Mar 26

“Kissing Jessica Stein”: A Film That Depicts Sexual Fluidity

One film I can recommend that depicts themes regarding sexual fluidity (see yesterday’s post on this topic) is romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein (2001). As aptly described by IMDB: “A woman searching for the perfect man instead discovers the perfect woman.”

Although neither has been sexually involved with a woman previously, Helen (Heather Juergensen) identifies as bisexual and is the more adventurous one, while the previously “straight” Jessica (Jennifer Westfeldt) faces more challenges as their relationship progresses.

You might think therapy would help Jessica—but here’s a salient and telling snippet related to her use of it:

Helen: What does your therapist say about all of this?

Jessica: Oh, I could never tell my therapist.

Helen: Why not?

Jessica: Because it’s private.

Watch the Kissing Jessica Stein trailer below:

A significant snag along the way for Jessica is her fear of telling her mom (Tovah Feldshuh) whom it is that she’s dating. One of the highlights of the movie, actually, is the kind of surprising way her mom does deal with it.

One of the lowlights (in terms of emotional response) for many is the realization by Helen that the relationship comes to mean different things to each of the two women. After Ellen reviewer Sarah Warn posits that viewers who accept sexual fluidity as a valid phenomenon will perceive this turning point differently than others.

From Wikipedia: “In the book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and DesireLisa M. Diamond cites the film as a notable example of female sexual fluidity in popular culture, writing that it “depicts a lesbian becoming involved with a man, contrary to the more widespread depictions of heterosexual women becoming involved in same-sex relationships’.”

On the other hand, not everyone can tolerate the fluidity. As one of the film’s creators, Heather Juergensen, has stated (Women’s ENews), “On the extreme right and the extreme left there seems to be kind of a ‘gay means this and straight means this,’” Juergensen says. “There’s less of an acceptance of fluidity certainly and even just exploring. It might be that the questioning aspect of that community is the ‘new gay,’ if you will–the new oppressed sub-segment.”

Mar 25

“Sexual Fluidity” By Lisa Diamond: New Thoughts About Identity

It would be an amazing thing if a thirteen year old went into health class was told, “you are at the beginning of an incredible journey. I’m going to give you some tools and strategies for figuring out what you want and how to get it. But you are in the beginning of an adventure and it’s going to be great!” That would be a really profound transformation. Lisa Diamond, author of Sexual Fluidity

Is sexual fluidity pertinent to your life?  Might be, particularly if you’re female.

Psychology professor Lisa M. Diamond, PhD, has researched and written the book on this topic. It’s called Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire (2008). “Probably the most surprising finding of the study was how often women changed the way that they thought about their sexual identity over time,” she told Big Think. Rather than stability of identity, the norm was changeability of identity, often back and forth.

Sexuality counselor Ian Kerner lists the three main characteristics Diamond says are part of sexual fluidity:

– Non-exclusivity in attractions: can find either gender sexually attractive
– Changes in attractions: can suddenly find a man or woman sexually attractive after having been in a long-term relationship with the other
– Attraction to the person, not the gender

Although women aren’t alone in this, men are thought to have less of this capacity. More research is needed on this, though.

A basic breakdown of her argument, as described by the book publisher:

…(F)or some women, love and desire are not rigidly heterosexual or homosexual but fluid, changing as women move through the stages of life, various social groups, and, most important, different love relationships. This perspective clashes with traditional views of sexual orientation as a stable and fixed trait. But that view is based on research conducted almost entirely on men. Diamond is the first to study a large group of women over time. She has tracked one hundred women for more than ten years as they have emerged from adolescence into adulthood. She summarizes their experiences and reviews research ranging from the psychology of love to the biology of sex differences. 

Publishers Weekly notes that Diamond admits her sample wasn’t fully representative. This doesn’t mean, though, that her findings lack substance.

Sexual fluidity does not equal bisexuality, though there can be overlap. Diamond doesn’t even use the word “bisexual” because of the difficulty defining it in a way that is widely accepted and understood. She uses instead the term “non-exclusive attractions.”

It’s important to note here that sexual identity is a self-defined construct. Just as there are those who would identify as heterosexual or homosexual non-fluidly, there are those who would identify as bisexual non-fluidly. Alternatively, as was found by Diamond, many people with any of these three orientations might find themselves on the fluid spectrum.

There are so many possibilities. So, why label at all? Why not just be open to the journey? This is a question younger people in general are more likely to ask than older ones. At least figuratively speaking, give them boxes to check and they’ll often ignore them, make up their own, or show disdain.

Ritch C. Savin-Williams, author of The New Gay Teenager: “Diamond challenges both traditionalists and radicals—if you want to understand female sexuality, listen to what women say.”

Or watch a current film about sexual fluidity, Kissing Jessica Stein.