In certain circles I have found myself in recently, I have felt a pressure to be so self-aware and self-reflective at such a young age that it seems as though you have to fully know your entire sexuality. While the individuals in these circles certainly recognize sexual fluidity in an academic sense, sexual fluidity in the practical application comes across as naiveté and even ignorant. I have noticed a pressure to define the self –“I’m trans*, I’m pansexual, I’m gay”–granted, there are more boxes to fit into, but a box nonetheless. The vulnerability that accompanies sexual fluidity is real and frightening, and it is not readily acceptable to say “I’m still figuring it out” in regards to your sexuality even among enlightened, educated, seemingly-accepting groups.
Seeing homosexuality as a “phase” is an opinion that has bothered me in the past, but an analysis entitled “Gender Differences in Erotic Plasticity: The Female Sex Drive as Socially Flexible and Responsive” by Roy Baumeister may have transformed my thinking. Although it does trivialize and insult the experiences of lifelong lesbians, the “just a phase” notion may have some value. The concept of sexual plasticity indirectly endorses the idea of lesbianism as a phase, but instead of thinking of it as one singular phase, we should think in a more pluralistic sense that our sexualities consist of multiple, intertwined phases.
Ideally, we could restructure our understanding of female sexuality so there is less pressure to define the self and cramp our fascinating, complex, surprising sexualities into little boxes. The concept of bisexuality, especially in regards to long-term relationships, leads to an interesting question. Is bisexuality a phase? It is rare to encounter an individual who identifies as bisexual and who has been in a monogamous relationship for several years or even decades. At what point does a bisexual woman start identifying themselves as gay or straight, depending on their chosen partner? It has been suggested that female erotic plasticity evolved as an evolutionary adaptation. Sexual fluidity is advantageous through periods of life transition such as a romantic separation, having a child, the death of a partner, getting a new job, or general aging, and can help women adjust their sexual needs and expectations depending upon circumstances. A study indicated that from puberty onward, men tend to keep their rate of orgasms relatively constant throughout the lifespan, either through masturbation or partnered sex, while women’s frequency of orgasms tends to reflect her fluctuating sexual desire and expectations and thus erotic plasticity.
Sexual fluidity is even displayed in popular television such as Orange Is the New Black, which is based on the story of Piper Kerman, a middle-class woman sentenced to prison after transporting drug money. In prison, Piper reunites with her drug-dealing girlfriend, despite being affianced to her male partner, out of sheer desperation for human contact and warmth. Piper’s return to lesbianism because of her situation may be termed “gay behind bars”, but other new language has been created to reflect women’s sexual flexibility. Words such as “has-bian”, “heteroflexibility”, and “LUG–lesbian until graduation” are all coming into our current vernacular. A term I heard recently used in relation to a man, but could also be applied to women, is “GIFFY,” meaning “gay in five (fucking) years”. This acronym can be used to describe an individual who identifies as straight but acts otherwise, who the speaker believes will finally come out years later. This language may be seen as degrading or useful. While it only perpetuates stereotypes, reinforces the idea that timing is intimately tied to lesbianism, and forces people into boxes, this language is frequently created and used by the queer community.
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Editors’ suggestions for additional reading:
- Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire by Lisa M. Diamond
- Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
- Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People by Joan Roughgarden