Most of the straight spouses who visit this site are women whose husbands have become involved with another man. Their challenges have become somewhat familiar. But a new question is raised in this recent letter.
My wife of 20 years recently had an affair with another woman and after separating for a couple of months has returned at my urging to seek couples therapy. I’ve been reading a lot about sexual fluidity in women and that their preferences can switch back and forth, yet it’s very difficult to find any stories where that has actually happened. I know right now that my wife has no feelings of intimacy towards me. She says she does not know if she’s gay or straight, but right now if I had to label her I would say she is gay. However we get along very well, communicate openly and do love each other. We both hope that at some point her sexual preferences may evolve so that we can be intimate again. It’s hard to find stories about women who were gay, had no interest in men, and then became interested and lived happily married straight lives. I have found a few, but it occurs to me that if this happened to you, you certainly wouldn’t want to advertise it. I’m guessing that most women in my wife’s position would stay in the closet if her feelings evolved and she became sexually attracted to men again. My question for you is do you believe in sexual fluidity in women and how often do you see cases where a gay wife of a straight man has here sexual preferences evolve to where she can again have intimate relations with her husband? I need to know if we are both just grasping at straws or there is a possibility that her sexual preferences can change again.
A foundational assumption in most research on human sexuality is that sexual orientation is inborn and fixed--stable from birth to death. Some recent studies have begun to raise questions about changing patterns of same-sex and other-sex behavior, particularly among women.
Switching sexual identification is disproportionately prevalent in women, according to Lisa M. Diamond, author of Sexual Fluidity (Harvard University Press, 2008). Same-sex or other-sex attraction may be context-dependent--fluid rather than fixed, as these women move through different stages of life and changing social groups. A case in point is actress Anne Heche, who partnered with lesbian comedian Ellen De Generes, having had no previous same-sex relationship. That relationship ended after two years and Anne then married a man. Another well known example is feminist folk singer, Holly Near, who fell in love with a man after decades as an open lesbian. Current slang also reflects changing patterns of same-sex and other-sex behavior: LUG (lesbian until graduation), has-bian and heteroflexibility.
Variation in women’s erotic feelings is, as yet, poorly understood. According to Diamond, previous studies that concluded that sexual orientation is absolutely fixed examined male experience which may also be culturally specific. In her book, first person accounts tracking 100 women from adolescence into adulthood offer a different possibility. Sexual fluidity is succinctly defined in the title of Chapter 6: “Attractions to “The Person, Not the Gender.” Though no firm conclusions can be reached from a relatively small sample, Diamond raises provocative questions.
My correspondent on this issue asked for guidance on the dilemma he and his wife face. Basically, his question is whether lasting reconciliation is possible. Perhaps you have experience that could be useful. Please post a comment if you have relevant insights.