." As Moran notes in her study, this possibility is often ignored; when a person comes out in later life, the accepted wisdom tends to be that they must always have been gay or bisexual, but just hid or repressed their feelings. Increasingly researchers are questioning this, and investigating whether sexuality is more fluid and shifting than is often suspected.

Sarah Spelling, a former teacher, says she can well understand how "you can slide or slip or move into another identity". After growing up in a family of seven children in Birmingham, Spelling met her first serious partner, a man, when she was at university. They were together for 12 years, in which time they were "fully on, sexually," she says, although she adds that she has never had an orgasm with a man through penetrative sex.

Spelling is a keen feminist and sportsperson, and met lesbian friends through both of these interests. "I didn't associate myself with their [sexuality] – I didn't see myself as a lesbian, but very clearly as a heterosexual in a longstanding relationship." When a friend on her hockey team made it clear she fancied her, "and thought I would fancy her too, I was like 'No! That's not me!' That just wasn't on my compass." Then, aged 34, having split up with her long-term partner, and in another relationship with a man, she found herself falling in love with her housemate – a woman. After "lots of talking together, over a year or so," they formed a relationship. "It was a meeting of minds," says Spelling, "a meeting of interests. She's a keen walker. So am I. She runs. So do I. We had lots in common, and eventually I realised I didn't have that with men." While having sex with a man had never felt uncomfortable or wrong, it wasn't as pleasurable as having sex with a woman, she says. From the start of the relationship, she felt completely at ease, although she didn't immediately define herself as a lesbian. "I didn't define myself as heterosexual either – I quite clearly wasn't that. And I wouldn't define myself as bisexual." After a while she fully embraced a lesbian identity. "We've been together for 23 years," she says, "so it's pretty clear that that was a defining change."

Dr Lisa Diamond, associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah, has been following a group of 79 women for 15 years, tracking the shifts in their sexual identity. The women she chose at the start of the study had all experienced some same-sex attraction – although in some cases only fleetingly – and every two years or so she has recorded how they describe themselves: straight, lesbian, bisexual, or another category of their own choosing. In every two-year wave, 20-30% of the sample have changed their identity label, and over the course of the study, about 70% have changed how they described themselves at their initial interview. What's interesting, says Diamond, is that transitions in sexual identity aren't "confined to adolescence. People appear equally likely to undergo these sorts of transitions in middle adulthood and late adulthood." And while, in some cases, women arrive at a lesbian identity they've been repressing, "that doesn't account for all of the variables...In my study, what I often found was that women who may have always thought that other women were beautiful and attractive would, at some point later in life, actually fall in love with a woman, and that experience vaulted those attractions from something minor to something hugely significant. It wasn't that they'd been repressing their true selves before; it was that without the context of an actual relationship, the little glimmers of occasional fantasies or feelings just weren't that significant."

Diamond has a hunch that the possibility of moving across sexual boundaries increases as people age. "What we know about adult development," she says, "suggests that people become more expansive in a number of ways as they get older...I think a lot of women, late in life, when they're no longer worried about raising the kids, and when they're looking back on their marriage and how satisfying it is, find an opportunity to take a second look at what they want and feel like." This doesn't mean that women are choosing whether to be gay or straight, she clarifies. (Diamond's work has sometimes been distorted by rightwing factions in the US, who have suggested it shows homosexuality is optional.) "Every one of the women I studied who underwent a transition experienced it as being out of her control. It was not a conscious choice...I think the culture tends to lump together change and choice, as if they're the same phenomenon, but they're not. Puberty involves a heck of a lot of change, but you don't choose it. There are life-course transitions that are beyond our control."

This was certainly true for Laura Manning, a lawyer from London, who is now in her late 40s. She had always had a vague inkling she might have feelings for women, but met a man at university, "a really gentle man, Jeff, and I fell in love with him, and for a long time that was enough to balance my feelings". She married him in her late 20s, had two children in her early 30s, "and once I'd got that maternal part of my life out of the way, I suddenly started thinking about me again. I started to feel more and more uncomfortable about the image that I was presenting, because I felt like it wasn't true." In her late 30s, she began going out clubbing, "coming back on the bus at four in the morning, and then getting up and going to work. I was still living with Jeff, and I just started shutting down our relationship. He knew I was pushing him away."

The marriage ended, and Manning moved out. She has since had two long-term relationships with women, and says she's much happier since she came out, but suspects that her biological urge to have children, and her genuine feelings for Jeff, made her marriage inevitable on some level. "The thought of sex with a man repels me now, but at the time, when I was in my marriage, I didn't feel that, and I didn't feel I was repressing anything. The intensity of feeling in my relationship with Jeff overcame and blanketed my desires for women."

Sexual fluidity occurs in both men and women, but it has been suggested that women are potentially more open and malleable in this regard. Richard Lippa, professor of psychology at California State University, Fullerton, has carried out a variety of studies that have led him to the conclusion that, "while most men tend to have what I call a preferred sex and a non-preferred sex . . . with women there are more shades of grey, and so I tend to talk about them having a more preferred sex, and a less preferred sex. I have definitely heard some women say, 'It was the person I fell in love with, it wasn't the person's gender,' and I think that that is much more of a female experience than a male experience.

"I've never had a straight man say to me, at age 45, I just met this really neat guy and I fell in love with him and I don't like men in general, but God, this guy's so great that I'm going to be in a relationship with him for the next 15 years." In Diamond's study, around a quarter of the women have reported that gender is largely irrelevant in their choice of sexual partners. "Deep down," said one woman, "it's just a matter of who I meet and fall in love with, and it's not their body, it's something behind the eyes."

When Tina Humphrys, 70, first fell in love with a woman, she didn't define herself as a lesbian, "I just thought: 'It's her.'" Humphrys was in her mid-30s, had two children, and was coming out of a horrible second marriage. "I hated my life," she says. "The four bedrooms, the children – well, I didn't hate them, they just bored me to tears. I used to lie on the couch and my eyes would fill with tears as they had their naps."

She had found women attractive in the past, "but I think women do, don't they? You look and you think – that dress looks fabulous, or isn't she looking slim, or doesn't she look pretty. But you don't necessarily put sexual feelings on it." Then she went to university as a mature student, joined a women's group, and started to fall for one of the other members. "It was a bit of a shock to find that I was attracted sexually to this woman, but then it was also a decision to leave men. It was a decision to leave a particularly oppressive and restrictive way of living and try to live differently." She moved into a "commune-type place", and had non-monogamous relationships with women for a while, before settling down with her current partner of more than 30 years. While she had had "a very active sex life with men", she enjoyed sex with women much more. "I was once doing a workshop with a woman who used to tear hideous things that had been said about women out of the paper, and she had a piece about this blonde model who had romped with a lesbian – because they always romp, don't they? – and she said: 'It wasn't proper sex, it was just a load of orgasms.'" Humphrys laughs uproariously. "I think that just about sums it up, doesn't it?"

Beyond the sex, Humphrys found a connection that was more intense "on every level" than any she had found with a man. Strock echoes this view. "I've run workshops with straight women, and I've asked them, did you ever feel those sky rockets go off, or hear the music playing, when you fell in love with that significant other? And very few raise their hands. And then I went to a gay women's group, and I said, how many of you have ever felt the same? And almost all the hands went up. So connections with women are very different to connections between women and men."

The psychotherapist and writer, Susie Orbach, spent more than 30 years with the writer Joseph Schwartz, and had two children with him, before the partnership ended, and she subsequently formed a happy, ongoing relationship with the novelist Jeanette Winterson [author of the brilliant Art & Lies]. Orbach says that the initial love connection between mother and daughter makes lesbian feelings in later life unsurprising. "If you think about it," she says, "whose arms are you first in, whose smells do you first absorb, where's that body-to-body imprint? I mean, we're still not really father-raised, are we, so it's a very big journey for women to get to heterosexuality...What happens is that you layer heterosexuality on top of that bond. You don't suddenly switch away from it. You don't give up that very intimate attachment to a woman."

Of course, the notion that your sexuality might shift entirely isn't welcomed by everyone; as Diamond says, "Even though there's more cultural acceptance than there was 20 years ago, same-sex sexuality is still very stigmatised, and the notion that you might not know everything there is to know about something that's so personal and intimate can terrify individuals. It's really hard for people to accept." That's why the writing and research in this area is so important. When the first edition of Strock's book was published, "a woman came up to me at one of my early speaking engagements, clutching the book and sobbing," she says. "She thought she was the only married woman ever to have fallen in love with another woman, and had no one to talk to, didn't know where to turn. And she had decided that the best thing was to kill herself on a night when she knew her husband and children were going to be out late. She'd planned her suicide. She was coming home from work for what she thought would be the last time, and she passed a bookstore, and they were putting my book in the window, and when she realised that she wasn't the only one, she chose to live".

The late-blooming lesbians I spoke to had all found happiness on their different paths. Strock is still a lesbian – and also still married to her husband, who knows about her sexuality. "He would never throw me away, and I would never throw him away," she says, "so we've re-defined our relationship. I'm a lesbian, but we share a house, we have separate rooms, we have two grandchildren now, and our situation is not unique." Most of the other women I spoke to were in happy, long-term relationships with women, and had found a contentment that they'd never experienced in their previous relationships.

"While some people find change threatening," Diamond says, "others find it exciting and liberating, and I definitely think that for women in middle adulthood and late life, they might be the most likely to find sexual shifts empowering. We're an anti-ageing society. We like people to be young, nubile and attractive. And I think the notion that your sexuality can undergo these really exciting, expansive possibilities at a stage when most people assume that women are no longer sexually interesting and are just shutting down, is potentially a really liberating notion for women. Your sexual future might actually be pretty dynamic and exciting – and whatever went on in your past might not be the best predictor at all of what your future has in store."

— The Curator


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I certainly cannot ever know because I am decidedly male, perhaps even self-destructively so, but I have a proposed theory to explain the predisposition for women to become attracted to women more than men to become attracted to men. Perhaps it is simply because women are just so much easier to love than men. Excuse my blatant sexism, but we (males) can be pretty hard to love some times. From my extremely biased point of view, women do not work as hard at being unlovable as men.

    Is Still Here

  3. 人生有些波折,才能有些成長,所以不論順逆,凡是成長、成功的助緣,都應該心存感激。..................................................

  4. It is real and scientific eect that women has more controlability than men and fluidity is one of the important factor in both man and woman. It is really more helpful to make sexual process more effocient and worth enjoying. A small talk about gays..it is the eal fact that everybody has an attraction of different sex. They take much interest.

  5. Of course it is the symbol of more fluids. Nice way dude. Keep it up.

  6. I believe sexual orientation is quite fluid, but surely women who are genuinely attracted to men, and are in long term relationships/marriages are bisexual, whereas women who form relationships with men because it is seen as the 'right' or 'normal' thing to do, or 'expected' of them, are lesbian?

  7. I was in a short term relationship with a woman who I believe to be my soul mate, I have never had connections like this with anyone nor did she, however she has a defacto boyfriend and she's chosen to stay with him even though I know she's gay, she admitted to me she's gay but is worried about what her family will think as she's bound by culture. She's using him as a shield to hind behind, she told me to never let her go and that I was the missing piece in her puzzle of life, she made all these declarations and then when he found out she told me to move on. When I said I didn't want to be with anyone else, she said she didn't want me to be with anyone else. I have never trusted someone so much in my life, now I can't even imagine getting close to anyone, physically or emotionally. I just think she's meant to come back later and that shes just not ready. Shes 29 and I am 33 and I am out, I hope she wakes up and doesn't repress who she is.

  8. I think if the sexuality of the female in this case, has such an extreme distributions, out across the sexuality spectrum. Should it be accepted as just a normal female’s identity factor and left at that or should society ascertained for the psychological well-being of society as a whole the female’s ability to make a full lifetime commitment to a marriage. Knowing family members most assuredly will be psychologically scared; when the day comes that there is a break up of the structure of the family. Families take a lot of work to build and keep strong and one of the most important aspects of that family is trust. You should go into a marriage with your eyes wide open.


  9. I've seen many times that Chivers' study is being used to support the idea (or myth?) that women are more bisexual or fluid than men by nature. This is not what the research says; that's a distortion of results created by press sensationalism.
    The only thing that the study tells us, is that vaginal blood flow has little to do with actual arousal: it happens with any sexual stimulus, be it naked men, women, monkeys having sex or rape threats (as was demonstrated in other pletysmograph study).
    This is most probably a security measure against rape injuries developed by evolution, the so-called "preparation hypothesis", and Chivers herself has stated this theory as possible explanation.
    In fact, when using other measurements, like clitoral blood flow, women are category-specific, just like men. And their self-reported arousal was category-specific.
    It's also obvious that women don't get equally aroused by all kinds of porn. Most erotica made by women for women depicts hereosexual and male gay sex (like slash fiction and yaoi, which are erotic genres aimed at a female audience, and quite popular).
    So female arousal is definitely category-specific; vaginal moisture is what it's not.

    It's also false that women are more inherently bisexual than men. In fact, a quick review of history, other cultures and statistics (like Kinsey's), tells us that homosexual behaviour in men are far more common than in women. To the point that female homosexuality has been ignored for centuries (even when other "deviations" in women, like adultery, were widely known). Proof that it's never been as prevalent as male homosexuality.
    This is also true for animals.
    On the other hand, men aren't always as category-specific as this study suggests. A similar research using pletysmograph (link here: https://my.psychologytoday.com/files/u47/Henry_et_al.pdf) showed that 34% of straight non-homophobic men, and 80% of straight homophobic men, were equally aroused by straight, gay and lesbian porn.

  10. I think the real, yet hidden reason, is that due to patriarchy, the primacy of masculinity in the western culture allows women, as frivolous creature that they are believed to be, to cross lines of sexuality so much easier. they may be expressing the true human norm behavior, but our culture does not allow men that same expression. simply not allowed. transgress and you ARE bi at best, but really closeted gay. that is so not true, but we can't get past the binary.

    OTOH, women can, because what woman on woman action is not hot to this culture, from a male perspective? and that's my point. if this culture came from a female perspective things would be so much different. I as a straight guy might not be attracted to another fellow, but from that perspective perhaps I would be, I can't answer that, because in this current viewpoint I cannot. otherwise I'd be labeled. and I'm not attracted to same sex now because primarily I wasn't raised in a culture that allowed me that option, really, as a man. in this regard we have nurture controlling nature, and bottom line is we know nothing really of true nature. just the cultural nurture arguments we've decided is reality.

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