It’s natural to explore your sexual ideas and feelings on a personal, emotional, and physical level. Many people begin to explore their sexuality between adolescence and early twenties, when they’re starting to discover their sexual preferences and who they experience physical attraction with. Some people explore their sexuality later in life when they might start feeling attracted to different people. There is no right or wrong time to gain a better understanding of your sexuality.
What Is Sexuality?
Sexuality describes who a person does or does not feel sexually or physically attracted to. There are many types of sexualities and sexual orientations. Many people assume sexuality is static, but it can be fluid and change over the course of a person’s life. Another assumption is that sexuality only refers to LGBTQ+ people. This is not true and there are many ways cisgender heteronormative people can define and explore their sexuality, too.
Gender Identity Vs. Sexuality
Sexuality, gender and biological sex are not defined in the same way. These are fundamental definitions of terms describing sexuality and gender:
- Gender Identity: a person’s internal concept and experience of being male or female, both, or neither
- Gender: The social construct of male and female
- Sexual orientation: who an individual is attracted to sexually
- Biological sex (assigned sex): A person’s biological sex determined at birth by hormones, genitals, and chromosomes.1
Do I Need to Put a Label on My Sexuality?
You don’t ever have to label your sexuality. There are plenty of people who feel labels aren’t necessary and are content, happy, and satisfied. But, for others it can be life saving and having a label aids them in finding community, support, and increased confidence. You can also feel connected to more than one label. Sexuality isn’t a fixed point and can be viewed as an endless galaxy of options or a sexuality spectrum. All this to say if you label or don’t label, use a spectrum or a galaxy, your sexuality belongs to you.
Types of Sexuality
Whether a label is important to you or not, knowing common types of sexualities and knowing there are multiple types of attraction is important. It can also be a great way to learn more about yourself and express your sexuality to others if you want to.
Common sexual orientations you may identify with include the following (not an exhaustive list):
- Allosexual: those who experience sexual attraction to others. Allosexual individuals can be bisexual, pansexual, queer, gay, lesbian, heterosexual, or so forth. Some note allosexual is the opposite of asexual.2
- Asexual: People who are asexual experience little or no sexual attraction to others or have limited to little desire for sexual contact. It’s important to remember not all asexual folks are repulsed or refuse sex. People who identify as asexual don’t always experience no desire for romance and may have many successful relationships regardless of sexual contact.
- Bicurious: Someone who is bicurious has historically been heterosexual, but is considering or curious about engaging in sexual activity with an individual who may have a sex or gender different than their partners in the past. The word “curious” should always be used instead of confused to help decrease the shame and stigma often associated with non-heterosexual activity.
- Bisexual: Individuals who experience sexual attraction to both sexes and genders. Did you know that bisexual+ or bi+ (an identity label that encompasses all non-monosexual identities) female population in the US is larger than that of lesbians, gay men, and bi+ men combined?3
- Demisexual: A person who often feels sexual attraction after building an emotional bond or connection with someone. Those who are demisexual note they do not feel immediately attracted to individuals based on looks, smell, and other features.
- Fluid: An individual whose sexuality changes and is not fixed. Sexually fluid individuals can utilize other sexual orientation terms to describe themselves or may feel they do not resonate with any of them.
- Gay: Men whose primary sexual attraction is to other men. This includes transgender men who are attracted to other men.
- Graysexual: Individuals who don’t identify as asexual, but also feel less sexual attraction than most folks. Therefore, they fall into the gray area of sexuality.
- Heterosexual: A person who is sexually or romantically attracted to people of the opposite sex.
- Lesbian: Women whose primary sexual attraction is to other women. This includes transgender women who are attracted to other women whether cisgender, transgender, or nonbinary.
- Omnisexual: Individuals who are attracted to “all” individuals regardless of sex or gender often identify as omnisexual.
- Pansexual: People who are attracted to individuals regardless of their sex or gender go by the term pansexual. The term has come a long way and even has its own history of advocacy and activism. Even now there is still some debate about its appropriateness.
- Polysexual: Poly stems from the Greek prefix for “many.” Polysexual individuals are attracted to multiple or many genders or sexes. Some people assume polysexual is the same as polyamory, but they should not be used interchangeably.
- Queer: an umbrella term used for those who are not heterosexual or cisgender. Queer was historically used as a slur to refer to LGBTQ+ individuals. In recent years it has been liberated and taken back by the community. But, some LGBTQ+ people still consider this term offensive. Only use the term if someone has expressed comfort with it.
- Questioning: Those who are in the process of exploring or feel unsure about their sexuality have a questioning sexuality.
- Sapiosexual: Individuals who experience sexual attraction based on intelligence versus sex or gender. Both LGBTQ+ folks and heterosexual folks can be sapiosexual. Sapiosexual individuals can still find physical characteristics or qualities attractive, but they are not the most important.
What Does Exploring Sexuality Mean?
A lot of questions come up when starting to explore your sexual ideas and feelings. You might wonder if what you like is common, or maybe you start to recognize what you like is different from those around you. Maybe you start to notice different people and realize you think they are attractive. Exploration may be as simple as fantasizing about kissing someone of the same sex. Or you may want to explore your sexuality and ask yourself questions to achieve more sexual satisfaction by understanding yourself better.
Common questions you may ask yourself throughout sexual exploration include:
- I felt attracted to someone of the same sex, does that mean I’m gay or bi or a lesbian?
- I’ve developed feelings for a close friend, what does that mean?
- Does watching gay porn mean I’m gay, or watching heterosexual porn mean I’m straight?
- Does watching porn with transgender and non-binary individuals mean I’m bisexual?
- If I explore, does it mean having to go on multiple dates, kiss different people, or have sex?
- Do I have to end my relationship or marriage?
- Am I a bad parent or partner because I want to explore my sexuality?
- I can’t stop fantasizing about a male celebrity, but I’ve always been attracted to women, what do I do?
- I haven’t had a sexual partner I really connected with and prefer to masturbate, is there something wrong with me?
- I think I might not like sex, is that okay?
- Am I attracted to this person, or am I looking for them to take care of me?
How to Explore Sexuality in a Relationship
While some people might feel their history of past relationships accurately reflect their sexuality, for others this may not be true. Your history does not fully determine your sexual orientation, you do. Whether you are in a monogamous or open relationship, it is completely possible to explore and recognize your sexuality has changed. How you choose to move forward will be up to you and your partner.
It’s important to recognize and acknowledge that your partner may feel betrayed, deserted, or alienated. Honest communication with your partner is essential, as is reaching out to a couples therapist should you need help ensuring your partner’s emotional needs are also met during your sexual exploration.
You can be attracted to someone of the same gender or sex if you are in a relationship with someone of a different gender or sex. Who you are having sex with, or romantically involved with, does not change or erase your sexuality.
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10 Tips for Exploring Sexuality
Sexual exploration can occur by yourself or with a partner. Just like there are many different sexualities, there are many different ways you can explore.
Here are 10 tips for exploring your sexuality:
1. Journal About Your Experience
It’s one thing to think your thoughts, but it’s another to read them. Journaling can be a great outlet, whether you are creative or simple, because you can make it your own. You could write paragraphs or just bullet points, but either way you are in control. Many find journaling for mental health helps them organize how they feel, improve clarity and problem solving, and helps prevent your emotions and thoughts from becoming too daunting.
2. Read Books or Articles
If you are into reading or research you’ll find no shortage of material on sexuality, sex positivity, sexual orientation, and gender. You could even take items you’d like to read to a local LGBTQ+ coffee shop. Don’t forget book clubs!
3. Listen to an LGBTQ+ Podcast
Podcasts are a great option if you are on the go or want to do your exploration in a more private space. They can also be informative if you want to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. There are many podcasts that are run by people with all types of sexualities and experiences, which can help you feel less alone.
4. Follow LGBTQ+ Activists & Educators
There are many LGBTQ+ activists and educators out there who talk about their experiences and seek to help others. Some provide Q&A’s where you can ask the questions you have anonymously. Others provide resources for those questioning their sexuality. It can also be affirming to know there’s someone out there who feels the way you do.
5. Fantasize & Masturbate
If exploring your sexuality with another person present feels like too much, fantasizing and masturbation can be a great option. Self-pleasure can help you understand what and who turns you on (or off) without any external variables getting in the way. While masturbating you can think about a variety of genders or other details of your sexuality you’ve been wondering about. Ethical porn can also be an option.
6. Engage in Local Queer Culture
If being social is more your speed, going out to local spaces and places you have access to is a great way to not only explore your feelings, but meet others. Getting to know others might help answer some of the questions you have. Just remember to be respectful and know not all individuals will want to talk in depth about their experiences.
7. Talk to a Friend or Join a Support Group
If you feel comfortable, talk to someone in your life. A lot of times friends ask helpful questions or can be a great sounding board for your thoughts. If you don’t have anyone in your life, finding a support group can be a helpful place to connect with those who might also be feeling or thinking what you are.
8. Find a Workplace Employee Resource Group (ERG)
Joining your workplace LGBTQ+ resource group could be an easy (and free) way to interact more with those who are part of the queer community. Many also have resources you could use to explore more on your own. You also get to choose how active (or inactive) you want to be.
9. Go to Pride
Pride is open to all, whether you know your sexuality or you’re still figuring it out. Depending on where you live you may need to travel, but it might be a great excuse for a vacation or staycation focused on you. Pride is also a great place to find resources and get to know others, and once again, you have the option to be as active or inactive as you’d like.
10. Explore with Others
If you feel ready to explore with others, dating apps can be a great place to start. Just make sure you communicate with the person about where you are on your journey and think about the boundaries you’d like to set. It’s always important you be honest and keep open communication.
Can Therapy Help?
Therapy can be a great resource when exploring sexuality. A therapist can help you process, organize what you are feeling, ask helpful questions, and provide unbiased support or feedback. Online marriage counseling can help you work through many issues, including how and when to discuss changes with the children. Many therapists have met with others who have felt the way you do. There are also LGBTQ+ therapists who specialize in helping those wanting to learn more about their sexuality. If you’re not sure where to look, try starting with an online therapist directory.
Thinking about your sexuality or wanting to explore your sexuality is normal and it’s okay to feel confused or unsure. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and talk to a trusted friend, loved one, or therapist.