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This new research says that sexual fluidity is more common than we thought

Katharine Swindells October 15, 2017
Lesbian couple kissing at a cafe

Research released this week shows support for the theory of sexual fluidity, that a person’s sexual orientation can fluctuate and change throughout their lifetime.

A report presented at the annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society last week wanted to increase awareness of sexual fluidity, particularly in regard to healthcare.

Arguing that sexual fluidity is more common in women than men, the presenters wanted to reach out to women feeling first-time same-gender attraction later in life and tell them not alone.

Related: When do children develop their gender identity? How kids are more fluid than you think

They also wanted to help doctors understand, so they wouldn’t assume women had only had partners of the same gender in their lives.

“We know of a number of women who have been in perfectly happy marriages with men, they raised a family, and at some point—in their 40s or so—they find themselves unexpectedly falling in love with a woman, without ever having thought that was possible,” said Kingsberg.

Related: Comment – It turns out male sexuality is just as fluid as female sexuality

Kingsberg argues there’s evolutionary evidence for this – that when women go through menopause they no longer have a biological imperative to mate with a male, and so their body becomes attuned to same-sex attraction.

Dr Lisa Diamond, one of the study’s researchers, also believes her theory has scientific support.

Over time, sexual fluidity can be influenced by “a complicated dynamic between hormonal changes, physical experiences, and sexual desires,” she told the Daily Mail.

Cynthia Nixon, one of the examples of sexual fluidity used by the study (Photo by Clemens Bilan/Getty Images for Glashuette Original)

In 2008, Diamond released a study in which she had followed 79 lesbian, bisexual and ‘unlabelled’ women for a decade and found that two-thirds of them changed the label they identified with during that time period.

They particularly wanted to emphasise awareness of sexual fluidity for doctors, so that they could support “later-in-life-lesbians.”

“Women should always be encouraged to have an open dialogue with their healthcare providers about a wide array of health concerns and also feel comfortable in discussing any lifestyle changes,” Dr JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director, said.

“This presentation should remind us that we need to ask questions and not assume a patient’s sexual orientation when discussing their concerns.”

“Don’t be so presumptive that the woman you’ve been caring for for 20 years is automatically always going to have the same partner or the same gender of partner,” Kinsberg told healthcare professionals.

They also want women to be aware that fluidity is common, and “not feel like they’re alone or that they’re an outlier.”

“If they discover, heading toward midlife, that they have shifted their love interest and are falling in love with a woman, they should know that it’s not unusual,” Kinsberg said.

However, some call into question the way this research interacts with research on bisexuality. Diamond herself suggests that bisexuality may be “a heightened capacity for sexual fluidity,” and many agree that the two identities have overlap.

Related: Everything you’ve always wanted to ask a bisexual person but were always too scared

However, although they don’t deny that sexual fluidity exists, some bisexual activists point out that much of the debate in favour of it has tendencies towards biphobia, for example, this study’s claims that sexual fluidity has gained media attention because celebrities are “making it fashionable to change sides.”

Some worry that, although studies into sexual fluidity could open up the LGBT umbrella, it could also deny agency to gay people and demonise bisexuals, ultimately undermining the community that identity and labels bring.

More: biology, bisexual, Cynthia Nixon, sexual fluidity, US

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