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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sexual Fluidity: Women and Their Potential for Non-Exclusive Attractions

Being the curious fellow I am, I wondered about the number of homosexuals and bisexuals in the United States. I thought the research would indicate a fairly large percentage of both. However, The National Health Interview Survey (2013) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is the federal government’s most relied upon estimate of the nation’s health and behaviors, found that fewer than 3% of respondents self-identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Only 1.6% of respondents self-identified as gay or lesbian, and even less, 0.7%, self-identified as bisexual.

(William Bigelow. "CDC: Nation's Percentage of Gays, Lesbians, 
Bisexuals Less than Supposed." from The Washington Post. July 15, 2014)

Maybe some of my surprise about sexual orientation can be attributed to a new understanding of what is known as "sexual fluidity." This is a new buzz phrase coming out of contemporary studies. It is making headlines, especially as it relates to females. 

Lisa Diamond, PhD, associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah and author of the 2009 book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire, describes sexual fluidity as a "situation-dependent flexibility in women's sexual responsiveness," which "makes it possible for some women to experience desires for either men or women under certain circumstances, regardless of their overall sexual orientation"

Diamond contends, "Fluidity represents a capacity to respond erotically in unexpected ways due to particular situations or relationships. It doesn't appear to be something a woman can control." 

(Lisa M. Diamond. Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire. 2009)  

Researchers say although there can be some overlap between bisexuality and fluidity, they are not they same thing. Bisexuality is a "consistent pattern of erotic responses to both sexes, manifested in clear cut sexual attractions to men and women" whereas fluidity is a kind of "potential for non-exclusive attractions." This perspective clashes with traditional views of sexual orientation as a stable and fixed trait.

Studies indicate that sexual fluidity is more prevalent in women than in men, according to Bonnie Zylbergold, assistant editor of American Sexuality, an online magazine.

In a 2004 landmark study at Northwestern University, the results were eye-opening. During the experiment, the female subjects became sexually aroused when they viewed heterosexual as well as lesbian erotic films. This was true for both gay and straight women.

Among the male subjects, however, the straight men were turned on only by erotic films with women, the gay ones by those with men. "We found that women's sexual desire is less rigidly directed toward a particular sex, as compared with men's, and it's more changeable over time," says the study's senior researcher, J. Michael Bailey, PhD. "These findings likely represent a fundamental difference between men's and women's brains."

It seems many women are attracted to the person, and not to the gender: they are moved by traits like kindness, intelligence, and humor, which could apply to a man or a woman. Most of all, they long for an emotional connection. And if that comes by way of a female instead of a male, the thrill may override whatever heterosexual orientation they had.


I believe that gender and sexual relations for many has become more and more irrelevant. We live in a society that loves to label everything, and sexual identity classifications are problematic and confusing for people who desire more than one gender. Even men experience high sexual fluidity in  all-male (and/or stressful) environments such as militaries, war-time, prisons, etc.

Of course, we shouldn't interpret these findings as proof that all heterosexual women are sexually attracted to other women. But, don't they suggest women are more capable of finding people attractive, no matter what orientation they claim? Maybe that's why an estimated 95% of straight men who fantasize about or partake in threesomes are only interested in being with two women, while more heterosexual women are open to adding another woman or man to the mix.

After all, women seem to be more receptive than men to a variety of sexual cues. Many women love romance novels, sensual delights, and the mention of anything "50 Shades." In matters of love, romance, and sex, females seem so much "more complicated" than men. Diamond says, “It’s far more common to be someone who is a little bit attracted to the same sex than someone who is exclusively attracted to the same sex." I, for one, believe this especially holds true for women.

Leila J. Rupp, a professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is one of the authors of a study, “Queer Women in the Hookup Culture: Beyond the Closet?” Her work found that the college hookup culture, generally characterized as heterosexual, is, for some women, a setting “to explore and to later verify bisexual, lesbian, or queer sexual identities.”

“Some students are embracing fluid identities and calling themselves ‘queer,’ ‘pansexual,’ ‘fluid,’ ‘bi-curious,’ or simply refusing any kind of label,” says study coauthor Verta Taylor, a UCSB professor of sociology and Rupp’s life partner. “The old label bisexual no longer fits, because even that term implies that there are only two options: lesbian/gay or straight.”

(Trudy Ring. "Exploring the Umbrella: Bisexuality and Fluidity." February 11, 2014) 

The idea that not everyone is exclusively attracted to one gender, or equally and consistently attracted to both, isn’t new. Sexuality researcher Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues developed the Kinsey Scale in 1948, placing sexuality on a continuum of 0 to 6, “exclusively heterosexual” to “exclusively homosexual.”

Kinsey Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale

0- Exclusively heterosexual with no homosexual
1- Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
2- Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3- Equally heterosexual and homosexual
4- Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
5- Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
6- Exclusively homosexual

Not every individual’s sexuality is stagnant and unchanging. Today, sexual preference and partner choice is more out in the open. We are learning more and more about a wide range of responses and sexual desires. How does this relate to companionship, marriage, and the family? I don't know. I do know, however, that attitudes toward various forms of sexuality are rapidly changing.

Fluidity is one way to describe sexual reality. Saying someone is straight, gay, or bisexual may be stereotyping their sexual identity. I learned this, and now I am feeling more comfortable in my geezer understandings of human nature, in particular in my scant knowledge of females.

This brings me to my closing point: learning and comprehending knowledge are essential to keeping abreast of change. And, change is certainly an everyday occurrence. Perhaps, we all need to educate ourselves about sexual identity and reduce the tendency to think in terms of silly stereotypes.  

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