Last year, a good friend told me that for the first time in her life she was sleeping with a woman. As long as I kept her identity a secret, she said I could share her story, and then she smiled as she talked about how much touch and affection she enjoyed from her female lover, also a newbie. Together, they were discovering secrets about their erotic selves that had nothing to do with labels or societal expectations of what was sexually acceptable.“Does this make me a lesbian?” she said and then immediately answered her own question. “I don’t think so.” I’d rather call myself hetero-light, she mused.
From the glint in her eye, I suspected that some unmet needs, identified at last, were being satiated that had more to do with self-love than any label, even the popular ‘bi-curiosity,’ society wants to put on what people do in the privacy of their own homes.
What was it like and how did it make her feel, I asked. “I love it!” She explained. I loved how she tasted and smelled and felt, she confessed to me, and she spoke of how they laughed together and still found pleasure in dating men, but couldn’t fathom relinquishing her current lovestyle.As it turns out, her willingness to boldly go where her younger self would not have is more the rule, and less the exception according to recent research out of Boise University.
Elizabeth Morgan and Lisa Diamond, researchers in Utah who study same-sex attraction in heterosexuals, were “startled” by the results of their work, the first to examine how sexuality develops over a lifetime.Morgan observed a group of 484 heterosexual women and found that 60 percent were sexually attracted to other women, 45 percent had kissed a woman and 50 percent had fantasies about the same sex. “Women are encouraged to be emotionally close to each other,” she said. “That provides an opportunity for intimacy and romantic feelings to develop.”In related research, Diamond followed a group of women attracted to other women over a 15-year period and found that at follow-up interviews, during which she asked each woman to identify as lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual or unlabelled, women’s chosen labels changed repeatedly with one noteworthy trend.The older women got, the more likely they choose ‘unlabelled.’ Female sexuality, as many have suspected, refuses to be confined by conventions and expectations. What’s more, our experience and expression of lust, arousal and desire become more multifaceted with age.“We have this idea that sexuality gets clearer and more defined as time goes on. We consider that a sign of maturity to figure out who you are,” when in fact, “it’s really the opposite,” said Diamond.Sexual fluidity, she explains in her 2008 book, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, refers to ‘situation-dependent flexibility in women’s sexual responsiveness.’ While we are born with distinct sexual preferences, we may experience variations in “erotic and affectional feelings” depending on circumstances and life stages. It’s not a new concept, she explains, but something the scientific community has dabbled with for decades, indirectly if not at full throttle.
One reason for this phenomenon may be due to another. Culturally speaking, we are short on touch, according to a 2010 ivillage.com survey. As mortality and a sense of inadequacy press upon us, it’s not unreasonable for us to imagine that holding ourselves in check leads to a chronic unmet need of loving touch. We are, quite simply, skin hungry.Affection is essential to wellbeing. Intimacy activates a hormonal cascade that involves the release of oxytocin. This chemical messenger may be responsible for many of our warm fuzzy experiences associated with bonding, relationship and orgasm.It’s an easy stretch to imagine how a woman’s touch differs from a man. Men, too, grow in bravery and courage when women stroke them — science says so. Women often intuitively find them: arms, bellies, the curvature between buttocks and thigh, the breadth of a shoulder, the thickening of a waist.Is it any wonder, then, that some women are drawn to relationships with another female in the middle years, and not because they’ve been latent lesbians all the time, or there aren’t any good men left, as some might propose. These newest findings confirm that with regards to female sexuality, we are wired to seek out and experience pleasure, ecstasy and sensual touch.
Christiane Northrup, MD, addresses the juxtaposition of sexual fluidity, eroticism and pleasure in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom
(revised edition, 2008), linking it indirectly to the plasticity of the brain. “Regardless of what happens to us or what’s we’ve learned from our culture, our brains and bodies have the ability to change. This is known as plasticity. And when it comes to experiencing a fulfilling sex life at any age — this is great news.”When we express sexuality on our own terms, learning what turns us on the “whole world changes,” Northrup continued. The implications of this are huge. As science decodes sexual mysteries, and women like my friend push a boundaries that needed to be moved, we see that whether we pursue them or not, our fantasies tickle more than our genitals.Turned-on women “hold the reigns of fulfillment” in their hands, says Northrup, and not just for themselves, but for their partners. “A turned-on woman is what turns on a man (or another woman).” Eroticism, our sexual energy, is the key, she suggests, that will help us get into “the flow of a healthy and fulfilled life.”“We are now on the brink of a revolutionary new understanding of female sexuality that has profound scientific and social implications,” Lisa Diamond has written. We could just as easily say that the new science will have profound implications for female sexuality, opening up the doors that society has tried to shut for a long, long time.Photo credit: Spirit-Fire
A version of this article originally appeared in Sexis Magazine
Tinamarie is the author of People Planet Pleasure Purpose: Five Meaningful Ways to Embody Eco-Conscious Intimacy. An occasional poet and writer for several acclaimed websites, you can find her at twitter and Facebook, or send her a private message at modernlovemuse @ yahoo dot com.
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