Friday, February 25, 2011

Sexual Fluidity

I was driving to work one morning when I heard this interview with Lisa Diamond, a researcher and professor at the University of Utah. She has been studying 79 women for 15 years in an effort determine whether sexuality is fluid or fixed. She chose the women at the beginning of the study because they had had at least some attraction to the same sex, even if it was fleeting and unexplored. She followed up with the women every two years and found that in every two year check-in 20-30% of the women changed their identity label. Throughout the course of the study 70% of the women changed their identity label.

Is this dangerous information? Does this scare the majority, both gay and straight alike? Does this make it easier for groups to abuse this information to say that being gay is a choice? What about those of us who don't fit neatly into gay or straight boxes? Are we allowed to change identities over time, even if we didn’t considered ourselves to be gay or bisexual before?

Many of the women she's studying have experienced being married and straight-identified but over time their identities changed into something else, whether it was bisexual, lesbian-identified, or having same-sex encounters but not wanting to label themselves exclusively in any category (the latter being a very large portion of the group). If those who have same-sex experiences don’t often label themselves as gay or bisexual, when we use that language, we leave out what might be the majority. Lisa Diamond says that when researchers find people who fall into this category (or lack thereof) they are deleted from the study because it is considered noise in the data. Without this vital information included in research, we have a very limited view of sexuality. And without models set forth in the scientific (or societal) community, people who fall into these categories lack a way to self-define, which is why they don’t define as anything even though they fall along the sexual identity spectrum.

Diamond also says that it’s easier for women to express these feelings because it’s more accepted in society but that men may experience sexual fluidity in the same way. She has gathered only anecdotal evidence so far. Men that have read her research testify they have had the same experiences; some of them never considered themselves to be gay until they met someone of the same sex with whom they fell deeply in love or they have same-sex encounters here and there but don’t identify as gay.

Diamond also studies the neurobiological pathways in the brain that account for love and sexual desire, and she finds that they are a two-way street. This suggests that one can get to love through sexual desire AND from love to sexual desire. Therefore, if someone who considered themselves straight fell in love with someone of the same sex, the sexual desire would be created naturally.

Is this dangerous information? I don’t think so. I think this shows a gap in research that needs to be explored. When this information is researched and published I think it will give the large portion of society who falls into this category validation, cultural acceptance, and more space to exist. That’s what we’re all fighting for, right? Or is this category to be ignored because it weakens the arguments, validity, and fight of the LGBTQ community?

Sexual Fluidity: The Lisa Diamond Interview

Late-Blooming Lesbians: Were they always or is sexuality fluid?

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