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Thursday, August 5, 2021

Women and Sexual Fluidity: A Clinical Vignette

In my previous article, Women and Sexual Fluidity, I began a discussion about sexual fluidity.  The article is primarily based on the work of Dr. Lisa M. Diamond, a sex educator and researcher, which states that cis-gender women are more likely to be sexually fluid than cis-gender men.  This doesn't mean that cis-gender men can't experience sexual fluidity (for the rest of the article, it's understood that whenever I refer to women or men, I'm referring to cis-gender individuals).

Women and Sexual Fluidity

In her book, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire, Dr. Lisa M. Diamond tracked 100 women over a period of more than 10 years and she discovered that some women's love and sexual preferences are fluid over time and in different situations.

According to Dr. Diamond, these changes in love and desire can occur in women at different stages of their life and in different environments. In other words, for women who experience sexual fluidity, their love and sexual preferences are not exclusively heterosexual or homosexual.  

Although sexual orientation is unchanging for the vast majority of people, some women change their sexual orientation identity over time based on what's happening in their life at that time and their social circumstances.  This is a common and normal occurrence.

Clinical Vignette: Women and Sexual Fluidity
The following clinical vignette, which is based on a composite of many different cases with no identifying information, illustrates the concept of sexual fluidity in women:

Although Jane identified herself as exclusively heterosexual and only dated men throughout high school, when she went away to college, over time, she realized she was also emotionally and sexually attracted to women.

Her realization began as she got involved with political groups at her college and she met bisexual and lesbian women.  To her knowledge, this was the first time she had ever interacted with lesbian and bisexual women.  None of the women in her high school had ever outwardly identified as being anything other than heterosexual.  However, she realized that there might have been women in high school who weren't "out" to other students and, possibly, to themselves.

At first, when Jane began dating Nancy, who identified herself as a lesbian, Jane thought she was only interested in Nancy and not other lesbians or bisexual women.  She continued to think of herself as being heterosexual and that her attraction for Nancy was "an exception."  But as time went on and she discovered she was attracted to other women and less attracted to men, Jane realized that her attraction was not only for Nancy.  

At first, Jane was confused because she had never experienced these feelings before, so she attended sessions at the college counseling center.  She told her counselor that, unlike some of the lesbians she met at college, who said they always knew they were lesbians, she had never experienced these kinds of feelings before. That's when her counselor explained sexual fluidity to Jane. 

Knowing that she wasn't the only one who experienced these feelings was very helpful to Jane.  Gradually, she accepted that she preferred women at this stage of her life without denying that she had only ever been interested in men before.

In her sophomore year of college, Jane entered into a committed relationship with Ann, who, similar to Jane, discovered in college that she preferred women.  They were both involved in political groups at the college. They also attended bisexual and lesbian support groups, which they found affirming.

Over time, Jane identified herself as a lesbian.  She felt that her emotional and sexual commitment to women was of the utmost importance in her life.

In their senior year of college, Jane and Ann were each offered job opportunities in different states.  Ann was offered a teaching job in New York, and Jane was offered a community organizing job in rural Alabama.  They both agreed that these opportunities were too good to turn down, so they agreed to having a long distance relationship (see my article: Can a Long Distance Relationship Survive?).

Over the next year, they took turns visiting each other, but the demands of their stressful jobs and the challenges of a long distance relationship became burdensome.

Reluctantly, they agreed that it would be better not to be exclusive.  Soon after that, Ann met another woman, Betty, through her work in New York City and she told Jane that she wanted to be in a committed relationship with Betty.  Although it was hard for Jane, she wanted Ann to be happy, so she accepted that their relationship was over.

Adding to her unhappiness, Jane felt lonely in the rural part of Alabama where she was living and working.  She liked her colleagues and they often got together socially, but she missed having a lesbian and bisexual community for support.  She especially missed dating women.  With regard to lesbians, she had only met one woman, Alice, who identified herself as a lesbian, and Alice was in a committed relationship.

During her second year in Alabama, Jane met John at a community organizing meeting.  At first, they only met for coffee to discuss their work.  But as they continued to meet, Jane realized she was attracted to John and she sensed he was attracted to her too.  Soon they were meeting more often, having dinner together and going to the movies.

One night they talked about their mutual attraction for each other over dinner.  Although Jane admitted to John that she felt a strong attraction to him, she also told him that she continued to think of herself as a lesbian and her primary commitment was to women.  In response, John said he didn't have a problem with this if she didn't, and they became romantically and sexually involved.

A year later, Jane and John moved in together.  Although they were in a committed monogamous relationship and she didn't want to see anyone else, Jane realized that she was also attracted to other men, and she thought about her sessions with her college counselor where they talked about sexual fluidity.  

Jane began to think that she might be equally attracted to men and women at this stage in her life--although there were no other lesbians she knew of other than Alice, who had little time to get together with Jane.

Three years into their relationship, Jane and John were drifting apart.  They still cared deeply for each other, but they both agreed that their romantic and sexual relationship had run its course and they were living like roommates.  

At around the same time, Jane was offered a managerial position at a community organization in New York City and both she and John agreed the opportunity was too good to pass up.  So, Jane moved to New York City for her new job, and she also discovered lesbian and bisexual political and support groups in the area.

After her time in rural Alabama where there were no such groups, Jane loved the opportunity to get involved with women's groups again.  She also liked that she had more opportunities to meet other women to socialize with and date.  Occasionally, she dated men, but she knew she preferred women.

For some people sexual orientation identity and sexual responsiveness are not rigid or continuous throughout their life.  They can experience change or fluidity over time depending upon their life stage or the particular circumstances of their life.

Sexual fluidity does not inherently imply any negative emotional or mental health issues.  It's normal and common among many people, especially women, as a way they experience their sexuality over the course of their lifetime.

The experience of sexual fluidity in no way implies a need for conversion therapy, which is a harmful and dangerous form of therapy where unethical practitioners attempt to convert people to heterosexuality.

If you are interested in finding out more about sexual fluidity, I highly recommend that you read Dr. Lisa M. Diamond's book, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire (see the link at the beginning of this article).

Getting Help in Therapy
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If you have been struggling with unresolved problems, you're not alone.  Help is available to you.

Working with a licensed mental health professional can help you to overcome the obstacles that are getting in the way of living a meaningful life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.