Lately, a new kind of sisterly love seems to be in the air. In the past few years, Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon left a boyfriend after a decade and a half and started dating a woman (and talked openly about it). Actress Lindsay Lohan and DJ Samantha Ronson flaunted their relationship from New York to Dubai. Katy Perry's song "I Kissed a Girl" topped the charts. The L Word, Work Out, and Top Chef are featuring gay women on TV, and there's even talk of a lesbian reality show in the works. Certainly nothing is new about women having sex with women, but we've arrived at a moment in the popular culture when it all suddenly seems almost fashionable—or at least, acceptable.
Statistics on how many women have traded boyfriends and husbands for girlfriends are hard to come by. Although the U.S. Census Bureau keeps track of married, divorced, single, and even same-sex partners living together, it doesn't look for the stories behind those numbers. But experts like Binnie Klein, a Connecticut-based psychotherapist and lecturer in Yale's department of psychiatry, agree that alternative relationships are on the rise. "It's clear that a change in sexual orientation is imaginable to more people than ever before, and there's more opportunity—and acceptance—to cross over the line," says Klein, noting that a half-dozen of her married female patients in the past few years have fallen in love with women. "Most are afraid that if they don't go for it, they'll end up with regrets."
Feminist philosopher Susan Bordo, PhD, a professor of English and gender and women's studies at the University of Kentucky and author of Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, also agrees that in the current environment, more women may be stepping out of the conventional gender box. "When a taboo is lifted or diminished, it's going to leave people freer to pursue things," she says. "So it makes sense that we would see women, for all sorts of reasons, walking through that door now that the culture has cracked it open. Of course, we shouldn't imagine that we're living in a world where all sexual choices are possible. Just look at the cast of The L Word and it's clear that only a certain kind of lesbian—slim and elegant or butch in just the right androgynous way—is acceptable to mainstream culture."
That said, of the recent high-profile cases, it's Cynthia Nixon's down-to-earth attitude that may have blazed a trail for many women. In 1998, when Sex and the City debuted on HBO, she was settled in a long-term relationship with Danny Mozes, an English professor, with whom she had two children. They hadn't gotten married: "I was wary of it and felt like it was potentially a trap, so I steered clear of it," Nixon said in an interview with London's Daily Mirror. In 2004, after ending her 15-year relationship with Mozes, Nixon began seeing Christine Marinoni, at the time a public school advocate whom she'd met while working on a campaign to reduce class sizes in New York City. Marinoni was a great support when the actress was diagnosed with breast cancer. Far from hiding the relationship, Nixon has spoken freely in TV and newspaper interviews about it not being a big deal. "I have been with men all my life and had never met a woman I had fallen in love with before," she told the Daily Mirror. "But when I did, it didn't seem so strange. It didn't change who I am. I'm just a woman who fell in love with a woman."