Sexual orientation

Your recent post “Once Upon a Time When I was a lesbian…” makes me want to ask a follow up question.

There seems to be a lot of good information that suggests sexual preference is deeply rooted, hard wired, if you will. In fact, many reputable researchers and therapists make strong cases that this doesn’t typically change over time, ie hetero flipping to lesbian, though bisexual is often recognized, of course.

But your anecdote does not seem to suggest bisexual, at least the way you described it in that post. It sounds more like changing…especially since you describe not just dabbling in men, then trying women and liking it, but then going back to men, apparently exclusively?

I would be fascinated to hear your thoughts.


I love this question, greg. Thank you for it.

I love it because it’s complex, and I had so much trouble reconciling ‘who I wanted to be’ with ‘what I felt’: in that I imagine a lot of people struggle.

It never occurred to me that I was a lesbian before her. I wasn’t conflicted or confused, I wasn’t secretly attracted to girls. But on reflection, I wasn’t really attracted to boys either. I went out with boys because they asked me and it was fun and that was what you did, but I didn’t ever feel some wild mad lustful attraction for any of them.

Having said that, the first time I came with another person I was 17, I think. It was with a boyfriend (before I was a lesbian :P), and it came out of a discussion (I remember nothing about the actual discussion but I imagine it was a difficult one) where he asked if I had ever come with him and I said no, never. He was shocked and dismayed by that (I never faked it, so I guess he just assumed: we were young). And he made it his mission to make me come with his mouth (we were not having PIV sex), and I did. Which was a revelation for me and made him feel like king of the world.

So to all intents and purposes, I was pretty much on track for a typical straight girl figuring herself out.

I first had an inkling that there was something special about my girlfriend when I felt jealous that my bestie got to spend time with her without me. I had never felt jealous before then. EVER. Then I drunkenly pashed her at a party some time after that and don’t remember it, but obviously, I felt something and the alcohol made me brave.

What I felt with her was intense and all my experience with boys seemed like some lacklustre ‘going through the motions’ by comparison. All of the lust and passion and jealousy and obsession and crazy love that you hear about hit me with her.

Because I was so immersed in her and it was so full-on and I’d never experience anything close to that before, I felt like something ‘clicked’ and that thing was ‘I’m a lesbian’. It explained a lot for me.

Then we split up.

When I couldn’t work up any interest in other women in the aftermath despite trying REALLY hard, I was really confused about ‘why not’.

And I think no small part of this was that I wasn’t really attractive to women that I liked. My girlfriend was very much like me — narcissistically, we were almost mirror images of each other. And women who were like me were mostly not attracted to women like me.

I’m not sure how to explain it, but I was certainly told by one woman I liked that I wasn’t butch enough and the very butch women who liked me weren’t my type. I wasn’t interested in the butch/femme dichotomy and the few women outside of that paradigm and with whom there was an initial mutual attraction ended up not really sparking my interest. In short, I was floundering, and that delayed my realisation that women in general just weren’t ‘doing it’ for me.

So I tried and tried and tried and there was nothing there.

I started going out with men because they were attractive, expressing interest, and easily accessible. They were enthusiastic and fun, and my god, after being cloistered in the lesbian community, I was astounded at how the pool was just so much bigger. And frankly, I was an attractive woman and men were crazy about me (vs lesbians who were ambivalent for the most part): I could have my pick of them, and I enjoyed that a lot.

I thought for a long time, even after I turned to men, that I was bisexual.

I thought that if the right woman came along, I was open to it. But obviously, the heterosexual pool is a lot bigger and it’s easier, so I swam pretty much exclusively in that for a long time. And after years of swimming in it and not being tempted to step out of it, I figured that identifying as bisexual was misleading. So I started identifying as straight.

I’d love to say I was bisexual or pansexual and that the potential to be involved with someone who wasn’t male-identified existed in me. And that might be true, but when your experience has you behaving like a straight woman for the majority of your life, and you never meet anyone who tempts you to step outside of that, at some point, you have to say that you’re straight.

There is something about male energy and ‘otherness’ that really appeals to me. It’s hard to define, but there is a power in being female with a male that isn’t there for me with women. I doubt that this was how I thought of it when I was struggling with who I was, but I certainly feel it now.

I never say never, and my goodness, there was an incredibly fit and fabulous androgynous looking woman at Crossfit who I’m pretty sure is a lesbian (gaydar, I haz it): I couldn’t stop looking at her and IF she was to ask me out, I’d say yes in a shot. So I’m not completely closed to it, but my goodness the possibility is so very small, it’s statistically insignificant.

So, the way I think of my sexuality is that I’m straight. That there was something about HER that hit every button I had, and realistically, I think she was ‘it’ for me. I can’t imagine finding that again.

So in terms of defining my sexuality and it being hard wired, I think it’s less that my sexuality changed and more that there are certain people who inspire me to want to be with them, and that labels really just describe the *likelihood* of that happening.

In THEORY, I’m at least bisexual, but I call myself straight because the likelihood of meeting a woman I would want to get involved with is infinitesimal.

To me, there is a point of self awareness where describing myself as bisexual or pansexual or some other open label when my experience hasn’t born that out is kind of delusional. But I don’t think my sexuality has actually changed, I just think that I struck someone who inspired me to step out of my primary orientation. That possibility still exists, but I don’t ratify that improbability with a label.

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  1. My understanding is that women are (on average) more sexually flexible than men. Male orientation almost never changes, and males are unlikely to be turned on by porn outside their orientation (physically: Female orientation sometimes does, and curiouser and curiouser, females are likely to be aroused by any sort of porn, including, ahem, animals (again, physically:

    in other words, your experience is not unexpected, according to what I’ve heard.

    1. I’m skeptical about those claims, not least because they feed into the male fantasy that all women are possible bisexuals (because… hot!) and support the strict gender box of male sexuality (because… eww!).

      I also think that sexuality is about more than what makes your genitals respond.

      I’d be interested if there are any studies to support what you’ve heard though (beyond the small scale ‘what makes people’s genitals respond’ studies I mean: I do seem to recall seeing one of those).

      Oh! I’ve just been given access to the biggest sex study ever done (Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships: 20K people…), duh! *goes to look*


    2. I haven’t had a really close look, but the study (20k people) seems to support the idea that women experiment more.

      “Reporting ever having same-sex experience was more common in women (13.5%) than in men (6.5%”

      “…among heterosexually identified people, ~2% of men and 6% of women reported at least one lifetime same-sex partner” (note ‘lifetime’ there means ‘in their lifetime’).

      Also, they do this study every ten years and they reported that “For women but not men, there was a significant increase in the proportion reporting same-sex experience since 2001-02.”

      Homosexual experience and recent homosexual encounters: the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships.



  2. That really is interesting, thanks for sharing! It makes sexual orientation sound far more complex (and interesting or course) than how it is often thought of.

    Perhaps there are factors independent of gender, factors that could include aspects of personality for example, that would draw a person to another, even though the gender would normally be considered not a good fit for that particular person.

    There is a lot to ponder in this post. Your experience is, I think, a valuable perspective when having dialogue about sexual preferences.

    I need more time to think about this.


    1. “Perhaps there are factors independent of gender, factors that could include aspects of personality for example, that would draw a person to another, even though the gender would normally be considered not a good fit for that particular person.”

      Absolutely. That elusive ‘chemistry’. If I found someone compelling, I don’t think gender would matter but there is a spark I have found much more often with men than I ever did with women (that ‘male energy’ I mentioned, for want of a better description). I think it could be argued that that’s just a numbers game, I really don’t know.

      I like the *idea* that I’m attracted to ‘a person’ regardless of gender (i.e. pansexual) and I guess I could claim that based on my history, but since I haven’t exercised that preference beyond men in 25 years, and it seems unlikely I’ll do so any time soon, it feels like a lie. At some point ‘what I might do theoretically’ stops holding weight.

      It doesn’t matter much EXCEPT for the label I stick on myself on dating sites: I don’t want to mislead anyone or waste anyone’s time so identifying as straight makes sense to me.


      1. ” but since I haven’t exercised that preference beyond men in 25 years, and it seems unlikely I’ll do so any time soon, it feels like a lie. ”

        *runs off to her room sobbing*
        How could you Ferns how COULD you?
        Only kidding… I mean me run ? really?

      2. Labels are sometimes useful tools, but easily become way to important and rigid. Recognizing their limitations, as your post clearly does, is a good thing.


        1. True. I think labels are useful for starting a discussion (vs being taken as read *instead* of a discussion).

          But then again, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…:P


  3. Very interesting! I experimented with women, trans people, and crossdressers after I found kink. However, I also ended up feeling like labeling myself as anything other than “straight” is a lie. (Though the line in the sand for me seems to be a functional penis, so a crossdresser or trans woman might still be possible for me.) It was a very experimental time in my life just in general. But a lot of that just didn’t bear fruit. So I now consider myself straight.

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