Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 73–83 | Cite as

The Desire Disorder in Research on Sexual Orientation in Women: Contributions of Dynamical Systems Theory

Original Paper

Abstract

Over the past decade, numerous studies have documented fundamental differences between the phenomenology of male and female sexual orientation, largely centering on women’s capacity for fluidity in their sexual attractions. The past decade has also witnessed fundamental changes in clinical perspectives on “normal” versus “dysfunctional” patterns of female sexual desire, largely centering on women’s greater capacity for responsive and context-dependent sexual desires. In both cases, traditional male-based models of sexuality have been found inadequate to describe women’s experiences. I argue that this inadequacy stems from a failure of traditional models to appropriately account for the phenomenon of variability over time, which may constitute a fundamental feature of female sexual phenomenology. I maintain that dynamical systems theory provides a useful and generative approach for reconceptualizing female sexual orientation, because dynamical systems models focus specifically on describing and explaining complex patterns of change over time. I review the key properties of dynamical systems models and provide an illustrative model of how this approach might yield new perspectives on female sexual orientation.

Keywords

Sexual orientation Sexual fluidity Sexual dysfunction Dynamical systems theory 

References

  1. Bailey, J. M. (2009). What is sexual orientation and do women have one? In D. A. Hope (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation: Contemporary perspectives on lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities (Vol. 54, pp. 43–63). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bailey, J. M., Dunne, M. P., & Martin, N. G. (2000). Genetic and environmental influences on sexual orientation and its correlates in an Australian twin sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 524–536.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Basson, R. (2000). The female sexual response: A different model. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 26, 51–65.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Basson, R. (2001). Using a different model for female sexual response to address women’s problematic low sexual desire. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 27, 395–403.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Basson, R. (2002). Women’s sexual desire: Disordered or misunderstood? Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 28, 17–28.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Basson, R., Wierman, M. E., van Lankveld, J., & Brotto, L. (2010). Summary of the recommendations on sexual dysfunctions in women. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 314–326.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 247–374.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Both, S., Spiering, M., Everaerd, W., & Laan, E. (2004). Sexual behavior and responsiveness to sexual stimuli following laboratory-induced sexual arousal. Journal of Sex Research, 41, 242–258.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brotto, L. A., Bitzer, J., Laan, E., Leiblum, S. R., & Luria, M. (2010). Women’s sexual desire and arousal disorders. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 586–614.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cass, V. (1990). The implications of homosexual identity formation for the Kinsey model and scale of sexual preference. In D. P. McWhirter, S. A. Sanders, & J. M. Reinisch (Eds.), Homosexuality/heterosexuality: Concepts of sexual orientation (pp. 239–266). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Cassingham, B. J., & O’Neil, S. M. (1993). And then I met this woman. Freeland, WA: Soaring Eagle.Google Scholar
  12. Chandra, A., Mosher, W. D., Copen, C., & Sionean, C. (2011, March 3). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the 2006–2008 National Survey of Family Growth. National Health Statistics Reports, pp. 1–36.Google Scholar
  13. Chivers, M. L., & Bailey, J. M. (2005). A sex difference in features that elicit genital response. Biological Psychology, 70, 115–120.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chivers, M. L., & Bailey, J. M. (2007). The sexual psychophysiology of sexual orientation. In E. Janssen (Ed.), The psychophysiology of sex (pp. 458–474). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Chivers, M. L., Rieger, G., Latty, E., & Bailey, J. M. (2004). A sex difference in the specificity of sexual arousal. Psychological Science, 15, 736–744.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chivers, M. L., Seto, M. C., & Blanchard, R. (2007). Gender and sexual orientation differences in sexual response to sexual activities versus gender of actors in sexual films. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 1108–1121.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chivers, M. L., Seto, M. C., Lalumiere, M. L., Laan, E., & Grimbos, T. (2010). Agreement of self-reported and genital measures of sexual arousal in men and women: A meta-analysis. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 5–56.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Costa, M., Braun, C., & Birbaumer, N. (2003). Gender differences in response to pictures of nudes: A magnetoencephalographic study. Biological Psychology, 63, 129–147.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Costell, R. M. (1972). Contingent negative variation as an indicator of sexual object preference. Science, 177, 718–720.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Diamond, L. M. (1998). Development of sexual orientation among adolescent and young adult women. Developmental Psychology, 34, 1085–1095.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Diamond, L. M. (2000a). Passionate friendships among adolescent sexual-minority women. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 10, 191–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Diamond, L. M. (2000b). Sexual identity, attractions, and behavior among young sexual-minority women over a two-year period. Developmental Psychology, 36, 241–250.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Diamond, L. M. (2002). “Having a girlfriend without knowing it:” The relationships of adolescent lesbian and bisexual women. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 6, 5–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Diamond, L. M. (2003a). Was it a phase? Young women’s relinquishment of lesbian/bisexual identities over a 5-year period. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 352–364.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Diamond, L. M. (2003b). What does sexual orientation orient? A biobehavioral model distinguishing romantic love and sexual desire. Psychological Review, 110, 173–192.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Diamond, L. M. (2005a). “I’m straight, but I kissed a girl”: The trouble with American media representations of female–female sexuality. Feminism and Psychology, 15, 104–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Diamond, L. M. (2005b). A new view of lesbian subtypes: Stable vs. fluid identity trajectories over an 8-year period. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 119–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Diamond, L. M. (2007). A dynamical systems approach to female same-sex sexuality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 142–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Diamond, L. M. (2008). Sexual fluidity: Understanding women’s love and desire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Diamond, L. M., & Wallen, K. (2011). Sexual-minority women’s sexual motivation around the time of ovulation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 237–246.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Dickson, N., Paul, C., & Herbison, P. (2003). Same-sex attraction in a birth cohort: prevalence and persistence in early adulthood. Social Science and Medicine, 56, 1607–1615.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Essig, L. (2000, November 15). Heteroflexibility. Salon.com.
  33. Everaerd, W., & Laan, E. (1995). Desire for passion: Energetics of sexual response. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 21, 255–263.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Everaerd, W., Laan, E., & Both, S. (2001). Sexual appetite, desire and motivation: Energetics of the sexual system. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen.Google Scholar
  35. Fogel, A., Nwokah, E., Dedo, J. Y., & Messinger, D. (1992). Social process theory of emotion: A dynamic systems approach. Social Development, 1, 122–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Fogel, A., & Thelen, E. (1987). Development of early expressive and communicative action: Reinterpreting the evidence from a dynamic systems perspective. Developmental Psychology, 23, 747–761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Fugl-Meyer, A., & Fugl-Meyer, K. (1998). Prevalence data in Europe. In I. Goldstein, C. Meston, S. Davis, & A. Traish (Eds.), Women’s sexual function and dysfunction: Study, diagnosis, and treatment (pp. 34–41). New York: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  38. Gagnon, J. H. (1990). Gender preference in erotic relations: The Kinsey Scale and sexual scripts. In D. P. McWhirter, S. A. Sanders, & J. M. Reinisch (Eds.), Homosexuality/heterosexuality: Concepts of sexual orientation (pp. 177–207). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Garofalo, R., Wolf, R. C., Wissow, L. S., Woods, E. R., & Goodman, E. (1999). Sexual orientation and risk of suicide attempts among a representative sample of youth. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 153, 487–493.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Gilden, D. L. (1991). On the origins of dynamical awareness. Psychological Review, 98, 554–568.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Golden, C. (1987). Diversity and variability in women’s sexual identities. In Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective (Ed.), Lesbian psychologies: Explorations and challenges (pp. 19–34). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  42. 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). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  43. Golden, C. (1996). What’s in a name? Sexual self-identification among women. In R. C. Savin-Williams & K. M. Cohen (Eds.), The lives of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals: Children to adults (pp. 229–249). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
  44. Goy, R. W., & Goldfoot, D. A. (1975). Neuroendocrinology: Animal models and problems of human sexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 4, 405–420.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Granic, I. (2005). Timing is everything: Developmental psychopathology from a dynamic systems perspective. Developmental Review, 25, 386–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hamann, S., Herman, R. A., Nolan, C. L., & Wallen, K. (2004). Men and women differ in amygdala response to visual sexual stimuli. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 411–416.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hyde, J. S. (2005). The genetics of sexual orientation. In J. S. Hyde (Ed.), Biological substrates of human sexuality (pp. 9–20). Washington, DC: APA.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Izard, C. E., Ackerman, B. P., Schoff, K. M., & Fine, S. E. (2000). Self-organization of discrete emotions, emotion patterns, and emotion-cognition relations. In M. D. Lewis & I. Granic (Eds.), Emotion, development, and self-organization: Dynamic systems approaches to emotional development (pp. 15–36). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Johnson, S. D., Phelps, D. L., & Cottler, L. B. (2004). The association of sexual dysfunction and substance use among a community epidemiological sample. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33, 55–63.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Kang, L., Laumann, E. O., Glasser, D., & Paik, A. (1998). Worldwide prevalence and correlates. In I. Goldstein, C. Meston, S. Davis, & A. Traish (Eds.), Women’s sexual function and dysfunction: Study, diagnosis, and treatment (pp. 42–51). New York: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  51. Kaplan, H. S. (1979). Disorders of sexual desire and other new concepts and techniques in sex therapy. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  52. Kelso, J. A. S. (1997). Dynamic patterns: The self-organization of brain and behavior. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  53. Kelso, J. A. S., & Tuler, B. (1984). A dynamical basis for action systems. In M. S. Gazzaniga (Ed.), Handbook of neuroscience (pp. 321–356). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  54. Kinnish, K. K., Strassberg, D. S., & Turner, C. W. (2005). Sex differences in the flexibility of sexual orientation: A multidimensional retrospective assessment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 34, 173–183.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Kirk, K. M., Bailey, J. M., Dunne, M. P., & Martin, N. G. (2000). Measurement models for sexual orientation in a community twin sample. Behavior Genetics, 30, 345–356.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Kitzinger, C., & Wilkinson, S. (1995). Transitions from heterosexuality to lesbianism: The discursive production of lesbian identities. Developmental Psychology, 31, 95–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Laan, E., Everaerd, W., van der Velde, J., & Geer, J. H. (1995). Determinants of subjective experience of sexual arousal in women: Feedback from genital arousal and erotic stimulus content. Psychophysiology, 32, 444–451.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Laan, E., & Janssen, E. (2007). How do men and women feel? Determinants of subjective experience of sexual arousal. In E. Janssen (Ed.), The psychophysiology of sex (pp. 278–290). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, F. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  60. Laumann, E. O., Paik, A., & Rosen, R. C. (1999). Sexual dysfunction in the United States: Prevalence and predictors. Journal of the American Medical Association, 281, 537–544.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Lewis, M. D. (2000). The promise of dynamic systems approaches for an integrated account of human development. Child Development, 71, 36–43.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Magai, C., & McFadden, S. H. (1995). The role of emotions in social and personality development: History, theory, and research. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  63. Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. E. (1966). Human sexual response. Boston: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  64. Morgan, E. M., & Thompson, E. M. (2007). Young women’s sexual experiences within same-sex friendships: Discovering and defining bisexual and bi-curious identity. Journal of Bisexuality, 6, 7–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Mosher, W. D., Chandra, A., & Jones, J. (2005). Sexual behavior and selected health measures: Men and women 1544 years of age, United States, 2002. Advance data from vital and health statistics, no. 362. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
  66. 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, 13, 89–140.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Paik, A., & Laumann, E. O. (1998). Prevalence of women’s sexual problems in the USA. In I. Goldstein, C. Meston, S. Davis, & A. Traish (Eds.), Women’s sexual function and dysfunction: Study, diagnosis, and treatment (pp. 23–33). New York: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  68. Pattatucci, A. M. L., & Hamer, D. H. (1995). Development and familiality of sexual orientation in females. Behavior Genetics, 25, 407–420.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Penelope, J., & Wolfe, S. J. (1989). The original coming out stories. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press.Google Scholar
  70. Peplau, L. A. (2001). Rethinking women’s sexual orientation: An interdisciplinary, relationship-focused approach. Personal Relationships, 8, 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Peplau, L. A., & Garnets, L. D. (2000). A new paradigm for understanding women’s sexuality and sexual orientation. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 329–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. 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.Google Scholar
  73. Read, S. J., & Miller, L. C. (2002). Virtual personalities: A neural network model of personality. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6, 357–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Remafedi, G., Resnick, M., Blum, R., & Harris, L. (1992). Demography of sexual orientation in adolescents. Pediatrics, 89, 714–721.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Rieger, G., Bailey, J. M., & Chivers, M. L. (2005). Sexual arousal patterns of bisexual men. Psychological Science, 16, 579–584.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., Hunter, J., & Braun, L. (2006). Sexual identity development among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: Consistency and change over time. Journal of Sex Research, 43, 46–58.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Savage, D. (2002, May 11). Heteroflexible. The Stranger.com, 11.Google Scholar
  78. Savin-Williams, R. C. (2006). Who’s gay? Does it matter? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 40–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Shuster, R. (1987). Sexuality as a continuum: The bisexual identity. In Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective (Ed.), Lesbian Psychologies (pp. 56–71). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  80. Stanley, J. P., & Wolfe, S. J. (1980). The coming out stories. Watertown, MA: Persephone Press.Google Scholar
  81. Stokes, J. P., Damon, W., & McKirnan, D. J. (1997). Predictors of movement toward homosexuality: A longitudinal study of bisexual men. Journal of Sex Research, 34, 304–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Stokes, J. P., McKirnan, D., & Burzette, R. (1993). Sexual behavior, condom use, disclosure of sexuality, and stability of sexual orientation in bisexual men. Journal of Sex Research, 30, 203–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Suschinsky, K. D., Lalumiere, M. L., & Chivers, M. L. (2009). Sex differences in patterns of genital sexual arousal: Measurement artifacts or true phenomena? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 559–573.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Thelen, E., & Smith, L. B. (1994). A dynamic systems approach to the development of cognition and action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  85. Thelen, E., & Smith, L. B. (1998). Dynamic systems theories. In W. Damon & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Volume 1: Theoretical models of human development (5th ed., pp. 563–634). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  86. Thompson, E. M. (2007). Girl friend or girlfriend?: Same-sex friendship and bisexual images as a context for flexible sexual identity among young women. Journal of Bisexuality, 6, 47–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Thompson, E. M., & Morgan, E. M. (2008). “Mostly straight” young women: Variations in sexual behavior and identity development. Developmental Psychology, 44, 15–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. van Geert, P., & Steenbeek, H. (2005). Explaining after by before: Basic aspects of a dynamic systems approach to the study of development. Developmental Review, 25, 408–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Walsh, C. (Ed.). (2010). Dear John, I love Jane: Women write about leaving men for women. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.Google Scholar
  90. Weinberg, M. S., Williams, C. J., & Pryor, D. W. (1994). Dual attraction: Understanding bisexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  91. Whisman, V. (1996). Queer by choice: Lesbians, gay men, and the politics of identity. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  92. Wright, L. W., Jr., & Adams, H. E. (1999). The effects of stimuli that vary in erotic content on cognitive processes. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 145–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

Personalised recommendations