Women's sexual identities can be more evolving and changeable than the labels often used to define these identities, said Ellen Schecter, PhD, in a symposium on bisexuality at APA's 2004 Annual Convention in Honolulu.
Schecter, of the Fielding Graduate Institute, presented results from a qualitative study in which she conducted in-depth interviews with 11 women who had identified as lesbians for more than 10 years, but who after age 30 were now in intimate relationships with men lasting at least a year. When the women's more recent sexual experience with men varied from how they had viewed their own sexual identity in the past, the women reconstructed their identity in various ways: Some lesbian-identified women later said they were bisexual, while others maintained their lesbian identity or preferred mixed identities, and still others rejected any label.
Schecter said the findings suggest using a new circular, interconnected model to explain how women might construct sexual identity: Women apply sexual identity meanings to themselves to best fit their experiences. Then, as they have more sexual experiences, the meanings behind those identities may possibly change and lead women to adopt new identities or reject such labels altogether, Schecter added.
"The findings of this study place personal meaning at the center of sexual identity construction," she said. "We need to continue expanding our understanding of sexual identity beyond the labels, lest we overlook the complexity of sexual identity."
Chaired by Ron C. Fox, PhD, of Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco, the symposium featured additional research by Robin Hoburg, PhD, a research associate in the department of psychology at the University of Connecticut; Konjit Page, a student at Boston College; and University of Memphis student Michael Bricker and his colleagues.