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LGBTQ Recs Month

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Book: Sexual Fluidity
eccentricweft wrote in lgbtq_recs
Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire by Lisa M. Diamond

Women's health advocates have raised awareness about how much medical research is done with only men as the subjects, and the results extrapolated to women, without considering that treatments tested on male physiology may not be right for female physiology.

Research psychologist Lisa Diamond decided to address this bias in her own field. The majority of the research on sexual orientation has only studied men, and usually only men who identify firmly as gay or straight. Bisexuality was ignored for a long time as an ambiguous case that might skew the research results.

Diamond recruited 100 women to participate in a decade-long study on sexuality. She concentrated on lesbian and bisexual women, with only a dozen heterosexual women for comparison. In face-to-face conversations and phone interviews at two-year intervals, the women shared thoughts and experiences about their sexual attractions, intimate involvements, and sexual identity.

Comparing her own results to the previous research done on men, Diamond came to the conclusion that women seem to have a much greater capacity for what she named "sexual fluidity." Like anything about gender, this is of course a generalization: some men do experience sexual fluidity, and some women don't. But for the most part, it seems to be a female phenomenon.

What is sexual fluidity? One aspect of it is that the gender(s) a woman is attracted to might cycle over time. For example, a woman might first be attracted only to women, a few years later attracted to both genders, and a few years after that, attracted only to women again. Diamond also observed that many of the women in her study described being attracted to an individual's personality rather than gender, or having desire develop out of emotional attachment instead of the other way around.

Among the questions in each interview, Diamond asked her participants whether they felt most comfortable identifying as heterosexual, lesbian, bisexual, or "unlabeled." Something like half of the respondents (I don't have the book on hand, but it was a big number) chose "unlabeled" during at least one of the five interviews! I found this a fascinating result. The more we learn about human sexuality, the more difficult it is to divide people neatly into categories. I love the fact that so many women were able to say that none of the available categories actually fit.

Diamond's prose is exceptionally clear and readable considering this is an academic study, published by Harvard University Press. I think she's found a perfect balance between making this accessible to non-specialists (like me) without sacrificing anything that's necessary to be taken seriously, by other academics or by the press. She also discusses the potential for her work to be misused by gay-rights opponents. In fact, before publication, there had already been an incident where a conservative website distorted some of her conclusions. (Since the study was ten years long, she must have written some papers with preliminary results.) Because of this, she devotes a lot of space to discussing what she believes the results do not mean as well as what they do mean.

Sexual Fluidity came out in hardover last year (so libraries have had time to get it) and in paperback this spring (so some bookstores should have it, as well as Amazon.) If the topic interests you, it's really well worth reading.

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Interesting! This is one of those cases where academia seems to be catching up to popular culture--I feel like fluidity is a notion I've heard articulated by friends and acquaintance who didn't quite have a word for it, yet. I'll have to check it out! M.

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