Research shows that for women, sexual preference is more likely to be a choice than for men…and what’s wrong with that?

There is much vested politically in the idea that sexual orientation is a something you are born with. For many, this seems to be the case, but maybe it isn’t that way for everyone. And maybe that’s just fine, politics be damned. From all that I’ve learned about sexuality, it is complicated and highly subjective. Our desires are bound up with our biology, our social conditioning, our individual psychology, our ethics, our spirituality, and many other factors.

From the article:

“Women’s sexuality is fundamentally more fluid than men’s, permitting greater variability in its development and expression over the life course.” Based on her research, she describes three main ways that sexual fluidity is expressed: “nonexclusivity in attractions” (i.e., the capacity to find all genders sexually attractive), “changes in attractions” (i.e., suddenly becoming romantically involved with a woman after a lifetime dating men) and the capacity to become attracted to ‘the person and not the gender’” (i.e., a partner’s sex is irrelevant).
http://www.alternet.org/story/153877/is_gay_a_choice_the_science_behind_actress_cynthia_nixon%27s_controversial_remarks?akid=8186.1071777.BvJuEq&rd=1&t=12

10 thoughts on “Is Gay a Choice?

  1. I read about Lisa Diamond’s work a couple years ago, and remember doing a blog post about it then. I was largely in support of her concept of female sexual fluidity then, but now I’m less sure. I know many lesbians who are deeply offended by her work and the work of others that claim to show that homosexuality in women is a choice. Many lesbians were born desiring women. They never knew anything else. I think for bisexuals it can be more of a choice, depending on what one means by “choice”.

    I honestly think Cynthia Nixon is a bisexual. Her claims to being a lesbian are kind of funny to me. I don’t think ALL ATTRACTION for men ceases after choosing to be with a woman! That’s hilarious to me. That identity is more accurately bisexual. Some prefer queer…since queer is a more fluid term, and accommodates fluctuating desire and sexual behaviours.

    They say there are more bisexual women than bisexual men in the world. I wonder if that is mostly based on “claimed” attraction. I have spoken to quite a few women who claimed they were bisexual because they were attracted to women sexually over the years (without ever having been in a sexual relationship with one), but when they were in situations where they had the opportunity to have sex with a woman, they were completely grossed out. To me, sexuality is not about mere attraction (some completely straight men are “attracted” to David Bowie, Michael Jackson, etc. but that doesn’t make them gay), but whom one chooses as a sexual partner.

    Anyway, I feel that from a very young age I had bisexual tendencies, but they were super repressed. I learned that it was an abomination, but I was always more curious about experimenting with members of the same sex than other women I’ve spoken to about this. I have always been really sexual, and when I was a tween and teenager my attractions to boys were always on my mind, and a chief topic of conversation with my friends. I pushed the attraction to girls far away from my thoughts, though, as I’ve written on my blog, my Barbies enacted a lot of hot, steamy girl on girl action. 😉 It wasn’t until university when I decided to test my attraction to women. And when confronted with a naked female body, I was not turned off or grossed out by any means. Quite the opposite.

    From my experience, I was born with these tendencies. Most bisexual women CHOOSE to be with men predominantly, consciously and/or unconsciously, because it is far more socially acceptable. For me, that’s where choice comes in. But then for me, it’s always been about who I fall for. It can be a man or woman.

    There’s also this very important point to consider: In our culture, it’s considered sexy for a woman to be attracted to or even to make out with other women. Some women, giving in to peer pressure, will make out with other women (even if they don’t actually want to), just to attract the attention of men. This is SO NOT THE CASE with men. It’s taboo for a man to even CLAIM attraction to other men, and so even if they are in a confidential setting and being asked about same-sex attraction, they will not fess up. Men are made to feel effeminate if they are attracted to another man. It’s a very different experience for men in that regard. They will bury any potential same sex attraction FAR FAR deeper than women will.

    I know that if I’d been asked as a 20 year old, in a confidential setting, if I was attracted to women, I would have said, “Certainly not!!!” I would have been telling the truth and lying at the same time. My conscious mind did not allow for my attraction to women, but my subconscious mind flooded my dreams with women…of a very sexual nature, complete with intense longing. The point being…one’s community largely determines what is appropriate to claim attraction to, and what is taboo. My Christian culture made it taboo, and thus so did my conscious mind…the gatekeeper (and jail keeper!) of all desires.

    Do you know if Lisa Diamond interviewed men as well in her study? If not, I don’t think her ideas are very balanced. From what I remember, she interviewed about a hundred college-aged women, then tracked them for a period of ten years. From there she made many sweeping conclusions, contrasting female sexuality with male sexuality. I could be wrong…

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  2. Hi Vesper,

    You mentioned that you have previously agreed with Lisa Diamond that for some, same sex attraction is a choice. Do you recall why it was that you initially agreed with her? And then what changed your mind, if you recall?

    Very true point about society feeling more icky about two men being together than two women. We find this deep in the Judeo-Christian tradition, unfortunately. The most harsh language for same sex couples is reserved for men, probably to preserve male hierarchy and dominance, at least that would be a major part, as far as I understand the scriptures.

    The article I read indicates that Lisa Diamond studied men as well. Her conclusion is that both genders can choose, but for some reason, women will be much more likely to have the ability to choose. Their desire is more “fluid”.

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    1. I just don’t think I questioned Lisa Diamond’s material as well as I should have. It made sense to me when I first read it (and it seemed to fit so well with the post-postmodernist stance of my university at the time, where most of the professors taught that ALL behaviours were learned…and never inherent [biologically or otherwise] in the individual), but it was so new, so there weren’t many responses to the information yet. After reading responses to Diamond’s work over time, I began to change my mind. If I recall, the initial source where I read about Diamond’s work was very positive about it. It was all praise.

      What bothers me is that Diamond’s work has been interpreted as women having so much choice, completely independent of their genetics, and that they can magically change their sexuality based on mere wishes alone. I believe that sexuality is largely biological. It can be influenced by environment, surely, but is still largely written in the genes.

      It’s common for bisexual women to go through periods of time when they crave women more than men (or vice versa). Sometimes this happens to such an extent that they are only turned on by women, and not by men. That doesn’t mean that they’ve all of a sudden become lesbians for the time being. It just means they’re bisexual! It’s just a phase in life…like anything else.

      Also, I ask why women would CHOOSE to be gay when being gay is so fucking hard. Women run away to places like San Francisco and Vancouver to escape the hatred directed at them in their own towns. Who in their right mind would choose a life like that? One of running, hiding, feeling shame? I know a Hispanic woman who is my age who lives with her girlfriend, yet has yet to come out to her family. It’s awful for her…hiding so much of who she is. That is NOT a choice.

      I initially made the choice to pursue women, to actually sleep with them, but I did not make a CHOICE to be attracted to women. That was something in me from my earliest sexual memories.

      The majority of lesbians I know would never ever EVER EVER sleep with a man. The closest I’ve heard of such a thing is one butch friend of mine admitting that she used to think Michael Jackson was cute. Michael Jackson has always looked like a woman…so that’s not really saying much. 🙂

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  3. That all makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

    Do you find that Lisa Diamond has a lot of followers/adherents?

    And does LD’s sexual orientation and personal experiences inform her position? Is she lesbian or bi?

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    1. I think she’s pretty big in the sexual identity world. I think a lot of straight people like her work, but gay people tend to find at least the interpretation of her work offensive, if not misleading.

      She says that two thirds of the women she studied changed their sexual identity at least once in the course of time she studied them. That’s misleading, too. I did the same thing, or at least labeled myself differently…but that still left my desire the same. I went from straight (because I was all about conformity…which Diamond doesn’t really take into consideration that much), to queer (for me, queer doesn’t mean exactly homosexual) because I didn’t like that bisexual implies only TWO (I have been in a relationship with a trans person, so bisexual didn’t fit there), then finally taking on the bisexual title because it was less confusing to people.

      There are so many reasons why a woman would change the label of her sexual identity. I don’t think that means her actual sexuality is so super fluid, they way Diamond depicts. I largely think she had a strong idea, and shaped all of her findings around that idea.

      I belonged to an LGBT group on campus at SFU, and many of the women there were trying to find a correct label for themselves. Even within labels are more labels in queer culture…so it can be incredibly daunting.

      Diamond also said that it was extremely rare for a woman over 30 to all of a sudden be turned on by women if she’d never been turned on by them before. That to me is super telling.

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  4. You said: “Diamond also said that it was extremely rare for a woman over 30 to all of a sudden be turned on by women if she’d never been turned on by them before. That to me is super telling.” Do you mean that you feel like this evidence is contrary to Diamond’s own conclusions and theories?

    Why is it that you think straight people like her work? Because it supports conservative politics (i.e., that because being gay is a choice, it is somehow less authentic and should not be politically recognized)? My initial thought, as a liberal straight person, when I read the above article was to think, “well, if LGBT is a choice, then let people make their own sexual choices.” In other words, if sexual orientation can be chosen (and frankly I don’t have enough knowledge or experience to have any kind of informed opinion on whether or not sexual orientation can be chosen), then it shouldn’t matter politically or religiously. I’m from conservative religious circles where it was stressed that LGBT was a choice, so a gay person can choose to ungayify themselves (perhaps at a Pray-the-Gay-Away camp) and turn back to Jesus. The logic, though, doesn’t follow, at least in my opinion. If sexual orientation is a choice, then that in itself doesn’t make it an illegitimate or inauthentic choice.

    That was my initial thought. What do you think about why straight people like her work?

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    1. Well she was studying women who were mostly college-aged…and began the study when most of these women were quite a bit younger than 30. That age – the 20s – is all about discovering who and what one is. Labels come and go, they change…according to the things that I already spoke of, and much more. There are so many factors. It’s a time of separating oneself from one’s parents and really defining one’s own path — spiritually, relationally, sexually, politically, etc. etc.. People change from democrat to republican and back again…and all places in between. They hop religions. They experiment. They push boundaries and construct new ones. That’s such a period of intense change, for both men and women.

      Also, and most importantly, if women’s sexuality is SO SUPER fluid, why is it only SO SUPER fluid only until the age of 30? How does that even make sense? Especially given her conclusions. It shows that her findings are predominantly based on cultural comfort levels…and have nothing at all to do, really, with women’s true sexuality.

      And I have seen Diamond’s work support conservative Christianity with a friend of mine. I made the mistake of telling her about Diamond’s work, and so she uses Diamond’s work now (along with the work of many others) to prove to herself that one day she will become straight. She stays in a marriage with a man and represses her desires for women. Le sigh. And argh.

      Diamond’s work can definitely be used to support Conservative politics, and unfortunately I don’t think that’s what she was going for. I think she believes that women are more unique than men, and that their sexualities are more nuanced, more special somehow. She is also, to her credit, trying to show that there’s nothing wrong with a woman’s apparent confusion over her sexuality. She was, in part, trying to comfort many who are confused when figuring out their sexual identities in a mad, mad world.

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