Are love and sex bidirectional?

Some interesting recent articles online from the APA Monitor. Specifically this one detailing the interface of romance and sexual attractions brings into mainstream discussion research and theorizing very relevant to the definition of ex-gays and change.

Daryl Bem briefly anticipated some applications of this work in July, 2005 on his website.

The subtitle of the APA article, “Why romantic love isn’t limited by a person’s sexual orientation” does not convey the bidirectional nature of Diamond’s views. It could have been better worded: “Why romantic love isn’t limited by a person’s sexual orientation and vice versa” According to Diamond’s 2003 scholarly article, romance can be a pathway to sexual interest as well as flow the other direction.

The first chapter in the book I am working on more fully expands this line of research and theory. I note that many same-sex attracted men (ala Jim in A Valued Life) seem more generally attracted to men but are heterosexually responsive only to their wives. Over the years, I have seen a handful of women who also demonstrate this sexual pattern. Such a framework would actually address many disconnects in we have discussed this issue over the years (Side one – “but you really are gay”; side two – “but I love and am attracted to my wife and that is a real change”).

Seems to me this perspective could accommodate all five vision-impaired men and their understanding of the elephant. Change might happen and not happen all at the same time to different degrees for different people. Men and women clearly differ. Men, in general, are probably less likely to show rapid or permanent change in general erotic attractions (but some men appear to take the romance road to heteroeros); whereas women appear to be more flexible. However, this cannot be viewed prescriptively (“just find a good woman/man and you’ll be fine”) since the interactions of the sexual attractions and romantic attachment systems are complex and cannot be reduced to a formula. In other words, you Can’t Force Love.

The development of the sexual identity therapy framework has been informed in part, for me at least, by this line of thought and theorizing. I think sexual identity ministries could find much here that would be beneficial.

8 thoughts on “Are love and sex bidirectional?”

  1. I disagree Mary, there is no one theory held up as “the theory” at the moment – at least not in academics. There is a broad acknowledgment that there is no solid locktight explanation for the development of sexual preference – but there are hints of biological contribution, etc..

    We have theories. Hey, even gravity is a theory.

    There are multiple ways of viewing the development of sexual identity, and academics acknowledges this. Some perspectives, however, have a bit more empirical backing indicating their possibility than others. Those are the ones that we further investigate.

  2. “sexual plasticity of women”

    WOW — lends a whole new dimension to how I think about myself! 🙂

    Glad you are looking at all this, Warren, I have been long dissatisfied with any of the theories or explanations for the development of our gender identiy and sexual orientation. Especially when any one theory seems to be held up as THE explanation, or they are all dismissed as if they have no merit,

  3. The role of oxytocin may have something to say about how men and women experience romantic love and sexual desire. Both seem evolutionary in purpose.

    Although I think there is also some interesting research on the sexual plasticity of women (as opposed to such observations in men).

    I have long thought that explaining same-sex attraction may not be the exact same development in women and men. However, I would extend that to say that I don’t think the process is the same for even every woman or every man in that group. Like heterosexuality, I think we come to our varied preferences through multiple paths.

    What I think we can say (per “biological exuberance” and other such works) is that there is a consistent portion of numerous species that seem to be same-sex oriented, with the majority being opposite-sex oriented. Occurring in hundreds of species whose only reference is instinctual drive fulfillment…it’s a pretty good indication that biology leans us one way or another.

    Papa penguin’s neglect and the hurt feelings of the little one likely has little to do with why his son wanted to pair with another male.

  4. Jim – To quote Huey Lewis, “That’s the power of love.”

    BSJ (you know who you are) – Very true, however, what I am suggesting is that ex-gay men may not be bisexual in the usual way of thinking of bisexuality but rather may be better conceptualized as having triggered desire by falling in love. I need to start a study that would classify this but anecdotally it seems to have some foundation.

  5. At the risk of sounding like a big sexist jerk…

    I think it is important to note that Diamond drew her conclusions from observing women. I have long thought that sexual orientation in men and in women functions very differently. Observations made about gay women may or may not be applicable to gay men.

  6. I think there is a lot of food for thought here.

    I think in previous threads, we’ve danced around the idea that sexuality is a deeply personal thing — and it is deeply individual, a very different experience from one person to the next.

    The fact that we recognize something of a continuum between homosexuality, through bisexuality, to heterosexuality suggests that we recognize this, but all too often things break down into a hetero/homo dichotomy that assumes that there are only two discrete classes of experience. Or maybe three if someone remembers to speaks up and say, “Hey! What about bisexuals?” But even three classes are too limiting.

    Who was it that suggested we look at sexual attraction on a two dimensional scale, with one scale being a degree of homosexual attraction, the other scale being the degree of heterosexual attraction, and the origin representing perfect asexuality?

    And even that may be too limiting.

    Now you’ve gone and muddied everything even further by throwing in one of the greatest mysteries of all: love. Nobody can measure it; nobody can define it. And try as they might, even the poets and philosophers can’t quite nail it down.

    I remember meeting someone who had divorced, a gay man who says both he and his wife knew he was gay when they married. I don’t know him well to assess the quality of the relationship or the wisdom of their marrying, or even why they divorced. But I remember asking him if he knew he was gay, and she knew he was gay, then why on earth did they marry? He simply said, “Sometimes you can’t help who you fall in love with.” Regardless of the outcome of their marriage, that always stuck with me.

  7. I’ve commented before that I know many gay men–my partner, myself, and many of our friends–who have had a loving, sexually satisfying marriage to a woman without any change in their basic sexual orientation. I’ve also known gay men who do not identify as bisexual but have enjoyed occasional casual sex with women.

    That’s why I simply don’t agree that even a successful marriage demonstrates a change in someone’s orientation–not even partial change, or movement toward change. My view is well summed up by the subtitle of the APA article: “… romantic love isn’t limited by a person’s sexual orientation.”

    I am happy for those who establish a successful marriage, and, as I’ve said before, I wish them the best for a long and happy future with their spouses. But please don’t make a claim that someone’s orientation has “changed” unless there is objective evidence that the person is now truly more interested in the opposite sex in general, and not just in his/her spouse.

    It’s not just a matter of semantics. People who are trying to make decisions about their future need to understand the reality of what “ex-gay” or “valued life” approaches can offer. The promise of “change” is very potent and very alluring, and the word should not be used lightly.

  8. Interesting article! Maybe love and sex are OMNI-directional. A complex interplay of sexual orientation (direction), sex drive (intensity), sexual identity (self-definition), romantic feelings, attachment, bonding, values etc. Many, many combinations seem possible. In my case, I had a profound friendship with my wife, some romantic, tender, affectionate feelings, strong interpersonal attachment and bonding, a deep spiritual connection — and NO sexual interest at all. Not toward her or any female.

    But that’s just my experience. Other people may have some sexual attractions to one or both sexes with some or none of the above. And all of this may indeed be somewhat fluid over time. Anything is possible, I suppose. Still waiting to meet someone who was 100% and strongly homosexually oriented who is now 100% and strongly heterosexually oriented — what I would consider a true “ex-gay”. I’m not saying such a person does not exist — just that I would like to meet him.

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