Bisexuality and Fluidity

SHIRT & TIE [small] (final)

Our bisexuality is not a static orientation; it changes; however, we consistently perceive and interact as bisexual over time.  Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah, using a subset of participants from a longitudinal study, measured variability in same-sex and other-sex sexual motivation over a span of 10 years, during which women also provided saliva samples for the assessment of their estrogen levels[1]. Using a dynamic wave approach rather than a static model she was able to place processes of change at the center and discover multiple processes responsible for stability and change over time. She concluded that we adopt different sexual identities at different stages in our lives, and that these identities may shape our subsequent awareness and participation in same-sex and other-sex relationships. In other words, the label affects the behavior, as well as the opposite, that the behavior affects the label. Although her research applies mainly to bisexual women, there is some indication that her findings may apply to bisexual men as well.

Diamond’s research provides the first empirical examination of competing assumptions about the nature of bisexuality, both as a sexual identity label and as a pattern of nonexclusive sexual attraction and behavior[2]. The findings demonstrate considerable fluidity in bisexual, unlabeled, and lesbian women’s attractions, behaviors, and identities over the life span. The notion that bisexuality is a transitional stage that women adopt “on the way” to lesbian identification, or is an experimental phase among heterosexual women, is not consistent with the results of this study. Women who entered the study with bisexual or unlabeled identities were significantly more likely to subsequently change their identities than were lesbian women. Most of these changes were between bisexual and unlabeled identities, and not toward either lesbianism or heterosexuality.  Furthermore, these women showed no evidence of progressive changes in their ratio of same-sex to other-sex attractions over the 10 years of the study. They were (and remain) sexually attracted to both men and women, but they label these attractions differently now than before[3].

I find her conclusion to be quite fascinating:

“The overall number of women adopting bisexual or unlabeled identities did not decline over the course of the study. If bisexuality were a temporary stage, then one would expect fewer and fewer women to maintain these identities as they moved into adulthood. Yet, to the contrary, the percentage of women claiming a bisexual or unlabeled identity hovered between 50% and 60% at each wave of the study. Even more interesting, by the end of the study, 80% of women had adopted a bisexual or unlabeled identity at some point in time. These results do not rule out the possibility that some women adopt bisexual as a transitional label, but this pattern appears exceptional rather than normative.[4]

One of the interesting outcomes in the study was the use of labels. The “unlabeled” category was the most frequently adopted identity in the entire study. This suggests that bisexuals may adopt this label for different reasons at different times. Some bisexuals appear to be uncomfortable with the label and when they enter an opposite-sex or same-sex relationships they tend to identify as gay, lesbian or heterosexual, but these labels do not stand up over time as we tend to change our sense of our own awareness and our sexual practices over time and come back to the bisexual or unlabeled category. Most bisexuals appear to be uncomfortable with the use of any kind of label, preferring to view sexuality as something beyond the political and intellectual discussion of the rest of the LGBTQ community.  The most common label, “Unlabeled” (which has ironically has become just another label), may represent a state of being attracted to the person, not the gender. It also demonstrates our willingness to be open to change in erotic experience, not for the sake of kink or erotica but as an exploration of a sexual relationship with another human being. But regardless of the label or the “unlabel” the fact remains – we are and remain bisexual.

Another interesting findings is that most women had settled down into committed monogamous relationships. When women were in their teens and early 20s, they tended to be involved in multiple successive experiences; yet 10 years later the majority had settled into long term relationships.  This provides a notable counterpoint to the popular stereotype that bisexual women are incapable of committing to a single partner. Not only did bisexual women tend to pursue exclusive, monogamous relationships over time, but they were more likely to do so than either unlabeled or lesbian women. This again leads to some interesting conclusions about bisexuality.  It appears that we do not just seek sex for the kink and pleasure but more as a process of finding significant intimate connection.

In my review of the literature, I found reference to another survey of 394 men and women, but unfortunately, I was unable to track down the actual study for more intensive scrutiny. Apparently Desmond found that there are almost as many men who decide to identify as bisexual, queer, or “unlabeled” after identifying as gay earlier in life as there are men who first identify as bi, then as gay. The researcher originally assumed women are more sexually fluid than men but found that bisexual men also maintain a fluid sexual orientation. This again seems to be contrary to the popular belief that lesbian and bisexual women seek relationship whereas gay and bisexual men tend to be promiscuous.  It would appear that this is just another example of prejudice against gay and bisexual men. If the finding are correct, we are not just sexual deviants, but we too seek meaningful relationships and genuinely are searching for meaningful expression of our sexual bodies and souls.

 

[1] Diamond, L. M. (2012). Female Bisexuality From Adolescence to Adulthood: Results From a 10-Year Longitudinal Study Lisa M. Diamond University of Utah The desire disorder in research on sexual orientation in women: Contributions of dynamical systems theory. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 73-83.

[2] Diamond, L. M. (2008). Female bisexuality from adolescence to adulthood: Results from a 10-year longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 44, 5-14.

[3] Female Bisexuality From Adolescence to Adulthood: Results From a 10-Year Longitudinal Study Lisa M. Diamond University of Utah

[4] Female Bisexuality From Adolescence to Adulthood: Results From a 10-Year Longitudinal Study Lisa M. Diamond University of Utah

 

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