Does this say anything about sexual orientation?

I received this email from a trusted source. It describes a parent’s view of a daughter’s sexuality after a trauma. This appears to represent some kind of shift in behavior and even desire due to a life experience. With Lisa Diamond, I submit that some women may be more likely to experience such a shift than most males.

After our young adult daughter was raped, she went into counseling. Her counselor recommended a support group with women who had similar experiences. It was one of those groups that believed retelling the trauma of her experience was helpful. After awhile she began to really generalize her anger toward all men. After several weeks of this, after her anger toward men became generalized, her individual counselor suggested that she try dating women. Before her sexual assault, our daughter had no interest in women sexually. This was not our assumption; this is what she told us.

She believed she had decided carefully about a counselor so, she thought, ‘perhaps this is a good idea,’ since her feelings toward men were not accepting. Several of the women in her group were open to dating women in order to not feel lonely and learn to receive affection. An older woman who was a lesbian took her under her wing. During this time, our daughter never shared about what was happening, as she knew it was far from her Christian world view, but she was desperate to move on from her pain and her counselor suggested this as a means to do so.

Since then she has come to believe her counselor was right and being with women is the only safe way to give and get love. She sees herself as a bisexual but hasn’t had relationships with men recently.

38 thoughts on “Does this say anything about sexual orientation?”

  1. Laine,

    I agree that those individuals who have experienced trauma can benefit from exploring how that has impacted their lives. However, I am saddened at this claim:

    I would further add that there are plenty of individuals who, regardless of gender preference, may not recall traumatic experiences in their early life. That doesn’t mean those experiences didn’t happen.

    This reminds me a bit of the child who claims that it was unicorns that ate the cookies, not him, and the reason you don’t see them is because they are invisible. The notion that there are unknown trauma, or recovered memories, or unidentified roots leaves both the therapist and the patient chasing invisible unicorns.

    I think that the psych professions have experienced a long history of damage done and lives destroyed by fighting against invisible unicorns.

    Now as for your second point (external psychological pressures), I didn’t address it mostly because there’s nothing to address. You believe that orientation (what you refer to as preference) is the result of these pressures; I, on the other hand, think that this is hooey. There is not currently adequate evidence to prove one way or the other… so we just end up in disagreement.

  2. My point in those last two paragraphs, is that due to cultural taboo or bias, many people would never “date” someone of the same gender to know whether or not they would actually prefer it (much like my experience with the ice cream)…we don’t have a “clean slate” start…we begin with the cultural presssures and directions toward the opposite gender (which may also be innate for the majority) – many people who are gay/lesbian are encouraged throughout childhood to date people of the opposite gender, even against their internal inclinations. Others who are gay/lesbian may, due to many factors (plasticity, the awareness of options, etc..), not realize their preferences until later in life…

    Some, in the effort to fit cultural norms or allude the pressure of living in a same-sex relationship in our society, might find it preferable to coexist in an opposite-gendered relationship. Some call this “change,” I call it sad.

    This girls direction from her therapist is clearly unprofessional…but, I would argue equally unprofessional to direct a gay/lesbian client against their inclinations or…to “direct” anyone at all.

    As a society we love to have people fit into neat little boxes…unfortunately, sexuality is just not so neat.

    We see gender preference variance across species – in everything from insects (please, just TRY to tell me that a dragonfly was sexually abused and sought solace in the same sex), to bears. It’s not an easy or clear issue – but what we know, is that it varies…why are we so intent on making everyone the same?

    Unethical therapists and tragic life circumstances (like abuse) complicate the issue…but these are really peripheral issues that have little to do with innate sexuality, and more to do with the problems of society at large.

  3. Timothy, I’m not really continuing that earlier story, just debating the issue, so, that’s why “the story” is hard to follow, I think.

    I also was not speaking necessarily about sexual trauma, or advocating “treating” gender preference by discussing family dynamics. I do think that confronting issues relating to early family dynamics can have broad healthful effects on an individual, with the likely result that their relationships with other people in general would improve. That may or may not change the individual’s gender preference, or shift them one way or the other on the scale of Same-Other gender preference. Or — not.

    I don’t believe that this kind of work requires actual interaction with the family — although that might be beneficial.

    I would further add that there are plenty of individuals who, regardless of gender preference, may not recall traumatic experiences in their early life. That doesn’t mean those experiences didn’t happen. There is really no way to tell — which is one reason why what I said is no more than a theory.

    Also, your comment in that regard fails to consider the pressures (in either direction, for either gender) of my second point. I think the interplay of forces at work is far more complex than your brief rebuttal suggests to me that you believe

    RE Jag’s comments, I think his 2nd paragraph is very hard to disagree with. But I’m not sure. It really depends on what “direct” means — or what the situation is. Perhaps there are situations in which it is actually important to do so, briefly.

    His third paragraph seems highly possible to me, but not exclusive. The same results could come about for other reasons.

    After that, it all starts to – I don’t get what you’re saying there, Jag.

  4. Research currently supports that many women have the propensity for sexual plasticity, moreso than their male counterparts – however, this is hardly an adequate example for discussion.

    Number one? A therapist should not, in my opinion, be directing their client. It fosters dependency, suppresses independent thought and problem-solving, etc..and is poor practice.

    Also – this seems to suggest that women would sexually go to other women because of “damage” done to them by men. This is a silly notion started some time ago, in my opinion, to make a male ego feel better about a woman who can live a life completely independent of them – having financial means, and sexual gratification.

    let’s be realistic, statistically If all women who were victims of sexual abuse dated women, this country would likely have an astonishing proportion of lesbians.

    But hey, many people would never return to what they are never exposed to. I never tasted pistachio iced cream until last year…and now, I love it. Turns out I’ve been a latent pistachio lover all along.

    Perhaps we have more inherent bisexual inclination than our repressed culture allows us to explore or experience.

  5. Also, Laine, I’m not sure I’m following your story correctly. I believe you said that your betrothed of 10 years has left you to explore relationships with women.

    But now you seem to be saying that you find yourself attracted to men when amidst a traumatic situation with women.

  6. Laine,

    You are espousing a variation on the old “sexually broken” notion. This idea is popular amoung those who try and use reparative therapy to heal such trauma. For example, Melissa Fryrear claims she’s never met a gay person who wasn’t sexually abused.

    But your notion doesn’t really hold up well to testing. There are far too many gay persons who never had any sort of trauma and there are far too many heterosexual who have.

    From what I’ve heard, looking for such truama (the “root” as it is often called) and seeking to heal it can cause a great deal of drama and blame within families and seldom seems to result in anything.

  7. Warren –

    RE your June 15, 2007 @ 10:27 am post, et. al. by others, having just read through about 10 years of my journals, I find that the degree to which I find the idea of physical intimacy with men attractive is greatly increased when I am in the midst of an emotionally traumatic experience with a woman.

    My take on this is issue at this point (which I here present for discussion purposes), is that if there is anything we are wired for (beyond procreation — which in a genetic sense requires an opposite-gender partner) as regards this subject, it is physical intimacy itself. I think the extent to which our desires re different genders vascillates is affected primarily by two things:

    1) Traumatic experiences involving one (or the other) gender — particularly such experiences early in life — possibly well before we actually develop sexual attractions at all.

    2) Psychological (not sure that’s the right word) biases of varying degrees of potency, that are instilled in us from outside sources — such as religious doctrine, the media (what’s cool), peer pressure, unconsciously experessed parental expectations coupled with our desire to please them, simple example (what we see working for the people around us), et cetera.

    I suspect that — genetic variation being what it is — there will always be a comparatively small number of random individuals who carry — to varying degrees (you can see how this theory allows for such a broad rannge of preference and behaviour) — a unique genetic proclivity toward an unexpected gender preference, but I think that in your (genetically speaking) standard, stock, general, farm-dog, plane-jane variety human, those two things I listed are of the most importance.

  8. Marty –

    I may be beating this into the ground, but when you said “Many boys and men have a “fear” of women, that may not be externally evident — but shows up strongly when “emotional intimacy” is on the table.” – I’m guessing that can apply to men as well. Said trauma could cause some men to fear other men, especially when intimacy is on the table???

  9. This is a good example of what I mean by “gender bias”.

    Trauma comes in many forms, rarely so obvious as rape — but all of them could lend themselves to forming a strong and perhaps lifelong bias towards or against a particular gender.

    Many boys and men have a “fear” of women, that may not be externally evident — but shows up strongly when “emotional intimacy” is on the table.

  10. Warren,

    I was wondering, just because this woman started dating other women doesn’t mean that her orientation changed, right? I mean, she may have always been bisexual and just never had the means or ability to express that part of herself.

    Am I off base here?

  11. Warren,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but while this does say something about sexual behavior, I don’t think it necessarily says anything about orientation.

    I don’t think behavior and orienation are the same thing, are they?

  12. P.G.? I meant C.L. for Camille Paglia. Who the heck is P.G.? Proctor & Gamble? Oh well…

  13. That’s a treat – one woman claiming to speak for all lesbians or all women in general. That’s rich – but not new. I’ve seen the religious right use Camille to justify all sorts of things.

    Camille has no science or studies to back up anything she says, but as long as what she says helps out the religious right, they don’t hesitate to use it! Wow

  14. Thank you for that, Minty. I am an old CP fan myself. I can’t believe I forgot about her, in this. Jeez, I have a degree in English, focussed on criticism, studied her and wrote papers on her, and I haven’t even thought of her. Thanks.

    It helps me understand, although I think my fiancee is not interested in thinking about what is going on for her.

  15. I guess the idea is to just forget about the feminism and be a natural lesbian then. That would have gotten P.G. out of her conundrum.

  16. From the same article, this time on gay male attraction:

    Here’s my theory. [The mother] feels a bond with him, he feels a bond with her. The father doesn’t like him as much. The brothers think he’s a sissy, okay? The people in the neighborhood say “sissy!” And early on he learns his feelings go towards the mother. And so manhood, masculinity is something out there, it’s something that is not him. And he loves it.

    From Bruce Benderson’s The Romanian, echoing Camille’s idea of identification with the female, subsequent attraction to the male as Other:

    Sexual desire, I’m convinced, is merely the interplay of social inequities – or should I say dreams about the libidinal possibilities of the Other.

    Earlier I claimed that arousal is just an unconscious sense of discrepancy, a feeling of imbalance. Then desire, or love, must be the servant of that same impression of injustice – a perverse urge to settle the balance.

  17. Here’s a blast from the past, since I know everyone lurrrves Camille Paglia 😛

    “There is no sex-positive lesbianism that excludes response to men. I believe women are naturally bisexual.”

    “And I suddenly realized—the moment a woman becomes a lesbian feminist, she is stuck and stunted in that phase of her development, which is the early adolescent phase of resentment towards men.”

  18. I’m guessing this works both ways, right. If trauma can perhaps cause someone to seek same-sex sex, it could also cause others to seek opposite sex sex – right?

  19. Sounds great, if you have the interest. I am amazed at where support comes from, these days…

  20. Laine,

    I am cautious about giving out my real name etc… for personal reasons. I will give a non discriptive e-mail to Warren that he can give to you…??? Would that work???

  21. It sounds, Mary, like we are actually saying the same thing. I AM the man with the fiancee, by the way — and part of why we are not married is because I knew that what is happening now was coming.

    I would like to discuss this more — you are the only person I have spoken to who has so much in common with my fiancee — but I am feeling bad about hijacking this thread, so…

  22. Laine,

    No, that is not what I am saying. My first post says that I do not like the direction and guidance of the counselor to the first individual.

    My post to the man and his fiance is that – having taken the journey myself is that she has made a statement ( a bold statment) and I am assuming she came to this conclusion over time and has had a lot of thought on it – possibly experience with another woman. No – I don’t think taking the path of finding her “lesbianism” is a best bet. I do think that the man should realize that it is a long journey to self discovery and that this is not about him or them and it is about her. Her choices eventually may be different than what he hopes for.

    That she kept a man around for ten years (without marrying him) is an indicator of her ambivalence. And therapy changes people – she may discover she does like men and does not want to marry him. Her view of men, through therapy will change significantly. Should she work on “loving her current man in a new way” or “finding herself and discovering what she really does like about men” or another scenario “dating men and finding new ways of relating to them” and many other options that she would be limited from experiencing if she keeps a current relationship that is not satisfying. Also, we are only recieving one side of the story.

    I guess, I am saying to the man – let her go and discover herself. Maybe she will come back. He can always try suggesting couples therapy.

    I guess, when it comes to relationships – I am more willing to let others go than hang on – unless a marriage and consummation has occurred. ( This I realize is my personal issue – thank you for making me think about it.)

  23. Mary

    Are you aware that in many cultures where polygamy or harems were acceptable that women were given clitorectomies to keep them from having sexual desire? This persists to this day.

    I think everyone is aware of this.

    Your statements seem to be lacking a real understanding of women and sexuality in current times and historically.

    I’m not sure what you are getting at. What specific assertion was wrong in my post?

  24. Mary, I can see her need to look into herself, on her own, and I didn’t mean to suggest I think that is a bad idea. I get the feeling though, that you think she should go be a lesbian, rather than actually do that personal work — ALONE. Am I reading you right? When I think of her doing that alone, I picture one-on-one time with a professional, and a lot of time WITHOUT an intimate relationship.

    I can’t agree with what I think you are saying (correct me if I read you wrong) for the basic reason that entering into another relationship is NOT delving into her own personal issues, alone. Further, call me old fashioned, but if I had been having trouble acheiving physical intimacy with her for years, and then found it easy with a man, my first thought would not be to leave the woman I have obiously shared thousands of days of happiness with on other levels (as well as varying degrees of physical intimacy). My first thought would be, This is so good. I NEED this. If there is a way I can get to this into my relationship with her, what IS it?

    I wouldn’t stay 10 years with someone I didn’t find highly valuable in my life, and I would like to think she wouldn’t either. I can’t concieve of just tossing the entire relationship without at least checking to see if some personal searching could result in making it as fulfilling as I needed. Are you suggesting otherwise?

  25. Are you aware that in many cultures where polygamy or harems were acceptable that women were given clitorectomies to keep them from having sexual desire? This persists to this day.

    Your statements seem to be lacking a real understanding of women and sexuality in current times and historically.

  26. Mary

    I’m just shaking my head at that last post.

    Which part?

    Men and women are different animals when it comes to sex.

    A built in form of “bisexuality” might have provided a slight evolutionary advantage to females during different periods in human social development.

  27. Men and women are completely different animals when it comes to sex.

    As for Michael Bailey showing that all women have a certain degree of bisexuality…. maybe so. Throughout history the leader class has always taken a disproportionate share of the women. A hundred thousand+ years of primitive “harem” systems might have built this into females in some way. Maybe it isn’t “bisexuality” as much as general arousal by all things sexual. That trait might have provided a slight advantage in a harem or polygamist culture.

  28. Laine,

    Let her go and discover her ife for herself. The journey of self discovery is sometimes long and could leave you frustrated, lonely and angry. It is not about you and her as much as her feelings and needs about her. This is something she needs to do on her own. I think she has made that clear – without you. I am sorry.

    The process of understanding our need for intimacy is a long one – hard for married couples – let alone unmarried couples who have the extra added issue of lesbianism (this means she has been with someone- either emotionally or physically-while being with you).

    I do suggest you get counseling to understand why you did not comunicate more with your fiance. This will go a long ways towards your own healing of your own issues with intimacy and possibly help strengthen your next relationship.

    And as to your question about trauma and being more emotionally available with another woman – I’ve heard many, many such stories in the lesbian community. It is not the only reason women turn to women – but one of many. Counseling would help her discover her needs for intimacy and open up about what she desires and what she avoids. But the outcome of therapy for her might be different than what you want for yourself – from her. ( I know that was an awkwardly phrased sentence but I hope you understand)

    Take care. Please seek professional help because this must be a difficult and painful time for you.

  29. I have a question that I think relates to this post:

    My fiancee had a series of traumatic (and to my knowledge non-sexual) experiences at a young age that left her with serious vulnerability / power issues with men. We have been together to varying degrees for ten years. It has usually been less intimate and less physical than either of us want, although we have almost never discussed this issue. She just returned from a two-month business trip and told me she discovered she is a lesbian, and wants to end our relationship. I realize now that both of us have been starving ourselves for intimacy (which she found easy to acheive with a woman — with us it has been very intermittent / seldom) for years by almost completely ignoring how this issue affects our relationship. At this point I am not sure that the other aspects of our ten year relationship / 20 year shared history / my feelings / our future plans matter to her as much as easily attained intimacy does, but I am hoping she will agree to seek — in joint / individual counseling — a way to make it possible for us to infuse our own relationship with the intimacy we crave, before ending our relationship and beginning one with a woman.

    In reality, my heart is in tatters, I feel like my chest is exploding, and my friends won’t let me out of their sight for worry — I REALLY pulled my act together for the time it took to write this — and that act is starting to come apart… What I am looking for is information on just what kind of counseling we should look for, if she is willing: Is this a marriage & family issue, a sexual identity issue, does the early trauma suggest the need for some more traditional form of therapy?..

  30. Well… if you believe what’s-his-name from Northwestern University (Bailey -, all women have a bisexual sexual response – built in. I think for women, unlike men, the greater response is an emotional one rather than one which is overtly sexual. Thus when that emotional state is sexually wounded by/with respect to one sex/gender, the other takes precedence both emotionally and in sexual expression.

    I have never been sure about the reasoning behind my emotional desires in some relationships I have had with women. Was it real or was it because I reasoned that this was supposed to be the way it was from family, religion and society? I’ve always gotten along well with women, to the extent of sometimes feeling like ‘one of the girls.’

    I certainly had some affection for the only woman with whom I had a relationship of any length and as Diamond puts it, I developed some “novel sexual desires” – as did she. Novel in that case is perhaps better described as queer; there was nothing much “straight” about our sexual relationship if the emotional one was; and there wasn’t much straight about her either (seems my type in women were lesbians or bisexuals).

    But you can force something that strange (queer) to either person only so much. Even if both sexual and emotional sides somewhat work, they don’t create passion. Whatever passion is, whatever unity of mind and body it may represent, I have only experienced real passion (heart?) with another man.

    Where is her passion? Or “follow the path with a heart” (The Teachings of Don Juan).

  31. I seriously doubt that this speaks to male homosexuality at all. While there are undoubtedly some lesbians who are suspicious or even hostile to men, I’ve not seen that gay men have anything but a positive interaction with women.

    As for those instances of women who are sexually involved with other women out of some negative impression of men (as opposed to having a negative impression resulting otherwise), I suppose that this could be overcome through therapy.

    However, I think we are talking about exceptions rather than the rule.

    And I seriously doubt that there is any comparable therapy that could apply to men. But, then again, I believe women’s sexuality to be more fluid than men.

  32. Brian — You of course raise a good point about trauma as a general theory of sexual orientation. I do wonder though about flexibility of sexual orientation for some persons in response to trauma.

  33. No, I don’t think it does. I think it says something about this woman’s daughter. What about the scores of people who were not raped, abused, or neglected who are still gay? This speaks to the trauma of rape, not to the nature of sexual orientation.

    I feel for the daughter’s pain and I pray that she finds comfort.

  34. I’m not so sure I like the advice and direction of the counselor but the idea of “choosing” to be with a woman is very valid. I have known women who did just that for similar reasons – bad experience with men or generalized fear/hatred/mistrust of men. And since our culture os now more accepting of homosexuality, it can be a viable option – albeit interim.

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