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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Fluidity in attractions and behaviors among same-sex attracted women has been well-documented, suggesting the appropriateness of dynamical systems modeling of these phenomena over time. As dynamical systems modeling offer an approach to explaining the patterns of complex phenomena, it may be apt for explaining variability in female same-sex sexuality. The present research is the first application of this analytical approach to such data.

Thus, modeling individual differences in the variability of attractions and behaviors of sexual minority women may be critical to furthering our understanding of female same-sex sexuality and human sexual orientation more broadly. However, recent research with diverse populations of sexual minority persons i.

Traditional models have tended to suggest sexual orientation is innate, biologically driven, and stable over time. Findings from studies specifically exploring female same-sex sexuality consistently demonstrate poor fit with conventional models, since women are more likely than men to report bisexuality i.

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In effect, developing and testing systematic models of female same-sex sexuality have proven complicated. Dynamical systems analysis offers a suitable approach to analyzing extant longitudinal data regarding female same-sex sexuality e. Numerous studies have demonstrated that female same-sex sexuality is characterized by greater fluidity than is male same-sex sexuality—meaning that it is particularly sensitive to situational, interpersonal, and contextual factors Baumeister, ; Diamond, b; Peplau, Women, more so than men, often highlight the roles of choice, circumstance, and chance in influencing their sexual orientation and identity Golden, In fact, some women experience several transitions in sexual identity as a result of changes in relationships, attractions, and experiences Diamond, a Lastly, women often engage in sexual behavior that may seem counterintuitive given their reported attractions and identities e.

Thus, studies of female sexuality have emerged as demonstrating it to be unique from male sexuality in several ways, particularly as characterized by its fluidity. The patterns of same-sex sexuality for some women fit rather well with more traditional models of sexual orientation, since some women report nearly exclusive and stable attractions toward and behaviors with members of the same-sex, identify consistently over time as lesbian, and describe their sexuality as something intrinsic that is impervious to conscious control Diamond,c ; Golden, Such variability among women makes it particularly important to identify the underlying mechanisms and dynamics of female sexual fluidity.

Dynamical systems models are ideal to further our understanding of female same-sex sexuality, since these models focus on describing dynamics of underlying variables in systems and how nonlinear changes in experience and behavior occur over time. Furthermore, because sexual attractions and behaviors involve dynamic and complex interactions among biological e. Dynamical systems models attempt to explain the order and patterning of complex physical phenomena in the natural world e.

The specific contribution of a dynamical systems approach is that it would treat change over time as a fundamental characteristic of the system, rather than an atypical aberration. One particularly important contribution of the dynamical systems approach is its capacity to reconcile both stability and change. Over time, synergistic interactions between these propelling and constraining influences tend to channel individuals in regular, albeit flexible, trajectories.

Dynamical systems models are ideally suited to modeling such interactions and representing the co-occurrence of global stability of sexual orientation combined with local variability in attractions and behaviors. For instance, lesbian women have been found to report greater attractions to women than do bisexual women, but lesbian women are often not exclusively attracted to women e. For reasons such as this, there continues to be debate about the distinction between lesbian and bisexual women.

As a result, there remain questions about how fluidity operates among women with different self-ascribed sexual identities. Although research has examined the amount of same-sex and other-sex attractions and behaviors reported by women with different identities, no study to our knowledge has examined whether women in these different groups might also be distinguished by patterns of dynamic variability in their attractions. Similarly, perhaps the difference between bisexual and fluid women who otherwise appear quite similar given that they both report sexual attractions to both men and women has to do with the regularity of their pattern of attractions over time.

Thus, dynamical systems models could help to address whether the distinction between lesbian and bisexual women—and between bisexual and fluid women—is one of degree or kind. The present study provides the first empirical application of dynamical systems modeling to data on within-person variability in this case, day-to-day change over a day period in female same-sex sexuality.

While it must be acknowledged that 21 days is a relatively short span of time, we believe that our data will be useful in providing a starting point to examine the utility of a dynamical systems approach for studying female same-sex sexuality. GLLA offers a method of estimating first and second order derivatives and separating these time-dependent components of the data from time-independent components.

Once GLLA estimates of first and second derivatives are obtained, a differential equation can be used to test the relationship between sexual desire and its derivatives. In this case, displacement x t is the value of the attractions, behaviors, or other dependent variable measured each day and centered at equilibrium.

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Acceleration describes how the rate of change in the variable the velocity is changing over time. Statistical power has two sources in this GLLA modeling: within-person reliability of estimation of the self-regulation parameters and between-persons reliability of estimation of individual differences in those parameters. The stiffness parameter is related to the displacement term in the equation above and relates to how a self-regulating system responds to being at some displacement i.

When some external event or force changes the system such that it has been moved away from its equilibrium, the self-regulating process tends to accelerate back towards its equilibrium. The greater the stiffness in the system, the faster the system would tend to oscillate around its equilibrium. It is reasonable that a woman would regulate so as to maintain attractions and behaviors within some comfortable range of an equilibrium. But also, it is reasonable that a woman might not want to change too rapidly. Damping is related to the velocity term in the equation above and is the part of the self-regulation that avoids changing too rapidly.

When day-to-day change is high, this damping part of self-regulation acts to slow the change down. In this sample, damping could reflect social influences that constrain an individual from exhibiting too much day-to-day change in particular attractions or behaviors. Of course, there may be individual differences in both stiffness and damping—not all women would be expected to self-regulate in the same way.

Using GLLA, we used one model to test three specific hypotheses that could explain three different types of meaningful variability in day-to-day sexual attractions and behaviors. The first hypothesis represents the presumption that all women are fundamentally bisexual and that their situational circumstances and opportunities determine whether they end up having more same- or other-sex attractions and behavior. One can imagine that each woman possesses a single point attractor —akin to an equilibrium point somewhere between exclusive same-sex and exclusive other-sex attractions or behaviors.

Although her attractions will tend to gravitate toward this bisexual homeostatic midpoint over long stretches of time, on a day-to-day basis her sexual desires and behaviors can swing quite far from this midpoint toward same-sex or other-sex attractions and then back toward it like a pendulum.

In dynamical systems terminology, this first hypothesis describes a damped linear oscillator model, where variability in both directions is determined by the parameters of stiffness and damping. Linear in this case refers to the fact that the differential equation describing the model is a linear combination of variables even though the resulting pattern of behavior may follow a nonlinear trajectory. This first hypothesis may best fit the patterns of consistent bisexual women.

If this model were to fit the data for all women in this sample, it could suggest that all women may be bisexual in attractions and behaviors. Alternatively, if lesbian or heterosexual orientations exist, then this damped linear oscillation model should only fit bisexual women in the sample.

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However, our second hypothesis describes a model using the same differential equation for a damped linear oscillation model, but with an unstable equilibrium midway point rather than a stable homeostatic midpoint described for the first hypothesis.

This unstable equilibrium point is produced by a point repellerin contrast to a point attractor as in the first hypothesis. With a point repelleran individual would be inclined more toward either same-sex or other-sex desires or behaviors over time, depending on initial conditions. This second hypothesis would be supported when both stiffness and damping in the linear oscillation model are positive in value and may best fit the patterns of consistent lesbian women. If lesbian women do, in fact, have core sexual orientations notwithstanding the capacity for variability outside of that range from time to timethen this model should best fit the lesbian women in the sample.

If heterosexual women were included in this sample, this second hypothesis would also be expected to best fit their patterns of attractions and behaviors. Yet, a third hypothesis described by a nonlinear oscillation model in dynamical systems is also possible. This involves two point attractors and two stable outcomes same-sex or other-sex attractions or behaviors with possible oscillations between the two. In a nonlinear oscillation model, the differential equation includes two variables that are multiplied together e.

This third hypothesis would be expected for women whose patterns of sexual desire and behavior are characterized by notable fluidity across time. We expected women in the two groups to differ from one another in their patterns of day-to-day variability in sexual attractions and behavior.

Specifically, we expected lesbian women to be more likely to report same-sex sexual attractions behaviors than bisexual women. Bisexual women would be likely to report more other-sex sexual attractions and behaviors than lesbian women. Regarding the dynamical systems model tested, we had the following hypotheses:. If Hypothesis 1 resulted in the best fitting model for the whole sample, this would support the notion that all women are fundamentally bisexual. Hypothesis 3 suggests that women demonstrate variability in both same-sex and other-sex attractions and behaviors without an underlying core sexual orientation.

If Hypothesis 3 resulted in the best fitting model for the whole sample, this would indicate that women do not have a fundamental sexual orientation and rather are truly fluid in sexual attractions and behaviors. These three hypotheses were tested in comparison to one another and also to evaluate whether different hypotheses explained the attractions and behaviors of different groups of non-heterosexual women best.

Furthermore, several covariates were included in the models to explore interactions with the main dependent variable of reported same-sex sexual attractions the acceleration term in the equation as well as to evaluate whether these additional variables were responsible for driving patterns of same-sex attractions.

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These covariates were daily intensity of attraction to women and to men, daily sex drive, daily sexual activity with or without a partnerand daily sexual activity with a female or male partner. We did not have specific hypotheses regarding the covariates included in the dynamical model tested; these analyses were seen as exploratory.

The covariates were included in the models because we expected that factors such as sex drive, sexual activity, and intensity of attraction to women and to men would be related to the degree to which participants would report same-sex attraction and we were interested in exploring the relationships among these variables in this sample of sexual minority women.

The present research incorporated data on day-to-day variability in same-sex attractions, motivation, and behavior, which were collected from a subset of original participants in an ongoing longitudinal study about sexual identity development Diamonda. As part of the study, women participated in five interviews approximately two years apart assessing sexual attractions, behaviors, and identities for more details on the range of interview questions and responses, see Diamond,a. The subsample of 33 non-heterosexual women included here were divided into three different groups based on their identity and behavior histories: lesbianswho showed consistent patterns of lesbian identification and nearly exclusive same-sex attractions over the past 10 years; bisexualswho showed consistently bisexual identification and attractions over the past 10 years; and fluid womenwho showed inconsistent patterns of same-sex attractions and identification over the past 10 years for a more detailed discussion of these and other heuristic typologies for sexual-minority populations, see Diamond, The original sample from was comprised of 89 non-heterosexual women; 79 of these original participants were still in the study in No findings from the larger longitudinal research project have been found to vary as a function of recruitment site e.

All of the participants in the longitudinal study were invited to participate in the current study. Of the 51 women who expressed interest in participating, 5 were ineligible because they were pregnant or nursing, and 1 additional woman had recently had a hysterectomy estrogen data were collected for a related project and hence these women could not be included.

An additional 12 women provided too few data for analysis and were eliminated. Thus, a total of 33 women who were eligible participated in the current investigation. We found no ificant differences between the study participants and the rest of the sample in terms of average attraction to women over the entire course of the study i.

To measure daily fluctuations in sexual attractions, motivations, and behaviors, participants completed an online questionnaire each day for 21 days regarding their daily levels of sexual attraction to both women and to men, as well as their daily sexual motivations and behaviors. To evaluate generalized daily sex drive i.

To evaluate the specific strength of same-sex motivation, women were prompted to think about the strongest attraction to a woman they had experienced that day and rate how strongly they had wanted to act on that attraction on a 1—9 scale. Higher scores indicate a stronger desire to act on that attraction. Participants also answered the same questions with regard to attraction to a man. Lastly, participants reported whether they had any sexual activity that day that was solitary or partnered with either female or male partners.

Women began the diary entries the first day of their menstrual period and completed it for approximately 18 to 21 days. A secure server at the University of Utah was used to maintain the online diary. Each day, participants were instructed to complete the diary just before going to bed. Each participant logged onto the server with a unique and password and each individual entry was date and time-stamped. As an alternative, two participants completed paper copies of the diary.

There were no ificant differences, however, in from paper and online entries. As noted earlier, a dynamical systems model was developed to test the specific hypotheses in the study. The model was created using a linear differential equation and structural equation modeling that allowed for goodness of fit tests. In order to determine the specific differential equation representing the model used in this study, approximations of first and second derivatives velocity and acceleration, respectively of each variable were calculated at each occasion of measurement using GLLA as described earlier.

Additional parameters of the model were also determined using GLLA. In dynamical systems modeling, a negative damping parameter suggests the model would be based on a point attractor ; if positive, the model would be based on a point repeller. A dynamical systems model was first tested to fit the whole sample of 33 women.

Secondly, the model was fit to the two subgroups of lesbian and bisexual women. Means and SDs for each variable of sexual attraction, desire, and behavior for lesbian, bisexual, and fluid women, are shown in Table 1. The means for the attraction variables represent z-scores centered at zero for the sample. A score of 0 is equivalent to the sample mean. Positive and negative values indicate whether the score is above or below the mean. Lesbian and bisexual women reported greater same-sex attraction overall than did fluid women, but it did not appear that lesbian and fluid women were more exclusive less variable than bisexual women in their desires and attractions for women Table 1.

Lesbian women were less variable in their intensity of attraction to men than bisexual and fluid women; fluid women were less variable in their intensity of attraction to women than were bisexual and lesbian women. Overall, variability in attractions and motivations for women was similar. There was more variability in attractions and motivations than actual sexual behaviors across the entire sample Table 1.

Lesbian and fluid women were more exclusive than bisexual women in their sexual behaviors. In fact, lesbian women reported only female partners and fluid women reported only male partners while bisexual women, as a group, reported sexual activity with both female and male partners Table 1. Lesbian women appeared to lean toward exclusively same-sex attractions and behaviors, fluid women appeared to lean toward exclusively other-sex attractions and behaviors, and bisexual women often were intermediate to lesbian and fluid women in their attractions and behaviors Table 1.

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Female Same-Sex Sexuality from a Dynamical Systems Perspective: Sexual Desire, Motivation, and Behavior