Sexual Fluidity and Bisexuality–Are They the Same?


56a0438218f0434a9d1c639b47ec41f3My guest this week is Penelope James, who has co-authored Marina Peralta’s recently released memoir that “celebrates affection in any form regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.”  A key issue in this memoir, as in my novel A Fitting Place, is the concept of sexual fluidity. In the interview below, Penelope shares some of the insights she gained from working on this memoir.

 Sexually Fluid vs. Bisexual

MG: Lisa Diamond, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Utah has theorized that sexual attraction, particularly for women, is influenced as much—or more—by personal characteristics than by gender. Do you agree with her theory? 

PJ:  Yes. I do believe women are mainly attracted by personal characteristics. It can be a sexual,  intellectual or emotional attraction that has nothing to do with gender.  I can see myself being drawn to someone because of his/her mind regardless of gender even though physically I’m attracted to the opposite sex.

If the attraction to someone of the same sex is physical, it can be considered bisexual. Maybe it’s a genetic predisposition, or a result of early experiences, or even background influences. I have a friend who was heterosexual until her late sixties when she had a 5-year relationship with a woman. When I last saw my friend, she was very upset about what “people are saying.” It seems she’d been tagged as a lesbian due to that one relationship. She didn’t consider herself a lesbian but rather a heterosexual woman who had loved another woman for a brief period. 

MG:  Did your own view of bisexuality change while you were working on Peralta’s memoir?

PJ:  I didn’t know much about bisexuality before I started working with Marina on what was intended to be a memoir about her life. The subject of bisexuality kept coming up and it became the focus of the book. There are only a few memoirs on this subject and none that I know of about sexual fluidity.

My understanding of bisexuality used to be “having the best of both worlds,” more in the sense of swingers than serious relationships. It changed when I met Marina, through her former partner who was a friend of mine.  My friend told me they were bisexuals, as they both had been with men in the past. For them, it was the person who mattered and not the gender. After their relationship ended, my friend married a man.

I learned from Marina that the emotional aspects of a bisexual’s same-sex relationship may outweigh or even eclipse the physical attraction. In her memoir, Marina points out that her relationships with women were always more emotional and hence more painful throughout than her more physical relationships with men.

MG: Based on Diamond’s work, it strikes me that all bisexuals are sexually fluid, but that being sexually fluid does not require the label of bisexual? Any thoughts?

PJ: Marina says being bisexual means you have the potential for involvement with either gender … whether it be sexually, emotionally, in reality or in fantasy. But she also believes that sexuality runs along a continuum. It is not a static “thing” but rather a process that can flow, changing throughout our lifetime. For instance, women who have late-life switches to same sex relationships should not be categorized as lesbians but rather as bisexuals. Most of them had only opposite sex relationships before they discovered they could love a person exclusive of his/her gender.       

Homosexual vs. Bisexual

MG: There is considerable overlap between the terms lesbian and bi-sexual, but they are not the same. Can you comment on that?

PJ: They’re definitely not the same. A lesbian loves/prefers only members of the same sex. Bisexuals choose the person regardless of their gender. 

The public in general defines people in same-sex relationships as gay or lesbian. For most, there is no in-between … even though married women and men may have same-sex extra-marital sex. The word “bisexual” is often brushed off, or considered an excuse, or even offensive by heterosexuals and gays/lesbians alike. “Bisexuality” may be today’s version of yesterday’s homosexuality – to be kept in the closet or under wraps for fear of derision, ignorance, intolerance. While homosexuality is accepted or tolerated in most places nowadays, bisexuality is still an enigma, a term that suggests loose morals or sex addiction.

Marina’s book attempts to dispel many of the myths associated with the term bisexual, and instead focus on the bisexual identity. What Marina is doing, coming out openly as a bisexual, can be considered groundbreaking. Her aim is to use her life story to illustrate the bisexual identity and bisexual fluidity – something few people know of, understand or accept.


Pennie James

Penelope collaborated on Marina Peralta’s memoir Barriers to Love: Embracing A Bisexual Identity

Penelope is also the author of Don’t Hang Up! Dialing My Way to a New Start to be published in 2014.

Find more information at: and


 This blog continues the discussion on themes in my novel.  I welcome comments and guest blogs from my readers based on their own experiences.  Let me know if you’d like to do a guest blog on one or more of the issues relevant to A Fitting Place



  1. Wow. I am listening RIGHT NOW, as I read this, to a discussion of marriage equality on WHYY. The goon pastor says “God has a plan for you and it involves being married to one person of the opposite sex” Doesn’t seem like a plan to me; rather, it seems like a one-size-fits-all straitjecket. I’m sure that Penelope as the ghostwriter must have a great journey of her own to tell!

  2. I’ve never heard the term sexual fluidity before, but it makes sense!

    • Marie, I’d never heard the term “sexual fluidity” before I worked with Marina on her memoir, but it does encapsule the concept of bisexuality.

  3. Ron .. glad to see you here, as our paths seem not to cross so often these days.

    I appreciate your comment … I have loved talking to Penelope about her experience in writing this book … hope to get several more blogs out of the effort to de-stigmatize sexual fluidity and bisexuality.

  4. Marie … would love to know what brought you to this site … and glad to know that the concept makes sense. A primary goal of my novel, “A Fitting Place,” is to improve understanding of a quite common but little understood phenomenon.

  5. Hi Ron, Agree with you about the one-size-fits-all straightjacket, but to go against this social and religious convention is not easy even in this day of more liberal thinking and serial marriages. Yes, I do have a journey of my own to tell, and expect to publish a couple of memoirs in 2014.

  6. I agree with the idea that we all fall within a continuum. It is quite liberating, as we let go of restrictions as to who we can love at different points in our lives. There’s really so much more to understand about human sexuality and really what’s important is to keep the conversations going.

  7. It is an interesting perspective. It comes back, once again, to our need to put a label on people. You ahve clearly shown that labels can be deceptive!

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      MuMuGB … labels can be so hurtful, and we need to find ways to avoid them. But it’s worrisome that words that were once simply descriptive (e.g., handicapped) become pejorative labels … it sometimes makes meaningful conversation very challenging.

  8. Joy … thanks for stopping by and for keeping the conversation going. Let me know if you want to contribute more to it.