Midlife change in sexual orientation
Many accounts of change in sexual attraction without any clinical intervention have been discussed in Chapter 12 of My Genes Made Me Do It on this website. Of particular interest is the extreme instability of same-sex attraction in adolescents, and the contrasting stability of opposite-sex attraction in the same age group.
But there are also various surveys of what happens later in life, and a recent paper (Mock & Eibach 2011) confirms the general picture – even in midlife there can be significant change in sexual attraction.
Mock and Eibach took a random sample of 2500 people aged between 25 and 75 from within the United States, and re-surveyed them after 10 years. The self-reported sexual identity of homosexuality and bisexuality in the sample was 2.5% for women and men combined. At the end of the ten year period, about 2% of the total sample had changed their orientation in some way, and two thirds of these had been homosexual or bisexual at the outset. This is not a surprising outcome because sexuality in the non-heterosexual population is much less stable than in the heterosexual population.
Mock and Eibach’s results showed the now familiar pattern of female sexual fluidity. Both bisexuality and homosexuality were equally unstable. However for men it was mainly bisexuals who were “particularly unstable” according to the authors. Male homosexuality was more stable. Of the total sample of 2500 there were changes in 2.63% of women and 1.63% of men, translating to changes in 63.6% of all homosexual women and 64.7% of bisexual women, and 9.52% and 47.1% of homosexual and bisexual men respectively.
The authors think their research has produced "important modifications to previous understandings of sexual identity stability and change." But this “understanding” (of immutability of sexual orientation) has chiefly been among the ideologically motivated, the concept of change having had huge support in the literature from Kinsey onwards. The present paper only provides further evidence of what has been true all along.
The probability of change did not depend on age, but stayed about constant at all age levels. It rather appears that change is the constant; even in middle age lots of change is occurring. This is probably encouraging to those, who for their own reasons wish to explore this possibility. For any human trait, the idea that no change is ever possible is a recipe for despair. However more than most animals, humans are organisms which learn. Perhaps one cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but humans constantly surprise.
1. Mock SE, Eibach RP. 2011. Stability and Change in Sexual Orientation Identity Over a 10-Year Period in Adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior in press.