January 2014 Archives


Diamond, Lisa. Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008)

"This book," writes researcher Lisa Diamond, "is based on findings from my longitudinal research study on female sexuality:"

For the past ten years, I have been following a group of nearly one hundred young women whom I have interviewed every two years, as they have moved through different patterns of attraction, behavior, and sexual identification from adolescence to adulthood. (pp. 9-10)

Diamond's study consisted of mostly non-straight women:

Of the eighty-nine participants, 43 percent identified as lesbian, 30 percent identified as bisexual, and 27 percent did not claim a sexual-minority identity (though they considered themselves nonheterosexual). The average age at the first interview was twenty, and they reported having first questioned their sexuality at an average age of sixteen. (p. 56)

I decided to interview an additional eleven heterosexual women whom I recruited from a college course on sexuality. Because of the course they were taking (which addressed issues of same-sex sexuality), these women had already been prompted to think critically about notions of sexual identity, and I was curious to see how they viewed their own capacity for same-sex versus other-sex sexuality. (p. 58)

...the final 2005 sample contains seventy-nine of the original eighty-nine sexual-minority women and ten of the original eleven heterosexual women. Only one respondent declined to participate in a follow-up interview after being re-contacted. (p. 59)

Her summary is as follows:

By 2005, more than two-thirds of the women in my sample had changed their identity labels at least once after the first interview. The women who kept the same identity for the whole ten years proved to be the smallest and most atypical group! (p. 65)

Diamond writes of the identity changes that "more than 80 percent accommodated attractions to and relationships with men (that is, switching to a bisexual or an unlabeled identity, which took place more than two-thirds of the time" and that "when women undertook identity changes, they typically did so in a way that broadened rather than narrowed their potential range of attractions and relationships." (pp. 66-67)

This sort of sexual non-exclusivity seems to be fairly common, as "only three women reported that they were 100 percent attracted to women at each assessment" (p. 106), and "even among lesbians who remained lesbian-identified for the entire ten years of the study, more than 50 percent had some form of sexual contact with a man by 2005." (p. 110) "In open, accepting environments," notes Diamond, "fluidity can create unprecedented opportunities for self-discovery and reflection:"

Not a single one of the women in my sample, not even those who have reidentified as heterosexual or made commitments to male partners, regrets her same-sex experiences. To the contrary, the vast majority were grateful for having had the opportunity to reflect deeply on their emotional and physical desires and to explore their own capacity for intimacy. Whether society chooses to support or punish such opportunities, of course, is up to us. (p. 170)

This is the takeaway that brought me great joy:

Perhaps instead of arguing that gay/lesbian/bisexual individuals deserve civil rights because they are powerless to change their behavior, we should affirm the fundamental rights of all people to determine their own emotional and sexual lives. (p. 138)

Diamond concludes that "there is no point at which sexuality completely finishes developing, neatly tying off loose ends and therefore ruling out the prospect of unexpected future transitions:"

Because of fluidity, same-sex sexuality remains an unpredictable possibility for all women throughout the life course, albeit an unlikely one (though this is due more to culture than to biology). (p. 255)

If there is a similar book on male sexual fluidity, I haven't found it yet.


Excerpt from HUP (PDF)

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