A few years ago, a patient came to see me who told me a story unlike anything I had ever heard before.
The patient, in her mid-40s, was very sexual. Indeed, sex had always been very important to her.
As a young woman she went to an all-girl college and while initially not sure she had made the right choice, quickly adapted and promptly fell in love with a girl down the hall in her dorm. A brief but torrid love affair with the woman made her decide she was a lesbian, and she immediately told her parents. More short affairs with women followed.
By the time college ended, the patient told me, the blush of excitement over sex with women had faded and she proceeded to go to graduate school where she met her future husband.
She had two children with her husband and was happy for at least a decade with the sex and marriage. But as time passed, she started to become bored in her relationship with her husband and while being sexual was still very important to her, she no longer found her husband attractive.
Enter the next phase of her life, in which she started to lust for her best girlfriend. As she was trying to figure out what to do with her newfound passion for her girlfriend, she also started to doubt the need for her marriage to continue.
Her husband figured out his wife was having fantasies about her girlfriend and promptly took himself and his wife to a marriage therapist.
The therapist told the couple that women had much more of a fluid perspective on sexuality than men. According to the therapist and to much biological and psychological research on sexuality, women don’t need to identify themselves as straight, lesbian or bisexual. Unlike men, many women just move between loving a man or a woman with ease. Gender is a lot less important to some women than the person.
Men instead are very much connected to one type of sexuality throughout their lives. It usually takes specific genetic and environmental input to get men to determine their gender perception, which then rarely changes.
The patient I was telling you about was unique, not only because she perceived her sexuality as fluid, but also because she was so clear about it and lived her life without fear of repercussions or disapproval from her peer group. As she aged she decided to start another sexual relationship with another man. That affair was so strong and so timely that eventually the man moved in with her and her husband, raising the kids as an extended albeit unconventional family.
The end of this story is a lot happier than many others I know in which too many men and women give up their sexuality and age lonely and sad.
Both men seemed OK with the arrangement, and my patient described a very gratifying, sex-filled life with the two men she loved dearly.
As she aged, she didn’t go back to love affairs with women but always had close and very loving though asexual relationships with the women in her life.
This woman’s story may be strange to you, but there is a lot of research going on looking at sexual fluidity and what it means and how it affects our constantly evolving culture.
Maybe the lesson here is that love and lust are about people, not about labels – and that can only be a good thing.
For more information, email Dr. Erika at Erika@drerika.com.