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

  • Lisa M. DiamondEmail author
Original Paper


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.


Sexual orientation Sexual fluidity Sexual dysfunction Dynamical systems theory 



A version of this article was presented at the University of Lethbridge Workshop, The Puzzle of Sexual Orientation: What Is It and How Does It Work?, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, June 2010.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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