Confused and Heartbroken asked the following:
I am a very straight 20 year old girl. I have only dated men until earlier this year. One of my very close friends last spring told me she was bi-sexual. We had become very close already and had developed a very strong friendship. After she came out to me I realized my feelings intensified and after admitting it to her we ended up in a very heated moment and kissed. Things were wonderful for about two weeks when she basically abandoned me and our friendship.
That was the last week of April and the first week of May of this year. We were apart for the summer with very limited communication and I ended up starting to date a very good friend of mine from my hometown. Things are going wonderfully with him but since I’ve come back to school and been around her I’ve been lonely and missing her more and more. We’ve talked and I’ve finally managed to get some answers to my questions but I’m still in love with her. I don’t understand or know why I am attracted to her because I’ve never found myself attracted to women before and I certainly don’t know why I’m still so attached.
Please help me. 🙁
Confused and Heartbroken
Dear Confused and Heartbroken,
You are not alone in having these feelings. In fact, many women have experienced “shifts” in their sexuality at different points in their lives. For instance, Julie Cypher left her husband to be with musician Melissa Etheridge in the late 1980s. Cypher and Etheridge were romantically involved for nearly a dozen years and, as a couple, were fierce advocates of gay rights. After their relationship ended, however, Cypher stopped dating women, said that she was not actually gay, and married another man.
Cases like this have been researched extensively by Dr. Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah, who believes that such behaviors are evidence of women’s capacity for “sexual fluidity,” an ability to adapt one’s romantic and sexual desires to a specific person rather than a specific gender.1 Not all women experience this fluidity, but it appears to occur with some frequency. In Dr. Diamond’s landmark study, she tracked 100 women over the course of a decade. All of the participants had experienced at least some degree of same-sex attraction before. What Diamond found was that many of them went back and forth between having relationships with men and women and that their sexual identity changed to be consistent with their desires. To date, no research has found a corresponding pattern among men.
Dr. Diamond is not alone in finding support for the idea that women’s sexuality seems to be somewhat flexible, while men’s seems to be more fixed. For instance, studies of sexual arousal patterns have shown that, regardless of sexual orientation, women tend to get turned on while viewing heterosexual as well as lesbian pornography.2 In contrast, men usually only exhibit arousal when viewing pornography that involves people of their desired sex (i.e., heterosexual men are usually only turned on by heterosexual pornography, and gay men by gay pornography). Findings like this may help to explain why women’s sexual orientation is more prone to shifting.
Let me be clear: this research does not say that women “choose” their sexual orientation or that they can consciously decide at any time whether they want to be gay, bisexual, or straight, which some people have mistakenly claimed. As I have written on Science of Relationships before, there is no evidence supporting the idea that homosexuality is a choice. In fact, recent evidence suggests that biology, at least in part, determines sexuality. In light of this, it is perhaps not surprising that people do not seem to be able to change their sexual orientation at will. Although a small number of clinics purport that they can change people’s sexuality from homosexual to heterosexual through a process known as “reparative therapy,” there is no scientific evidence that this works and many who undergo this “treatment” are psychologically traumatized.
With that said, here is my advice for you. First, take heart in knowing that there are a lot of other women like you and that the experiences you are having are neither unheard of, nor abnormal. Second, I encourage you not to deny or suppress your feelings about your friend. Suppressing thoughts and desires tends to be counterproductive and may ultimately lead you to obsess more about your prediciment.3 Instead, acknowledge your feelings and consider discussing them with your friend. I cannot tell you why she’s acting distant, but it could be because she has similar concerns about her sexuality, which may be causing her to withdraw. You won’t know, however, until you two discuss what’s happening between you. Finally, think about why you are dating someone else and whether this person is really right for you, or if he is just a convenient distraction. If you feel a true attraction to him and he legitimately makes you happy, that’s fantastic. However, if you’re dating him because you want to feel “normal” or because you see him as a placeholder while you sort things out with your friend, you might want to rethink things because both of you deserve a shot at real happiness.
2Chivers, M. L., Rieger, G., Latty, E., & Bailey, J. M. (2004). A sex difference in the specificity of sexual arousal. Psychological Science, 15, 736-744.
3Wegner, D. M., Lane, J. D., & Dimitri, S. (1994). The allure of secret relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 287–300.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller – Articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lehmiller’s research program focuses on how secrecy and stigmatization impact relationship quality and physical and psychological health. He also conducts research on commitment, sexuality, and safer-sex practices.