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Perspect Psychol Sci. 2007 Jun;2(2):142-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00034.x.

A Dynamical Systems Approach to the Development and Expression of Female Same-Sex Sexuality.

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University of Utah


Researchers have documented substantial variability in the development and expression of same-sex sexuality, especially among women, posing challenges to traditional linear developmental models. In this article, I argue for a new approach to conceptualizing the development and expression of female same-sex sexuality over the life course, based in dynamical systems theory. Dynamical systems models seek to explain how complex patterns emerge, stabilize, change, and restabilize over time. Although originally developed by mathematicians and physicists to model complex physical phenomena in the natural world, they have increasingly been applied to social-behavioral phenomena, ranging from motor development to cognition to language. I demonstrate the utility of this approach for modeling change over time in female same-sex sexuality, reviewing extant published research and also introducing data collected from an ongoing, 10-year longitudinal study of young nonheterosexual women. I provide evidence that female same-sex sexuality demonstrates the emblematic features of a dynamical system: nonlinear change over time, spontaneous emergence of novel forms, and periodic reorganizations and phase transitions within the overall system. I highlight the specific contribution of a dynamical systems perspective for understanding such phenomena and suggest directions for future study.

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