Advertisement

Sex Differences in the Flexibility of Sexual Orientation: A Multidimensional Retrospective Assessment

Abstract

The flexibility of sexual orientation in men and women was examined by assessing self-reported change over time for three dimensions of sexual orientation (sexual fantasy, romantic attraction, and sexual behavior) across three categorical classifications of current sexual orientation (heterosexual, bisexual, and gay). The primary purpose of the study was to determine if there were sex differences in the flexibility (i.e., change over time) of sexual orientation and how such differences were manifested across different dimensions of orientation over the lifespan. Retrospective, life-long ratings of sexual orientation were made by 762 currently self-identified heterosexual, bisexual, and gay men and women, aged 36 to 60, via a self-report questionnaire. Cumulative change scores were derived for each of the three dimensions (fantasy, romantic attraction, and sexual behavior) of orientation by summing the differences between ratings over consecutive 5-year historical time periods (from age 16 to the present). Sex differences were observed for most, but not all, classification groups. There were significant sex differences in reported change in orientation over time for gays and heterosexuals, with women reporting greater change in orientation over time than did men. Bisexual men and women did not differ with respect to self-reported change in orientation.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Bailey, J. M., & Zucker, K. J. (1995). Childhood sex-typed behavior and sexual orientation: A conceptual analysis and quantitative review. Developmental Psychology, 31, 43–55.

  2. Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 347–374.

  3. Bell, A. P., & Weinberg, M. S. (1978). Homosexualities: A study of diversity among men and women. New York: Simon & Schuster.

  4. Bell, A. P., Weinberg, M. S., & Hammersmith, S.K. (1981). Sexual preference: Its development in men and women. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  5. Berkey, B. R., Perel-Hall, T., & Kurdek, L. A. (1990). The multi-dimensional scale of sexuality. Journal of Homosexuality, 19, 67–87.

  6. Bem. D. J. (1996). Exotic becomes erotic: A developmental theory of sexual orientation. Psychological Review, 103, 395-398.

  7. Blumstein, P. W., & Schwartz, P. (1976). Bisexuality in women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 5, 171–181.

  8. Bridges, K. L., & Croteau, J. M. (1994). Once–married lesbians: Facilitating changing life patterns. Journal of Counseling and Development, 73, 134–140.

  9. Brown, L. S. (1995). Lesbian identities: Concepts and issues. In A. R. D’Augelli & C. J. Patterson (Eds.), Lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities over the lifespan: Psychological perspectives (pp. 3-23). New York: Oxford Press.

  10. Cass, V. C. (1979). Homosexual identity development: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4, 219–235.

  11. Cass, V. C. (1983). Homosexual identity: A concept in need of a definition. Journal of Homosexuality, 9, 105–126.

  12. Chapman, B. E., & Brannock, J. C. (1987). Proposed model of lesbian identity development: An empirical examination. Journal of Homosexuality, 9, 69–80.

  13. Charboneau, C., & Lander, P. S. (1991). Redefining sexuality: Women becoming lesbian in midlife. In B. Sang, J. Warsaw, & A. Smith (Eds.), Lesbians at midlife: The creative transition (pp. 35–43). San Francisco: Spinsters Book Co.

  14. Clement, U. (1990). Surveys of heterosexual research. Annual Review of Sex Research, 1, 45–74.

  15. Coleman, E. (1981). Developmental stages of the coming out process. Journal of Homosexuality, 7, 31–43.

  16. Coleman, E. (1987). Assessment of sexual orientation. Journal of Homosexuality, 12, 9–24.

  17. D’Augelli, A. R. (1994). Lesbian and gay male development: Steps toward an analysis of lesbian and gay men’s lives. In B. Greene & G. M. Herek (Eds.), Lesbian and gay psychology: Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 118–132). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

  18. Diamond, L. M. (2000). Sexual identity, attractions, and behavior among sexual minority women over a 2-year period. Developmental Psychology, 36, 241–250.

  19. Diamond, L. M. (2003a). What is a phase? Young women’s relinquishment of lesbian/bisexual identities over a 5-year period. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 352–364.

  20. Diamond, L. M. (2003b). What does sexual orientation orient? A biobehavioral model distinguishing romantic love and sexual desire. Psychological Review, 110, 173–192

  21. Diamond, L. M. (2003c). Love matters: Romantic relationships among sexual-minority adolescents. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior (pp. 85–107). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

  22. Diamond, L. M., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2000). Explaining diversity in the development of same-sex sexuality among young women. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 297–313.

  23. Diamond, L. M., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2003). Explaining diversity in the development of same-sex sexuality among young women. In L. D. Garnets & D. C. Kimmel (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on lesbian, gay, and bisexual experiences (2nd ed., pp. 130–148). New York: Columbia University Press.

  24. Dörner, G. (1968). Hormonal induction and prevention of female homosexuality. Journal of Endocrinology, 42, 163–164.

  25. Dörner, G., & Hintz, G. (1968). Induction and prevention of male homosexuality by androgen. Journal of Endocrinology, 40, 387–388.

  26. Dörner, G., Rohde, W., Stahl, F., Krell, L., & Masius, W. (1975). A neuroendocrine predisposition for homosexuality in men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 4, 1–8.

  27. Ellis, L., & Ames, M. A. (1987). Neurohormonal functioning and sexual orientation: A theory of homosexuality-heterosexuality. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 233–258.

  28. Ellis, L., Burke, D., & Ames, M. A. (1987). Sexual orientation as a continuous variable: A comparison between the sexes. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 16, 523–529.

  29. Friedman, R. C., & Downey, J. I. (2002). Sexual orientation and psychoanalysis: Sexual science and clinical practice. New York: Columbia University Press.

  30. Gaillombardo, R. (1966). Society of women: A study of a women’s prison. New York: John Wiley.

  31. Garnets, L. D., & Kimmel, D. C. (1993). Introduction: Lesbian and gay male dimensions in the psychological study of human diversity. In L. D. Garnets & G. C. Kimmel (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on lesbian and gay male experiences (pp. 1–51). New York: Columbia University Press.

  32. Golden, C. (1987). Diversity and variability in women’s sexual identities. In Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective (Eds.), Lesbian psychologies: Explorations and challenges (pp. 18–34). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

  33. Golden, C. (1994). Our politics and choices: The feminist movement and sexual orientation. In B. Greene & G. M. Herek (Eds.), Lesbian and gay psychology: Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 54–70). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

  34. Gonsiorek, J. C., & Rudolph, J. R. (1991). Homosexual identity: Coming out and other developmental events. In J. C. Gonsiorek & J. D. Weinrich (Eds.), Homosexuality: Research implications for public policy (pp. 161–176). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

  35. Green, R. (1974). Sexual identity conflict in children and adults. New York: Basic Books.

  36. Green, R. (1987). The “sissy boy syndrome” and the development of homosexuality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

  37. Green, G. D., & Clunis, D. M. (1989). Married lesbians. In E. D. Rothblum & E. Cole (Eds.), Loving boldly: Issues facing lesbians (pp. 41–49). New York: Harrington Park Press.

  38. Haldeman, D. C. (1991). Sexual conversion therapy for gay men and lesbians: A scientific examination. In J. C. Gonsiorek & J. D. Weinrich (Eds.), Homosexuality: Research implications for public policy (pp. 149–160). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

  39. Haldeman, D. C. (1994). The practice and ethics of sexual orientation conversion therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 221–227.

  40. Harry, J. (1984). Sexual orientation as destiny. Journal of Homosexuality, 10, 111–124.

  41. Henderson, A. F. (1984). Homosexuality in the college years: Developmental differences between men and women. College Health, 32, 216–219.

  42. Hoult, T. (1983). Human sexuality in biological perspective. Journal of Homosexuality, 9, 137–154.

  43. Kitzinger, C. (1987). The social construction of lesbianism. London: Sage.

  44. Kitzinger, C., & Wilkinson, S. (1995). Transitions from heterosexuality to lesbianism: The discursive production of lesbian identities. Developmental Psychology, 31, 95–104.

  45. Klein, F. (1978). The bisexual option: A concept of one hundred percent intimacy. New York: Arbor House.

  46. Klein, F., Sepekoff, B., & Wolf, T. (1985). Sexual orientation: A multivariate dynamic process. Journal of Homosexuality, 11, 35–49.

  47. McConaghy, N. (1987). Heterosexuality/homosexuality: Dichotomy or continuum. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 16, 411–424.

  48. McDonald, A. P. (1982). Bisexuality: Some comments on research and theory. Journal of Homosexuality, 6, 21–35.

  49. McDonald, G. J. (1982). Individual differences in the coming out process for gay men: Implications for theoretical models. Journal of Homosexuality, 8, 47–60.

  50. Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. E. (1979). Homosexuality in perspective. Boston: Brown Little.

  51. Meyer-Bahlburg, H. F. L., Ehrhardt, A. A., Rosen, L. R., Gruen, R. S., Veridiano, N. P., Vann, F. H., et al. (1995). Prenatal estrogens and the development of homosexual orientation. Developmental Psychology, 31, 12–21.

  52. Money, J. (1987). Sin, sickness, or status? Homosexual gender identity and psychoneuroendrocrinology. American Psychologist, 43, 384–399.

  53. Money, J., Schwartz, M., & Lewis, V. G. (1984). Adult erotosexual status and fetal hormonal masculinization and demasculinization: 46, XX congenital virilizing adrenal hyperplasia and 46, XY androgen-insensitivity syndrome compared. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 9, 405–414.

  54. Mustanski, B. S., Chivers, M. L., & Bailey, J. M. (2002). A critical review of recent biological research on human sexual orientation. Annual Review of Sex Research, 12, 89–140.

  55. Nichols, M. (1990). Lesbian relationships: Implications for the study of sexuality and gender. In D. P. McWhirter, S. A. Sanders, & J. M. Reinisch (Eds.), Homosexuality/heterosexuality: Concepts of sexual orientation (pp. 350–364). New York: Oxford University Press.

  56. Paul, J. P. (1985). Bisexuality: Reassessing our paradigms of sexuality. Journal of Homosexuality, 10, 21–33.

  57. Pillard, R. C. (1990). The Kinsey Scale: Is it familial? In D. P. McWhirter, S. A. Sanders, & J. M. Reinisch (Eds.), Homosexuality/heterosexuality: Concepts of sexual orientation (pp. 88–100). New York: Oxford University Press.

  58. Plummer, K. (1975). Sexual stigma: An interactionist account. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

  59. Ponse, B. (1978). Identities in the lesbian world: The social construction of self. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

  60. Reinisch, J. M., Sanders, S. A., Ziemba-Davis, M. (1988). The study of sexual behavior in relation to the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus: Caveats and recommendations. American Psychologist, 43, 921–927.

  61. Richardson, D. (1984). The dilemma of essentiality in homosexuality theory. Journal of Homosexuality, 9, 79–90.

  62. Richardson, D. (1987). Recent challenges to traditional assumptions about homosexuality: Some implications for practice. Journal of Homosexuality, 13, 1–12.

  63. Ricketts, W. (1984). Biological research on homosexuality: Ansell’s cow or Occam’s razor?. Journal of Homosexuality, 9, 65–93.

  64. Rosario, M., Meyer-Bahlburg, H. F. L., Hunter, J., Exner, T. M., Gwadz, M., & Keller, A. M. (1996). The psychosexual development of urban lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths. Journal of Sex Research, 33, 113–126.

  65. Rust, P. C. (2001). Two many and, not enough: The meanings of bisexual identities. Journal of Bisexuality, 1, 47–108.

  66. Schuster, R. (1987). Sexuality as a continuum: The bisexual identity. In Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective (Eds.), Lesbian psychologies: Explorations and challenges (pp. 56–71). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

  67. Shively, M. G., Jones, C., & DeCecco, J. P. (1983). Research on sexual orientation: Definitions and methods. Journal of Homosexuality, 9, 127–136.

  68. Snyder, P. J., Weinrich, J. D., & Pillard, R. C. (1994). Personality and lipid level differences associated with homosexual and bisexual identity in men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 23, 433–451.

  69. Sophie, J. (1985). A critical examination of stage theories of lesbian identity development. Journal of Homosexuality, 12, 39–51.

  70. Spitzer, R. L. (2003). Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation? 200 participants reporting a change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 404–417.

  71. Stokes, J. P., McKirnan, D. J., & Burzette, R. G. (1993). Sexual behavior, condom use, disclosure of sexuality, and stability of sexual orientation in bisexual men. Journal of Sex Research, 30, 203–213.

  72. Strassberg, D. S., & Lowe, K. (1995). Volunteer bias in sexuality research. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 24, 369–382.

  73. Troiden, R. R. (1979). Becoming homosexual: A model of gay identity acquisition. Psychiatry, 42, 362–373.

  74. Troiden, R. R. (1988). Gay and lesbian identity: A sociological analysis. Dix Hills, NY: General Hall, Inc.

  75. Van Wyk, P. H., & Geist, C. S. (1984). Psychosocial development of heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 13, 505–544.

  76. Zinik, G. (1985). Identity conflict or adaptive flexibility? Journal of Homosexuality, 11, 7–20.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Donald S. Strassberg Ph.D..

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kinnish, K.K., Strassberg, D.S. & Turner, C.W. Sex Differences in the Flexibility of Sexual Orientation: A Multidimensional Retrospective Assessment. Arch Sex Behav 34, 173–183 (2005) doi:10.1007/s10508-005-1795-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • sexual orientation
  • homosexuality
  • bisexuality
  • sex differences