Scientists say more and more women are changing their sexuality in midlife

Scientists say more and more women are changing their sexuality in midlife

Beverli Rhodes was a divorced mum with four daughters from two marriages when she shared her first lesbian kiss.

She was 30 and says the experience was a revelation. 'It was as if a switch had been turned,' she says. Although she insists that she had hoped and intended that her two marriages would last for life, she says she also knew from that point on that she would only ever be sexually attracted to women. Beverli, now 49, went on to have several lesbian relationships before meeting her current female partner Crystyn Day, 50, a photographer with whom she lives in Ashford, Kent.

Remarkably Crystyn, too, had previously been living a heterosexual life and has a grown-up daughter from an 11-year marriage. Now, new research has identified Beverli and Crystyn as members of an intriguing group. A comprehensive study of female sexuality will be presented to the American Psychological Association's annual meeting next month and it has found a surprising growth in the numbers of so-called 'late-blooming lesbians' - women who have switched their sexuality once they've passed the age of 30. High-profile examples include Sex And The City actress Cynthia Nixon, now 43, who began a relationship with Christine Marinoni in 2004.

The findings raise fascinating questions over the long-held belief that sexual preferences may be partly genetic and are fixed early in life. They also suggest that female sexuality may be more 'fluid' than men's, accounting for the fact that some women sustain long and often fulfilling marriages before developing lesbian or bisexual tendencies in early middle age - often leaving behind them a devastated husband and utterly bewildered children.

While the phenomenon of married women falling in love with other women is nothing new, in the past it was generally only bohemian, upper class women who dared to be overt about their lesbian tendencies - women like the married writer Virginia Woolf, who was 40 when she began a long love affair with Vita Sackville-West, who was also middle-aged and married.

But the new research suggests that this could be changing. And while some have previously concealed their sexuality to keep their families together, many women have no prior inclination to change their sexual preference until their mid-life revelations.

The consequences can be traumatic.

Beverli Rhodes insists she had 'never entertained the thought of being in a gay relationship' when she was growing up. She married George, a company director seven years her senior, and quickly had three babies. When the marriage broke up after seven years, she says: 'I simply thought that we were too young when we'd married and had grown apart.

‘Sex wasn't fantastic but I just put it down to the fact that like many mothers of young children, I was usually shattered.' Indeed, she quickly met and married Daniel, who managed a chain of restaurants, and soon became pregnant with her youngest daughter. Within two years, at the age of 27, Beverli was a divorcee for the second time, and attributed the break-up to the stresses caused by her burgeoning career as a City business analyst and the fact she earned far more than her husband.

It was a further three years before she realised, aged 30, that she was developing feelings for other women. Beverli's life-changing moment happened after she broke her wrist in a car accident and her friend's lesbian daughter drove her home from hospital.

The couple realised their mutual attraction and ended up kissing.

As Beverli recalls: 'The thrill of it took my breath away.' Their subsequent year-long affair was the prelude to a series of other liaisons over seven years, during which Beverli - anxious not to jeopardise her happy relationship with her children - kept her sexuality secret.

As the new research reveals, mothers understandably agonise about the reaction of their children if their sexuality begins to waver. Christian Moran, who conducted the studies at the Southern Connecticut State University, found that many women initially go through what is effectively psychological trauma as they try to reconcile their loyalties to their families with their attraction to other women. Beverli was certainly fearful of how her own children would react. 'They were in their teens when I told them and I thought they'd be more surprised than they actually were,' she says.

Even so, she concedes it wasn't easy for them. 'The younger ones were teased at school when news leaked out,' she reveals.

While for many women 'coming out' is a liberating and ultimately fulfilling experience, for others there can be irrevocable damage to their family relationships.

Read more: 23rd July 2010

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Posted: 23/07/2010 11:07:47


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