When women leave men for women: Sexual fluidity

CNN reproduces an Oprah article on sexual fluidity that is of interest.
Here is the money:

Over the past several decades, scientists have struggled in fits and starts to get a handle on sexual orientation. Born or bred? Can it change during one’s lifetime?
A handful of studies in the 1990s, most of them focused on men, suggested that homosexuality is hardwired. In one study, researchers linked DNA markers in the Xq28 region of the X chromosome to gay males. But a subsequent larger study failed to replicate the results, leaving the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association to speculate that sexual orientation probably has multiple causes, including environmental, cognitive, and biological factors.
Today, however, a new line of research is beginning to approach sexual orientation as much less fixed than previously thought, especially when it comes to women. The idea that human sexuality forms a continuum has been around since 1948, when Alfred Kinsey introduced his famous seven-point scale, with zero representing complete heterosexuality, 7 signifying complete homosexuality, and bisexuality in the middle, where many of the men and women he interviewed fell.
The new buzz phrase coming out of contemporary studies is “sexual fluidity.”
“People always ask me if this research means everyone is bisexual. No, it doesn’t,” says Lisa Diamond, Ph.D, associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah and author of the 2008 book “Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire.”
“Fluidity represents a capacity to respond erotically in unexpected ways due to particular situations or relationships. It doesn’t appear to be something a woman can control.”
Furthermore, studies indicate that it’s more prevalent in women than in men, according to Bonnie Zylbergold, assistant editor of American Sexuality, an online magazine.
In a 2004 landmark study at Northwestern University, the results were eye-opening. During the experiment, the female subjects became sexually aroused when they viewed heterosexual as well as lesbian erotic films. This was true for both gay and straight women.
Among the male subjects, however, the straight men were turned on only by erotic films with women, the gay ones by those with men.
“We found that women’s sexual desire is less rigidly directed toward a particular sex, as compared with men’s, and it’s more changeable over time,” says the study’s senior researcher, J. Michael Bailey, Ph.D. “These findings likely represent a fundamental difference between men’s and women’s brains.”
This idea, that the libido can wander back and forth between genders, Diamond admits, may be threatening and confusing to those with conventional beliefs about sexual orientation.
But when the women she’s interviewed explain their feelings, it doesn’t sound so wild. Many of them say, for example, they are attracted to the person, and not the gender — moved by traits like kindness, intelligence, and humor, which could apply to a man or a woman.
Most of all, they long for an emotional connection. And if that comes by way of a female instead of a male, the thrill may override whatever heterosexual orientation they had.

It is so old skool to talk about sexual orientation change without bringing male-female differences into the conversation. Advocates who use females to talk about male sexuality and vice versa should be fined and sent to the penalty box. It is also old skool to talk about sexual orientation like it was one experience for all people. Just because some people experience change doesn’t mean all people can (in fact, most apparently don’t) and just because some people experience change doesn’t mean it occurs because of therapy, affect-focused or otherwise.

Lisa Diamond: NARTH distorts my research

Today’s Salt Lake City Tribune published an article which brings the private feud between University of Utah professor Lisa Diamond and the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) into public view. Diamond went on camera for Wayne Besen in October to complain about NARTH’s use of her research but this article brings the dispute out of the advocacy realm and into the Salt Lake City community. An added significance of the SLC Tribune raising this issue is the presence of NARTH’s Dean Byrd and Dave Pruden in Salt Lake City.
The article begins:

A national group that advocates “treatment” of homosexuality is being criticized for allegedly distorting a Utah researcher’s work to advance the theory that people choose their sexual orientation – a controversial notion rejected by mainstream psychology.

To be sure, at least one NARTH document I have reviewed does use Diamond’s research to mislead readers, but I do not think NARTH as an organization promotes the idea that sexual orientation is a conscious choice. Rather, the reparative notion is that same-sex attraction derives from faulty parenting and not conscious choice.
I suspect the position paper on female homosexuality I critiqued is at issue when reporter Brian Maffly writes:

Lisa Diamond, a University of Utah psychologist whose sexual identity studies suggest a degree of “fluidity” in the sexual preferences of women, said in an interview Tuesday that the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, misrepresents her findings. Position papers, some penned by NARTH president A. Dean Byrd, an adjunct professor in the U.’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, point to Diamond’s research as evidence that gays’ sexual orientation can be straightened out through treatment – much to Diamond’s dismay.

The NARTH position paper on female homosexuality says this about Diamond’s work in a section on the “Fluidity of Homosexuality Attraction.”

These findings support the research of Dr. Lisa Diamond who concluded, “Sexual identity was far from fixed in women who aren’t exclusively heterosexual.” After following 80 non-heterosexual young women (lesbian, bisexual and unlabeled) over a two-year period, Dr. Diamond found that half of the women “reported multiple changes in sexual identity, and nearly one fourth of lesbians pursued sexual contact with men.”

The NARTH author confuses matters by first saying,

As mentioned, many researchers attest to the reality of female sexual fluidity. This does not directly translate into proof that any woman can easily change or alter her same sex attraction.

However, following the Diamond reference is a statement that twists the concept of spontaneous sexual fluidity for some women in a way that has Diamond upset.

The degree to which a woman can or will experience change will be uniquely determined based on her history and motivation to do so.

This is a non-sequitur. While fluidity has been described over time by research participants, the cause for the fluidity is an open question. The research identified by the NARTH “fact sheet” does not allow this conclusion. We have no idea for any given woman why change occurs. Diamond correctly criticizes NARTH for misusing her work in this way. Maffly continues,

Diamond, who has never met [NARTH president Dean] Byrd, said in an interview that NARTH “cherry picks” findings or references from her work that appear to support their position.

NARTH’s responds as has become typical. They claim they are just interpreting the data differently.

[NARTH founder and past-president, Joe] Nicolosi did not respond to an interview request and Byrd claimed he did not know why Diamond, a fellow U. faculty member, took umbrage with NARTH’s citation of her work.
“NARTH’s view is that people can adapt any way they want and there is freedom of choice,” Byrd says. “If it says ‘fluidity’ it says ‘fluidity.’ How you interpret it is something else.”

The reporter Maffly can be forgiven for his opening lines about NARTH promoting choice given Byrd’s way of discussing the matter. I suspect Byrd means choice of behaviors. Whatever he means by freedom to choose, he is wrong to say there is no guidance from Diamond’s research about how to interpret ‘fluidity.’ A review of her most recent book, Sexual Fluidity, makes clear that some of the women retained their same-sex attraction while discovering opposite-sex attraction. Some women actively fought the change of attraction but resigned themselves to heterosexuality. Her work does not support the statement about change being associated with history or motivation.
UPDATE – 8/31/09: The Salt Lake City Tribune article has been archived and is not available at that link now. Here is a newswire article on the same topic. A UPI story is for some reason archived on this Moldova gateway.
Also, here is an example where NARTH members misused Michael Bailey’s research.