Census-data analysis from UCLA’s Williams Institute found that 36 percent of women in their 40s with same-sex partners had previously been married to men. That percentage only seems to grow with age. What’s going on? More magazine has an interesting piece regarding the apparent fluidity of women’s sexuality:
Some women do feel as if they’ve been struck by lightning, says Joanne Fleisher, 64, a clinical social worker in Philadelphia. A late-blooming lesbian, she now moderates an Internet message board, Ask Joanne (at lavendervisions.com), for married women grappling with their sexuality.
Others say they had some lesbian feelings earlier in life but repressed them, only to find them suddenly coming back much stronger at midlife. But it’s impossible to state exactly how many women are having any version of this epiphany.
With no comprehensive research to go by, experts can go only so far in explaining how or why an apparently straight woman might feel lesbian urges at midlife.
“There’s a general recognition in the psychology and public health literature that women are much more likely to refer to themselves as bisexual than men are,” Gates says. Eli Coleman, director of the human sexuality program at the University of Minnesota Medical School, has studied both men and women who acknowledged a same-sex attraction during marriage.
“Almost 100 percent of the men were aware of their feelings before they got married,” Coleman says. “Many women, though, are unaware of same-sex attraction until they’re much older.”
He attributes this to several factors: “Women marry at an earlier age, before awareness might take place, and they may be more scripted by societal roles.”
Female desire, Coleman adds, is determined more “by emotional and relationship factors.” Men, he says bluntly, are “much more visually motivated.”
Could hormonal changes play a role? No studies have indicated that so far, Coleman says, but age does seem to be a factor: “The average time for this kind of crisis is somewhere in the late 30s to 40s. At midlife, you’re more likely to be reevaluating what you want.”