Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Sociology

Content Description

1 online resource (iv, 268 pages) : illustrations (some color), color map.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Christine Bose

Committee Members

Glenna Spitze, Joanne Kaufman


compulsory heterosexuality, fluidity, gender, institutionalized normative heterosexuality, sex, sexuality, Sexual orientation, Heterosexuality, Heterosexism, Sexual freedom, Women

Subject Categories

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | Women's Studies


Since Alfred Kinsey’s early exploration of sexual behaviors, identities, and desires, there has been a proliferation of studies on what is generally regarded today as sexual fluidity. Inquiry into sexual histories that are neither wholly heterosexual nor homosexual (or even bisexual) has been incredibly well documented by this time. Generally, theories about sexual fluidity have taken one of two positions. The first camp interprets sexual variance as a sign of changing times and crumbling sexual and gender binaries. The second group of theorists postulate that sexual fluidity is neither new nor a particularly positive or liberating social trend. Instead of providing more freedom of choice and experimentation for individuals, fluidity, beneath the surface, functions to mask continued oppressions and institutional controls. Through a qualitative analysis of forty sexual narratives of self-identified women, I make the case that Seidman’s (2009b) conceptualization of institutionalized normative heterosexuality is an important framework for interpreting the cultural significance of sexual fluidity today, and can bridge the gap in the existing literature on sexual fluidity. The rich sexual histories uncovered four different ways women understood their sexual identities and fluid experiences; institutional identifiers, political identifiers, identity irrelevance, and sexual proclivities. In the end, I argue that both the theories of compulsory heterosexuality and institutionalized normative heterosexuality should be used in conjunction to better understand the significance of sexual fluidity in contemporary U.S. society.