Why are you heterosexual? This is a question most women are taught not to discuss in a purity centric and/or patriarchal society. Many women are taught that if you feel sexually attracted to anyone, not of the opposite sex, it should be thoroughly questioned before acting because to do so is going against societal norms and morals. However, what if the opposite is true? Many feminist researchers, poets, and authors have boldly questioned how much of our male dominated society has conditioned women towards compulsive heterosexuality and away from enjoying the experience of sexual fluidity.
As a disclaimer, this blog will focus will be on female sexual fluidity. This is not to say that males don’t also experience sexual fluidity. As research shows, males also experience sexual fluidity. However, a reason for focusing exclusively on female sexual fluidity is because of the increased interest in exploring women’s experience of compulsive heterosexuality and the acknowledgment of intuitions that serve to keep men in power.
What Does Sexual Fluidity Mean?
The concept of sexual fluidity can best be summarized by American psychologist, feminist, and author of the popular book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, Lisa M. Diamond, as she writes, “Sexual fluidity has been defined as a capacity for situation-dependent flexibility in sexual responsiveness, which allows individuals to experience changes in same-sex or other-sex desire across both short term and long term periods.”
Diamond’s statements on sexual fluidity directly challenges the notion that sexuality is “fixed” which historically has been the leading notion of sexual orientation placing individuals into two categories gay or heterosexual. A such, it’s possible for people to be sexually attracted to people of all genders and gender identities.
Moreover, people who identify as bisexual (sexual or romantic attraction to same sex and other sex) have been acknowledged as a third category of sexual orientation. Nevertheless, bisexuality operates under a definite nature.
Human sexuality, however, is more complex than the rigidity assigned through patriarchy and religious beliefs.
A common misconception is that sexually fluid people are just “bisexual.” The term sexual fluidity does not apply to the constructs of just assigning oneself categorically or imply that sexual orientation and sexual identity is obsolete.
Instead, people may experience changes in their sexual behavior and sexual relationships throughout their lives. Diamond states sexual fluidity is the “capacity for change in erotic responsiveness.”
Some people may experience changes in their erotic or romantic orientations many times throughout their lives. Meaning, a women who finds herself attracted to men at one point in her life, may find herself attracted to women or other genders at another point in her life. Others may never express many erotic changes, making sexual fluidity unique to the individual.
Societal constructs may impact one’s ability to express sexual fluidity. A study by Mercer and colleagues aimed to measure changes in sexual attitudes and lifestyles in Britain throughout the course of life and over time. The findings of this study showed that same sex sexual behavior increased amongst women from 3.7% in 1990 to 16% in 2010.
Another comparable study conducted by Gartrell and colleagues measured the changes in American youth reporting same sex contact between the years 2002 and 2011. Their findings showed that reported same sex contact between females doubled from 2022 (5%) and 2011 (10%).
The research shows a marked increase in the willingness to explore and discover new attractions, especially among youth. Thus, it is reasonable to ask oneself that as our society heads towards a more progressive path, does that mean that more women will report experiencing fluidity regarding sexual orientation/identity?
Compulsive Heterosexuality is a term coined by American feminist and poet Adrienne Rich in their 1980 essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence.” Compulsive Heterosexuality operates under a misogynic belief that assumes everyone is heterosexual until proven otherwise.
Media, art, literature, advertising, and laws reflect the societal default of heterosexual pairings and the centering of men in the lives of women. Compulsive Heterosexuality is a systemic problem that denies women sexual autonomy and limits exploration outside the construct of being straight.
Adrienne Rich wrote in their essay The Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence that, most often, both males and females’ earliest sources of emotional and physical care is for the women in their lives. Then why does the search for an emotional/erotic relationship from both sexes lead towards women?
Rich continues to elaborate and explains that to prevent women’s sexual fluidity, religion and patriarchy have created violent structures to “enforce women’s totally emotional, erotic loyalty and subservience to men.” In order to control women’s sexual autonomy, society forced being straight as the only “acceptable” way to one’s sexual and romantic interests.
Rich discusses that men’s sexual preference for women’s subservience is a way to control women’s sexual fluidity. Rich states, “It seems more probable that men really fear, not that they will have women’s sexual appetites forced on them, or that women want to smother and devour them, but that women could be indifferent to them altogether .”
Perhaps the antithesis of compulsive straightness is sexual fluidity by allowing individuals the freedom to explore sexual and romantic interests outside of the lenses of toxic black and white sexuality ideals.
Changing Stigma About Sexual Fluidity
Undoing the stigma around any systemic issue can be polarizing; however, as more research comes to light about sexual fluidity and more individuals speak on the topic, the more destigmatized this topic can become. Professor Sabra L. Katz-Wise, a leading researcher on human sexuality, discusses in a 2022 Harvard Health Publishing article that changing how we teach sex education in schools, doctor’s offices and within mental health settings can help to normalize sexual fluidity and overall attraction to people of all genders.
Changing sex education from a heterosexual perspective offers more space for people to explore and learn more about themselves without shame or judgment. Sabra continues to discuss how changing the way we view sexuality reduces viewing changes in sexual orientation as “problematic.”
Society can do so by moving away from a compulsive heterosexual lens and not assuming the stability of one’s sexual orientation. Lastly, we need to work towards more openness and acceptance when responding to sexual fluidity. Moving away from harmful stereotypes and phrases such as “it’s just a phase” or “you’re just confused” opens up room for more supportive conversations and less internalized shame.
Human beings are continually evolving through our world and learned experiences, so why is our sexuality assumed to be stable throughout a lifetime? As many women begin to move away from compulsive heterosexuality by challenging patriarchal beliefs and their impact on their sexuality, we open up room for more conversation about sexual fluidity.
Allowing individuals, especially women, to explore further their sexual autonomy ultimately leads to happier and healthier relationships.