Article By Madeleine A. Fugère Ph.D.
~ DECEMBER 2021 ~ Recent research reveals that women exhibit four distinct types of sexual fluidity, which differentially correlate with other aspects of women’s sexuality.
What is sexual fluidity?
Researcher Lisa Diamond and colleagues (2020) investigated the construct of sexual fluidity in women.
According to the authors, sexual fluidity is defined as the “capacity for variation in sexual responsiveness due to situational, interpersonal, and contextual influences.” In previous research, sexual fluidity has been conceptualized as sexual desires or behaviors which deviate from a person’s usual sexual identity or as a change in sexual desires or behaviors over time.
For example, a straight woman might find that she is sexually aroused by a photograph of a naked woman in a magazine; a lesbian woman might realize that she is sexually attracted to a male colleague at work; or a bisexual woman who usually dates men might find that as she grows older, she prefers to date women. Although the researchers acknowledge that sexual fluidity might include changes in attraction due to partner age, relationship status, or other factors, in this research, the authors focused on sexual fluidity due to partner gender.
The four types of sexual fluidity
In the current research project, the authors focused on four definitions of sexual fluidity: “(1) fluidity as heightened erotic responsiveness to one’s less-preferred gender (LPG), (2) fluidity as situational variability in erotic responsiveness to the LPG (for example, laboratory arousal vs. day-to-day attraction), (3) fluidity as discrepancy between sexual attraction and sexual partnering with the LPG, and (4) fluidity as instability in day-to-day attraction to the LPG over time.” In order to explore these different types of sexual fluidity, the researchers recruited 76 women with diverse sexual orientations through Facebook ads. Although a large majority of the women were White (90 percent), most of the women identified as bisexual (42 percent), followed by heterosexual (32 percent) and lesbian (26 percent). Through both surveys and a laboratory assessment, the researchers gathered data about women’s sexual histories, sexual partners, self-reported sexual orientations, daily feelings of sexual attraction, and perceived arousal to same-sex and other-sex stimuli.
Correlations with other aspects of women’s sexuality
The authors found that most of the different types of sexual fluidity were uncorrelated with one another. For example, the first type of sexual fluidity, “heightened erotic responsiveness to one’s less-preferred gender,” was not correlated with the second type of fluidity, “fluidity as situational variability in erotic responsiveness to the LPG,” or with the third type of fluidity, “fluidity as discrepancy between sexual attraction and sexual partnering with the LPG.” However, the first type of fluidity, “heightened erotic responsiveness to one’s less-preferred gender,” was correlated with the fourth type of fluidity, “fluidity as instability in day-to-day attraction to the LPG over time.”
In other words, women who experienced more attraction to their less-preferred gender also showed more variability in their daily reports of sexual attraction to their less-preferred gender over time. The first type of fluidity, attraction to the less-preferred gender, was also associated with more openness to casual sex (higher sociosexuality) and with a higher number of lifetime sex partners.
The second type of fluidity, situationally-driven changes in sexual attraction, was correlated with an earlier age of first sexual experience as well as a greater number of lifetime sex partners. Although researchers debate whether sexual fluidity and bisexuality are distinct concepts, the authors found that the “only type of fluidity associated with bisexuality… was overall erotic responsiveness to the less-preferred gender.”
The authors concluded that the study exhibits “powerful evidence that sexual fluidity is not a single overarching individual difference dimension, but a multifaceted phenomenon that takes different forms and which has different implications for sexual experience.”
The authors also acknowledge the limitations of the current research project. The sample of women was small and was not necessarily representative. The researchers recommend studying these types of sexual fluidity in samples that are more ethnically diverse, as well as studying men’s sexual fluidity. Although previous research has suggested that women’s sexuality is more flexible than men’s, the authors contend that some types of sexual fluidity may be more common in men versus women.
A version of this article originally appeared here on psychology.com