ICYMI: Sexuality is a spectrum. Where you fall on this spectrum can be fixed or fluid. And either way, chances are it won’t be exactly the same for you as it is for anyone else.
Questioning your sexuality can be confusing and even frustrating. And it can take a long time to come to terms with how you identify. No matter how – or when – you arrive, figuring out where you land on the spectrum can be more than rewarding. But you might be wondering where to start.
To break down what sexuality is, the different types, and what to do if you’re wondering about yours, we spoke with Emilie Jamesa licensed professional counselor and sex therapist with the American Association of Sexuality, Educators, Counselors and Therapists. Tip: Try not to judge yourself. And there is no rush.
What is sexuality?
“Sexuality refers to the erotic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors — or lack of eroticism — we have towards others and ourselves,” Jamea said.
Little history lesson. In 1948, sexologists Alfred Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy and Clyde Martin developed the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale – better known today as the the Kinsey scale — in an attempt to quantify a person’s sexuality. The scale was based on the subjects’ sexual history. And the scores ranged from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual) with an additional category of “X” (no sexual experience or reactions to sexual stimuli).
But surprise: in the nearly 75 years since its inception, the Kinsey Scale has become obsolete when it comes to addressing sexuality. Instead, some organizations like The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention, offered other ways to help people understand themselves. Walk in: Spectrum. It takes into account biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, gender presentation and sexual orientation. And note that each of these elements can be fluid. All the aspects of sexuality that the Kinsey scale never took into account.
What are the different types of sexuality?
The list keeps growing and changing. (Just ask the alphabet mafia.) Which makes sense. Because there are a lot of constraints and complexities when it comes to the language we use to describe sexuality. Even the term LGBTQ+ had to add the “+” to represent anyone whose letters didn’t fit in the acronym – like pansexual, demisexual, sapiosexual, skoliosexual, and more. Because sometimes the labels we use can put people in boxes they don’t necessarily fit.
And keep in mind that the identities represented by the term LGBTQ+ also address sexual orientation without nuance. Read: Romantic orientation and erotic orientation are often confused with sexual orientation. But some people aren’t always sexually attracted to the same people who romantically attract them. “For example, a lesbian woman may have alight watching straight porn, or a straight man might enjoy gay sex encounters from time to time,” Jamea explained.
What does it mean if I question my sexuality?
It could mean a lot of things, according to Jamea. For instance:
You have worked on yourself and evolved. Perhaps through self-reflection or therapy. And some of the emotional shifts or mental shifts you’ve been through have inspired questions about how you identify with yourself.
You met someone (or saw someone online, in the media, etc.) who used a term to describe themselves that resonated with you.
You found yourself attracted to someone outside of the realm of people you usually consider your type.
You have created or been invited into safe spaces (think of a new group of friends or a new organization you are part of) where you have felt comfortable enough to release any repression, shame or fear you have felt around your sexuality in the past. And it allowed you to explore your own sexuality – and maybe even see it in a new light.
“In simple terms, that means you’re human,” Jamea said. “We cannot separate our sexuality from our individuality. As we mature, the beliefs and values we have about the world and our role in it begin to take shape. This includes our sexuality.
Questioning your sexuality does not mean that:
There is something wrong with you.
You have lied to yourself or others about who you are.
You have to redefine your sexuality, to yourself or to someone else.
You should break up with your partner (if you don’t want to).
You need to tell anyone that you are not comfortable telling them.
You must identify yourself publicly in this way in any capacity.
You need to find a definitive answer soon.
“Questioning your sexuality is also a healthy sign of maturity and self-awareness,” Jamea said. “It demonstrates that you practice discernment towards the culture, the family or the institutions in which you were raised.”
What if I question my sexuality later in life?
There’s no timeline when it comes to coming out on top of your identity, sexual or otherwise. Whether you’ve been questioning yourself since childhood or just started exploring your sexuality in your 30s or 40s, you deserve to give yourself space to examine who you are and what you want.
“It can be both terrifying and liberating to question your sexual orientation in old age,” Jamea said. “On the one hand, you might worry that your longtime friends and colleagues won’t accept you anymore. But on the other hand, it can feel amazing to express yourself more authentically.
Speaking of colleagues. As for navigating your changing sexual orientation at work, Jamea reiterated that you owe no one an explanation. “You reserve the right to maintain a sense of privacy about your personal life,” she said.
If you are comfortable sharing your questions with your friends, Jamea recommends that you do so. “The best thing you can do is surround yourself with people who love and support you,” she said.
What should I do if I question my sexuality?
Ask yourself (useful) questions and answer honestly.
Do your best to ignore any shame-filled Qs that may arise. And try to focus less on defining yourself and more on determining what feels true to you.
“Resist the urge to label yourself immediately,” Jamea advised. “It’s wonderful that we have such a broad understanding of the rainbow of sexual orientations, but don’t let that create pressure to categorize you too quickly.”
Instead of “Who am I?” you might ask:
How do I feel when I call myself straight?
How do I feel if my name is [insert sexuality here]?
What types of people am I attracted to? Are they the same sex or different from each other? Do they share certain qualities?
What do I feel when I imagine myself with someone who is a [insert gender here]?
Talk to other people in the LGBTQ+ community.
It can be empowering to hear someone else share how they have tackled the same questions you are currently exploring. And they may be able to offer insights into what helped them when they started their journey. Just make sure you’re in a secure space where you feel comfortable being honest about your sexuality, especially if this is your first time opening up.
Pro tip: If talking to people IRL scares you, consider online spaces to start (sometimes typing is easier than talking). “As dark as the internet can get around sexuality, it has also brought to light the fact that there are others like you,” Jamea said. “Finding a home in a safe online community can help you understand yourself through the interview process and give you the sense of community you need.” You can check out apps like Out Where The ex to determine where you feel most comfortable opening up and meeting new people.
Remember your “why”.
If you’ve often found yourself wishing you were part of the LGBTQ+ community, ask yourself why that might be. Do you just want to be part of a forward-thinking, diverse, inclusive and welcoming community? Or is it because on some level you really want to be with men/women/non-binary people/all of the above/none of the above?
“Give yourself permission to let time and experience shape your identity,” Jamea said. “Remember to practice self-compassion and surround yourself with supportive people wherever you are on your journey.”
What if we questioned is my sexuality?
Questioning is a real, lived identity that many members of the LGBTQ+ community identify with. You can identify yourself as a temporary or permanent questioner, whichever suits you best.
“Questioning, in part, means you can explore a variety of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors before you find a pattern that feels good to you,” Jamea said. “Remember that some people question themselves their entire lives – and that’s okay. Just as our thoughts and feelings about other things can change, so too can our sexuality.
And remember: the language is your friend. If the questioning sounds like the right term to you, stick to it. Or maybe you prefer fluidity or curiosity. It’s up to you.
If you’re wondering about your sexuality, you’re far from alone. There are so many types of sexuality and they are all valid. So feel empowered to explore and experiment. It can help you discover new things about your likes and dislikes. And it can help you better understand who you are and how to be the most authentic version of yourself.