Sexual Fluidity: The New Sexuality ParadigmFebruary 5, 2009 • Contributed by Ellen Schecter, PhD
Once upon a time, there was a certain clarity in the world of sexuality. Whether through illusion, construct, or religious bias, the sexual orientations advertised by society were easily and clearly defined. Those who were attracted to and had sex with people of the opposite assigned gender were deemed heterosexual or “straight.” Homosexuals, gays and lesbians, were attracted to and had sex with people of the same sex. A person’s orientation was assumed based on the apparent sex of his or her sexual partner.
As time went on, the waters became muddied a bit by acknowledgment of bisexuality, termed as the ability to be attracted to and have sex with people of either male or female gender. Initially, in the popular imagination, bisexuals were seen as immature or confused: either closeted homosexuals or curious straight people. But eventually “we,” or mainstream society, got our head around bisexuality. “We” began to move toward accepting that it was a real sexual orientation, just like lesbian, gay, and straight.
Find a Therapist for Sex / Sexuality
Later still, we made a place for love in all of this. What is still called “sexual” orientation was acknowledged to be not only about sex, but about emotional attachment as well. Having a homosexual orientation, then, came to mean being sexually and emotionally attracted to those of the same sex or assigned/perceived gender. Although this awareness has come to light, the emotional aspect of non-heteronormative relationships are still commonly downplayed.
But then things became very confusing. In studying human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission in black communities, men having sex with men“on the down low” came to light. These are men who identify as straight but secretly have sexual relationships with other men. When sexual encounters were unprotected ones, higher rates of HIV infection in black women were observed. Men who have sex with men (MSM) are not limited to African-American communities, of course. The commonness of MSM violates the core underlying assumption of our model of sexuality: that sexual orientation is defined by sexual behavior.
Since men perceived as straight having sex with other men is incongruent with heterosexuality, these men are commonly assumed to be gay, and either in denial or in the closet. They may also be perceived as having compartmentalized sex lives in order to deal with the dissonance of having same-sex relations while identifying as straight.
Once upon a time, sexual orientations—heterosexual, homosexual, and even bisexual—were categorical and mutually exclusive. Further, sexual attraction/desire, sexual behavior, and sexual identity were assumed to be congruent: same-gender sexual attraction/behavior presupposed a lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity, and other-gender sexual attraction/behavior assumed heterosexuality. But results of sexuality research over the last 20 years have turned “our” paradigm of sexuality on its head. What we’ve learned is that while these assumptions may be true for some perceived majority, they are not true for all.
The truth is that Alfred Kinsey was right: sexuality not only exists on a continuum, but some people can and do move on that continuum across the lifespan. Sexuality can be fluid, varying across time and situation. Sexual orientation appears to be comprised of many variables—not just sexual behavior. More modern revelations have shown gender to be a continuum and independent of biological sex or gender assigned at birth.
And the truth is, desire/behavior and orientation/identity do not always line up neatly. Some completely straight individuals have unexpectedly found themselves falling in love with and engaging in sexual behavior with those of the same gender. And some people secure in homosexual orientation have unexpectedly become partnered with those of the other gender. How could this happen? What does it mean?
Note that the research does not prove that sexuality is fluid, only that it can be. Studies have shown that sexual fluidity is not uncommon. It is found more frequently in women than men, though it clearly exists in both sexes. This does not necessarily mean that we all experience a degree of fluidity, nor that we are all really bisexual.
It does not mean that coming out as gay or lesbian is reversible or a phase. Nor does it imply that sexual orientations are a choice, or that non-heterosexual people can be guided to embrace heterosexuality. It simply means that while the majority of people experience a stable sexual orientation congruent with their sexual and romantic attractions or behavior, many of us do not.
When professionals work with clients of any sexual orientation, it is incumbent upon us to be up-to-date in our knowledge of sexuality. Rather than operating from outdated ideas, our work should be informed by current paradigms that assume that sexuality may be fluid, that desire/behavior and orientation/identity may not be congruent, and that conceptions of what constitutes “normal” sexuality have changed.
© Copyright 2009 by Ellen Schecter, Ph.D., therapist in Hanover, New Hampshire. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.
MichaelFebruary 5th, 2009 at 1:59 PM
As a hs teacher I am seeing this fluidity in sexual orientation at earlier ages than ever before. I used to think that maybe the kids were just confused, but moving along the sexual spectrum seems to be the norm these days and the kids are younger and younger. It is making things that used to be so innocent like hs dances a real conundrum for parents and teachers, by raising questions such as will same sex couples be allowed to express their affection for their partners in the same way that traditional boy/girl couples have been allowed to in the past. This has been a real learning curve for teachers as I know it has been for parents too. I try to be very open and understanding with my students in the hopes that they will be with me as well but there are many adults who are still not comfortable with these types of situations and I know that this is keeping the kids even more confused about their identities and who they are on the inside than they ever have been before.
JacobFebruary 6th, 2009 at 7:10 PM
if we are going to be open minded about the fluidity of sexual orientation and not operate from outdated ideas than it is vital that we also recognize the fluidity of gender identity and gender presentation. It is becoming more and more common to encounter transgender individuals and individuals with fluid gender identities. This complicates sexual orientation further and I have noticed a significant increase in people identifying as pansexual, or simply “queer.” the point being, we cannot make assumptions about anyone’s gender identity or sexual orientation. we must take into account the fluidity in both of these areas and use the language of our clients. When we run into something we are unfamiliar with, it is vital to do outside research and to not simply rely on our clients to educate us.
AustinFebruary 7th, 2009 at 8:35 AM
I just want to know one thing- is all of this normal? This was just not how I was raised and I have a hard time accepting some of the “fluidity”. Either you are or your aren’t. When did that line of thinking change?
KarenJuly 27th, 2016 at 11:47 PM
I believe the fluidity was always there it just that now people have the words to express it . A label to identify with and say hey that’s me , that’s how I feel ! I know that is the way I have felt for a long time . I identified as being bi-sexual but knew that that didn’t quite fit. I am attracted to lots of different people irregardless of gender or sexuality . I could never really find the words for that so I called myself bi- sexual .
nzchicagoJuly 28th, 2016 at 6:14 PM
What about pansexual? That sounds like a good fit to what you describe.
Fluid means a sexual orientation that changes over time.
February 7th, 2009 at
I want to thank everyone who has commented so far, and respond briefly to each of you.
Michael– your comments serve to remind us to consider socio-historical context. Things have indeed shifted since many of us were in high school, including earlier ages of puberty. Those of use who came of age during the civil rights eras recall the gay/lesbian civil rights movement and the awareness that followed of something called sexual identity (which usually only applied to sexual minorities, since heterosexuality was an automatic default). And we like those nice clean categories– as Austin says, “either you are or you aren’t.” But many kids today aren’t as hung up as we may have been on sexual identity labels. They do seem to move more fluidly, not only around sexual orientation but around gender expression– perhaps in the same spirit of the 1960s motto “if it feels good, do it.” Perhaps it’s not the kids who are confused; perhaps the adults, seeing this fluidity, are shaken and confused by it.
Jacob– I couldn’t agree with you more. Understanding that gender expression and gender identity also exist on continua, and that many do not subscribe to a binary gender (ie, male and female) paradigm, is essential. Transgendered people can be of any sexual orientation. “Queer”, once a pejorative term and now often used to denote “other-than-straight” sexual orientations or an “anti-identity identity,” is now more commonly used by those whose sexual and gender identities don’t fit into existing labels or categories.
Austin– you ask is this “normal?” and comment that this is not how you were raised. Sexual fluidity is “normal” in that it is not uncommon. During the time many of us were raised, studies of sexual orientation, if they existed, tended to throw out people who didn’t fit neatly into the heterosexual-homosexual categories, including bisexual people, and considered them “unlabeled” and therefore not of interest. There are also other reasons for not acknowledging sexual fluidity– it can be threatening to the status quo of both straight and gay worlds. I doubt it’s new; it has simply surfaced more, is more studied and more talked about.
JeniFebruary 9th, 2009 at 4:16 PM
I have to admit that I do feel frightened with the whole concept of sexual fluidity because this is not something that I want for my own children. Not that I want them to always have to fit nice and neatly into the box that society expects of them but becasue it would just make their lives so much easier. Of course I will love and respect tham no matter whcih paths they choose but I do think that so many parents like me want their children to have an easy go at it and this is definitely not a path that one would pursue which would be considered easy.
February 10th, 2009 at
Would you feel differently if your child identified as gay or lesbian, then years later became attracted to a person of the opposite gender? You might think this is the “easier” situation for the child, but studies show it is not– while society and its structures may support heterosexuality, major shifts such as those we’re talking about are difficult for the individuals involved. Our society seems to struggle with fluidity in general– we seem to be much more prone to distrust that which is not nailed down “permanently”, yet change is not unnatural.
JeniFebruary 10th, 2009 at 3:16 PM
In theory I do grasp what you are saying. Maybe I just think that it would be easier for my child to be in a loving relationship with someone and of course I would assume that they would prefer the same sex in every relationship that they were in. But I guess that is not necessarily the nature of the beast. I am fine no matter what they choose when it all boils down to it as long as the relationship is healthy and nurturing, but surely you can see my side of the coin by wanting something for them that would not make life quite so difficult.
CallieFebruary 13th, 2009 at 11:32 AM
As much as I do understand this I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around such fluidity.
February 13th, 2009 at
You’re certainly not alone, Callie! Sexual fluidity challenges so many constructs that have guided us in different areas. And as Jeni says, who wants things to be difficult for their children or, for that matter, for themselves?!
NeilFebruary 13th, 2009 at 7:07 PM
I’m a 43 year old male and have been moving back and forth between men and women most of my life. When I’m with women, I want sex with men, and when I’m with men, I can’t imagine myself having a long-term relationship with them. I married and put up with a woman who I knew was abusive, out of the guilt I had that I was attracted to men. On the other hand, I can’t really take long term relationship with men very seriously. Culturally and socially it just doesn’t feel right. In other aspects of my life, I have always been stable and focused.
It’s not fun. I envy people who just fall in a category where they feel at home.
February 15th, 2009 at
Thanks for your comments about the difficulties of not “falling into a category” where you can feel, as you say, “at home.” It’s not easy. I hope you’re getting support and have a place you can talk through some of these issues.
NeilFebruary 15th, 2009 at 10:19 AM
Thank you. I did attend a support group for gay men in heterosexual relationships, here in NYC. Most of the men were married, and a minority was divorcing. The married men were hiding from their wives that they were having sex with men. I found this to be dangerous both physically and emotionally. (Emotionally, in the sense that a woman may not know at a conscious level that she is being betrayed, but she knows it at a deeper level without having any evidence, and that messes her up.)
I left the group after one of the members actually told us about his wife’s emotional problems. I felt I was enabling some sort of covert mental abuse, i.e. messing up with someone’s head. (The husband lies to the wife, then deals with the guilt by bringing it up in the group. The group gives him support.)
I am now discussing things with a very good psychiatrist. My hope is that by delving into my childhood I’ll be able to settle on one or the other.
February 15th, 2009 at
People interested in Neil’s story might also be interested in reading the recent article/blog on Mixed Orientation Marriages by Denise Humphrey, PhD, here at GoodTherapy.org.
JamieFebruary 27th, 2009 at 6:46 AM
Oh I know of my daughter’s friend who wanted to ask her friend out for a school dance. The only problem was it was a girl. This caused a huge scandal within the school and the school suspended the kids as it was inappropriate behaviour on campus. The kids have now filed a case on the school for discrimination. I wonder what the verdict would be considering they are both minors.
February 27th, 2009 at
Thanks for your post, Jamie. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the suit, and how “inappropriate behavior” is defined, whether the school is a public or private one, whether it’s in the US or elsewhere– so many factors to consider.
BrianFebruary 28th, 2009 at 7:06 AM
I think that is pretty biased considering that young adults have a lot less definition of hetero and homosexual behavior. It is true as most guys are discovering sexuality and their sexuality at that. I dont think the case will hold anyways.
RogerFebruary 28th, 2009 at 3:29 PM
Everyone has these stereotypical categories that they think that people should fall into and it does not always work that way. I think that there are many out there that this makes very uncomfortable but I on the other hand marvel at all of the fluidity and hope that it opens my mind to the way that we were intended to live- as loving and caring individuals with our hearts and minds open to any and all who make us feel good about ourselves and who show us love in return. Let us stop feeling the need to conform to societal expectations and just feel the freedom to be who we are.
PhilipAugust 26th, 2009 at 12:06 AM
My sexuality has changed over time. First, I am much more self aware so how I interpret what I feel has changed. Second, I am much more comfortable in my skin and feelings I didn’t know I was capable of started to surface when I arrived at a certain comfort level. I don’t see the changes in my sexuality as an indication that my sexuality is fluid because I don’t think my sexuality has changed over time. It’s just that I am interpreting my feelings better and no longer repressing certain feelings that were always there. Here’s my question…Sexual fluidity is a whole other animal right? It has nothing to do with the change that comes with increased self awareness or greater ease with one’s sexuality?
ChrisSeptember 19th, 2009 at 10:12 AM
It’s my understanding that there is a higher incidence of inherent SSA than there is left and right handedness (and that’s hot off the press).
Can we deny that our society-at-large hasn’t a clue about what is sexually healthy or unhealthy? Since the late 18th century, generations of people have been socially conditioned to subsume to a male-female dependent relationship (uncanny differences between how the male gender relates to the female gender in terms of emotional dependency, and as further observed, the vast majority hold the female accountable for their emotional health and continue to operate relying soley on the idea that males must gain their status and power thru sex with the female..i have references if anyone is interested…)
What is accepted as a normal female-female relationship today goes against everything it was centuries ago; today’s interactions seem to fall profoundly short, tragically separating the social female from what was once considered a necessary emotional bonding that was learned while growing, of which lessons of nurture and caring were ensured passed-on into future male-female relationships that existed for the purpose of procreation and survival.
And what can the pro-hetero-only social politicos make of those identical twins born – with absolutely no provocation or maltreatment, raised and nurtured in an ideal and identical family environment- one boy shows definite signs of maleness while the other, female…
We are way way way way more complex than a pitri dish or a rape experience…biological and environmental data need to be considered with cultural data and experience. Bottom line is, society is historically afraid of change and diversity from the entity is attempts to define as normalcy.
My own experience as a female: I struggle to make sense of my SSA.
To those that may decide to think that SSA isn’t “normal”, I say HAH! I beg to differ – just because a person doesn’t go through it personally doesn’t mean it isn’t “normal”. Maybe for that person. Lucky they are to have all of their “normal” ducks in order…but i think it is a fallacy to think sexual fluidity is not normal. I have experienced this first-hand, seen how it affects other women, especially myself and my place in this life.
Sexuality and gender are apples and broccoli to me..the latter an anatomical and physiological difference; the former, a vague word, encompassing the procreation of the human and, most decidedly, is erroneously defined within a broad category of sensation and feeling.
One last thought for now. I think about the word change: In truth every moment of existence is change…it makes perfect logical sense that understanding this issue of sexuality. To understand fluidity is to place change as its center(sexuality). It’s a pattern – a big one that is only recently coming to light as researchers are finding that the data they tended to throw away or otherwise ignore is of vital importance.
(Thanks for letting me stand on the soapbox and contribute my current thoughts – all of which is MHO)
LeaOctober 21st, 2009 at 4:46 AM
I notice that all the concern here is for the people who seem to be coming to terms with their sexual fluidity. What about the partners who committed themselves to someone they thought was with them for life, only to be told they now read a book and say that they are “sexually fluid”.
I am a lesbian who has been in a nearly ten year monogamous relationship with a woman who had been with men in the past. After two children and the usual picket fence stuff, and having the normal tough times with young kids and my partner with PND, when the going gets tough she says “I want to have sex with men again”. Having also said though that the sex with me was the best in her life and she loved me more than she’d ever loved anyone, now I have to buy that instead of knuckling down and working through our relationship stuff it’s just that she’s “sexually fluid”.
When she found out about the book “Sexual fluidity” she felt that finally she wasn’t a freak and there were other people just like her. I felt compassionately towards her but at the same time thinking, what about me and our kids? It just seems too convenient. It seems to be another opportunity to not own one’s inability to commit. When one is in a committed relationship with kids, my belief is you try everything to make the relationship work before you walk away, not just one day out of the blue say “I’m done, and by the way I feel like having sex with men again”.
I haven’t read the book but was told by my then partner that it was about feeling like one wanted to have a relationship with a particular gender at a certain time of one’s life. I find this odd to put the gender before the person. I thought a person falls in love with a person, not just a gender.
Can you please provide some level of information or at least a balanced view on how this affects everyone, not just the “sexually fluid”. By “everyone” I mean partners, kids, families, friends who are affected by someone just walking off to pursue the next gender.
I have always been supportive of bisexuals and have run workshops on sexual awareness etc so am by no means conservative. I feel though that this research somehow allows a “pathology” or “diagnosis” that people can hang over their heads as a “get out of jail free card” when it comes to their relationships. In some way, I think this work may set bisexual politics back and not advance it as first thought. It now seems to reinforce what I thought was a stereotype of bisexuals which is that “bisexuals can’t commit to a monogamous relationship”. Does this also mean that a person who identifies as “sexually fluid” cannot commit to a long-term relationship?
It is evident from my comments that yes, I am hurt by my relationship break down, but my questions are very sincere and not just an emotional response. I am concerned for the many people who may suffer at the hands of people who feel they can now say “well I’m sexually fluid so seeya” and feel some kind of validation in research for their course of action.
SamMarch 10th, 2010 at 7:59 PM
For the majority of my life I bounced back and forth between gay, staight, and bisexual always seeking some anchor that would hold me to one category or the other. It wasn’t until recently that I settled on Bisexual as my category of choice.
A search of the web lead me to a site that discussed the differences between gay and straight but seemingly scorned the Bisexual as not being focused or “oriented” in their sexual experience.
I had to question then what my feelings and sensibilities were telling me about my preferences over the course of my life and I was able to land squarely on being Bisexual. I do indeed enjoy a sexual and an emotional connection with whichever gender I happened to be with at that time and for a reason that still escapes me, I am able to be satisfied.
If I understand sexual fluidity, apparently I have learned or adapted to the changing sexual mood I was experiencing. This is not a complaint or even a pat on the back but just a fact in my life; I enjoy sex with my partners regardless of them being male or female and I make sure my partners were equally satisfied with their relationship with me.
So, I can honestly say that I am “Bisexual” and that I have been that way most of my life. It is only now that I have come to accept my preference and embrace it and who I am.
The category system works for me but it isn’t for everyone. Sexual fluidity would answer why some change preferences throughout their lives but it doesnt seem to answer all aspects of sexual preference. Is it for you? That is up to you the reader to find out. Whatever or however you land when it comes to your sexual choice, embrace it and take your place in the universe of diversity.
LogiManJuly 27th, 2010 at 8:38 PM
Fluidity?Does your sexuality become part of your personality?if so then how can someone change a part of their personality without consciously trying.How does a person move for being attracted to:”short slim woman, to a talk buff man’?Does that mean that the person is mentally unstable?If this fluidity does exist doesnt it mean that these ppl change their personality without consciously trying?Do ppl wake up and stop liking beef and start loving fish?
LogiManJuly 27th, 2010 at 9:06 PM
I am a normal man and i believe this sexual fluidity is not part of sexual orientation. In which other part of the world do we see this behaviour? Is it not just our wanting to be do as we want and get the best of both worlds.Think about it,how does one move from being Bisexual-to gay-straight.We should consider that just because ppl do certain things that doesnt mean it is part of who we are as a species.
StaleyAugust 7th, 2010 at 5:52 PM
For most of my life I’ve always been very attracted to women sexually and still am. I am also attracted to certain men and have had sex with them every so often. I love all that a woman has to offer but only appreciate certain things that a certain type of man has to offer. I’ve never considered myself to be anything but bi-sexual but if I were to mention any of this to women or state that I feel this way, women will never sleep with me, which I think is highly unfair and is a double standard. Women can sleep with other women and still be very acceptable to most men. I can’t ever see falling in love with a man like I have with many women over my life time, but who knows, maybe that is possible as well. Right now in my life I would appreciate being in a relationship period. It has been a while. I’d still prefer that relationship to be with a woman, but I wouldn’t reject the right type of man.
peggyAugust 22nd, 2010 at 8:33 AM
As if life is’nt difficult enough aleady!I know we can’t bring ourselves to say it is a “choice” because of discrimination etc but for adolescent girls,based on brain research of females through the life span it can begin as an alternative and than create its own spiraling identity.This is pandoras box and is unfortunately not just about self discovery and experiementation because eventually these choices usually lead to the decision about with whom you raise children and there is ample evidence that children are best served with the daily influence of a male and a female. Neither is expendable.Research on happiness over the life span, places a compatible life partner very high on the list and that compatibility involves sooooooo many things, all of which require work and compromise and maturity and growth.Self absorption under the guise of self awareness is doing nothing but setting us up for long term unhappiness.
Mike WolfeOctober 27th, 2010 at 4:30 AM
Sexuality is different to personality, they’re done in different sections of the brain for a start. Plus Sexuality is far far more ancient than personality.
Some people are straight, some people are gay, some people’s sexualities are concrete, other’s are undefined. It’s similar to how some people are emotionally stable, others are bipolar. It’s just how people are.
Mike WolfeOctober 27th, 2010 at 4:38 AM
“these choices usually lead to the decision about with whom you raise children and there is ample evidence that children are best served with the daily influence of a male and a female. Neither is expendable.”
What? There’s continual research coming out saying children of same sex couples are fine compared to their peers. And how could they not be? Children of SINGLE parents do fine. Simple logic would suggest that having same sex parents ought to be 2 times as good as having a single parent but it isn’t, it makes no difference.
Stop this “think of the children!” nonsense, it’s just a nonsensical copout of a discussion that needs to be had.
BeeFebruary 7th, 2011 at 8:04 AM
Can someone explain to me the difference between bisexual and sexual fluidity? How can you distinguish these two?
MichellenoreSeptember 19th, 2011 at 2:54 PM
Alright, I play soapbox for a moment.
I’m 17, one of these “new fanged generationers”. I’ve spent a loonnnng time proclaiming my proud lesbianism for years, and now I’m dating my male best friend. I’ve been called a terrible lesbian and had a lot of friends turn their back on me, yell at me, and try to tell me that it’s just a phase and that it isn’t who I am.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Well, I still like girls. I’m still fully attractited to the female sex, both physically and mentally, but I’m just as attracted to this friend of mine. It’s the funny conundrum of not being straight enough to be straight, and not being gay enough to be gay.
But I don’t call myself bisexual, not really.
Bi as a negative connotation in both the straight world and the gay, and I’m inclined to believe everyone is on a sliding scale.
Women make jokes about girl crushes the same way guys will make jokes about sleeping with an actor or celebrty of the opposite sex. Everybody’s got a random.
SO yeah, deny it’s existance if you really want to, but sexual fluidty exists, people change like the roaring tides, and stranger things have been known to happen.
I’m a sexual wave rider, sure I’d love to be able to be on the shore, but how grounded are you if you can’t face who you are?
JanDecember 9th, 2011 at 6:51 AM
What I would like o comment is that having been raised in a very conservative society (Greek part of Cyprus) the fluidity of sexuality is obvious. Until the 90’s the idea that a man is always the active partner and women are the passive partners, the sexual identities were completely different. The majority of men and women until this decade were having at least more than one same-sex experience. The passive men were considered always inferior with very insulting descriptions. This made a lot of people suffer. Men who were taking the receptive role were considered “inferior” and due to the fact that the church was always involved in the state, everyone was considered capable of this sin. However, the westernization of the island made things worse. Those men who were having same-sex experience as active parnters, today they never admit it and they never mention it for fear that they will be considered gay. Even today the older ganeration tends to consider the active homosexual men as “straight” and everyone is capable of this experiences. The idea that sexual orientation is biologically fixed, caused more stereotypes and bullying. Among the youths there is a fixed idea that homosexuals (both men and women) are biologically inferior.
sad_but_trueDecember 14th, 2011 at 11:10 AM
To Lea, of comment #20, even though 2 years have passed since you posted: I am in a very similar situation, except thankfully without the children in the mix. Having to accept that more than 10 years with someone I thought was my partner for life is over because she feels drawn to relationships with men again. I agree that it’s painful to have all the ‘attention’ on the aspect of sexual fluidity as if there’s no value in remaining true to one’s partner thru thick and thin. I do wish there was some resource for those of us left behind by the shift of desires in our partners. I guess I keep consoling myself that if sexual fluidity is so common, then circumstances such as mine (and Lea’s) are just as common. That helps a little, but also depresses me a bit because I wonder if the same thing could happen to me in a future relationship, and will I ever be able to trust a partner as deeply again?
Thanks, Lea, for your post because it helps me feel less alone in my grief and my struggle to accept this…
RoyJanuary 13th, 2012 at 8:42 AM
I am a 23 year old male and have struggled with defining my sexuality since high school. At the same time it doesn’t help that I have OCD in which I constantly think about this all day every day. This has been an integral part in my life because I could have never imagine a life where I never had gone through this. Basically it comes down to defining my own bisexuality because I am attracted to both sexes to a certain degree even though I have only slept with women. I have gone through this constant confusion because my feelings constantly change and it does give me anxiety. There have been several times in which I just wanted to admit that I’m just gay because maybe I’m not into girls like I thought I was. However, there will be other times especially when I’m drunk where I would notice a girl to my liking and wish I could get to know her and have sex with her. What made this even worse is that I had told this to a girl I was dating for 5 months who I really liked who was very special and our relationship seemed great. Nonetheless it changed the dynamics of our relationship because I never was the same even though she tried giving it a chance. But it only added more to my depression because I was embarrassed and ashamed for making her feel like I lied to her and that it turned out the way it did. In a fantasy world it would have been nice if she was open minded or accepting where she would have assured me that as long as your with me and only me then I’m okay but the world ain’t perfect. I opened myself up to someone I needed most and it backfired on me. My inexperience with relationships got the best of me and she knew better. But my point is I wish I wasn’t this way because there would have been no other reason why would couldn’t have stayed together. I just don’t understand why this is so difficult and why my ongoing confusions had to be part of my life.
ArayaJanuary 25th, 2012 at 11:27 PM
I undertstand why people are having difficulty with the concept of sexual fluidity, especially when a category such as bisexuality seems cover any greyness and uncomfortable inbetweens found in human sexuality. I hope I can make it a little clearer, and I will explain from my experience in struggling with my sexual fluidity- I am twenty years old, and my sexuality is about as fluid as they come. Sometimes, I will be attracted only to men, and other times my attraction will be only to women. Occasionally I am attracted to both genders. What I feel distinguishes my sexuality from bisexuality is the fact that while I am attracted to the opposite sex, for example, I cannot imagine myself being intimate with someone of the same sex (and vice versa). Bisexual individuals do not experience this extreme fluctuation in who they are attracted to. When I have been in long term relationships, my sexuality tended to fluctuate much less frequently, and even to lesser extents. I can’t control the fluctuations, though they are highly influenced by various factors in my life such as my emotional connections with those around me. I do not have any sort of emotional problem because of my fluidity, nor does it stem from such a problem; this is just a part of who I am.
perspectivesJanuary 27th, 2012 at 5:28 PM
Kinsey’s research is fraught with errors and outright deception. For instance his sample groups were prison inmates charged with sexual crimes which is hardly the study group to be used to obtain information on what constitutes healthy sexuality. He also performed unethical sexual experiments on infants.
Given the above facts, basing our human sexuality teaching, to young children in no less, on Kinsey’s findings is nothing short of irresponsible.
PatrickFebruary 3rd, 2012 at 9:52 AM
I need some advice. I am 21 and I have been going out with my girlfriend for over five years. I have always known that I have an attraction to other men, but all the years with my girlfriend, that attraction to men didn’t seem to matter and I was completely content with my relationship. Recently, I felt a strong urge to tell my girlfriend of my bisexuality. When I told her, she was completely supportive and said that she loved me the same. I am so happy for this. However, I have found that I am stuck in the middle of this sexual fluidity situation. I love my girlfriend, but at the same time, I have the attraction to men that, for some reason, I finally felt I had to acknowledge. As of right now, my girlfriend and I are on a break in our relationship. I want to be with her because I love her and want to have kids eventually. I am just so torn over this constant struggle over my sexuality. A part of me thinks that it is just my culture saying “go with the ‘normal’ flow”, but another part of me feels this real love that I have for her. This is literally the most confusing and depressing time in my life. I’m an excellent student and a good person, but I feel with this struggle, I am not the best I can be and it really frustrates me.
AliciaJanuary 30th, 2014 at 5:33 AM
I think I understand some of your frustration.
I have always had relationships with men. Many of them were somewhat serious (or at least I took them seriously), especially the most recent. In fact, he remains my closest friend and I think I probably love him as much as I ever did in most ways.
I’ve also always been sexually attracted to women but I’ve only been significantly romantically attracted to 2 and those feelings were not returned.
I have never felt very (if at all) sexually attracted to men but the strong romantic attration was enough that I was content to ignor that fact. (I didn’t really realize I was ignoring anything but I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.) But then the sex stuff DID start to really bother me yet my own sex drive only went up. That’s when I really started to think through it all.
I’m not sure how much of it was change and how much was just figuring things out.
I think one thing that i think is really hard for people like you and me is that most people don’t seperate romantic attraction from sexual attraction because they generally don’t feel one without the other. But for us, they don’t necesarily go together every time.
I hope everything works out to be just awesome, whatever it ends up being. Be kind to yourself, you can’t help what your brain does, only how you deal with it.
PatrickFebruary 3rd, 2012 at 10:01 AM
In response to Roy…I completely understand where you’re coming from. I am constantly in a fluid state with my sexuality and it drives me insane. Sometimes I feel that I can never be happy. And what’s worse is that society (though has come a long way in the acceptance department) still places a stigma all over alternate sexual orientations.
Randy CrawfordFebruary 9th, 2012 at 5:19 PM
Murder used to be a good thing in the Stone Age. He who killed the most prospered the most, at someone else’s expense. Similarly, those who stole and raped the most prospered the most. Those who didn’t murder, rape, and steal suffered by Darwinian selection, while those who did the most murdering, raping, and stealing transmitted the most genes down to modern times. That’s why today, unless a person uses their recently-evolved frontal lobes to overcome baser instincts, many humans still tend toward criminal behavior. Failing to have sufficient frontal lobe anatomy that is educated properly yields a default to primitive behavior that represents a lack of control from the olden says. This is known as an atavism. Another atavism is homosexuality and/or transitioning back and forth amongst hetero/bi/homosexual behavior. Although homosexuality serves no useful purpose in the modern era, it was formerly useful when we were hunter-gatherers. When the men were out hunting and warring for days at a time, the tribe’s survival required functional eunuchs to be left back at the cave to guard the harem and the brood. No one but a fool would leave another healthy normal caveman alone with his womenfolk and kids for any length of time. There was thus a Darwininan selection for some of each tribe to be set aside with male muscles for tending to the women’s safety when the fully functional men weren’t there, and at the same time there was Darwininan selection for some of the women to be set aside from pregnancy as lesbians so they were available to help with childcare in an environment of saber-toothed tigers and cave bears. Thousands of years ago, there weren’t babysitters available at the other end of non-existent phones, and very few lived long enough to be grandparents. Once humans developed agriculture, stable food sources, villages, and civilization, the advantages of paleolithic strategies such as murder, rape, stealing, and homosexuality became obsolete. Agriculture and its derivatives have been around only a few thousand years, and so the prehistoric genes for prehistoric behavior have not yet had time to evolve away. That’s why today we still see murder, rape, stealing, and homosexuality. These behaviors exist today because in the recent past they conferred selective competitive advantage under Darwininan evolution. Criminal behavior can be controlled, but only if people have educated frontal lobes, or if they are kept in jail.
SophieFebruary 20th, 2012 at 3:32 PM
In response to Jeni, and anyone else thinking it’s ‘easier’ for kids to be one or the other. It’s not. Not at all. I was raised in a very religious home and still suffer for it now, at age 30. I am just now finding my way, and it’s very hard, because I got married and have two children. How am I supposed to talk to my husband about the feelings I’ve been hiding for my whole life? What about my kids? It’s not easier, if anything it’s so much worse.
Parents should want one thing for their kids: for them to be happy with who they are.
JesseMay 24th, 2012 at 6:38 PM
I would just like to say, I love the discussions that are going on here. No one is being rude, and all of you have extremely good points and stories.
I would like to say that sexuality is fluid, for some people more than others. I have a friend who is bone straight, and could NEVER be with a woman. I also have a friend who is bisexual and who understands that it’s the personality that counts, not the equipment. I believe this too; I think love cuts through all our boundaries and categories that we try to set up. Putting ourselves in these boxes won’t protect us from love, because love is the most powerful thing in the universe. That’s why I guess I identify, if I had to, as pansexual.
TerryJune 26th, 2012 at 8:52 PM
Interesting. I hadn’t heard of ‘sexual fluidity’ until today when my sister-in-law told me she’s reading one of her daughter’s books. Besides being fun, sex is also meant for people to be able to have children; at least it used to be that way. There are so many ways to have kids nowadays… I was identified as a straight woman until I turned 35 and went head over heels for another woman. What I find fascinating is Neil’s comment from 2009: he was then in therapy delving into his childhood. For myself, I haven’t been in any kind of relationship since 1992; the last was with a woman and the one before that was with a man. They were, in so many ways, very similar that the only difference was their gender. However, the last relationship took me to a much deeper part of my psyche, which, when the relationship ended abruptly, split wide open, spilling years of backed up emotions. I am near the end of that clean-up. Both these people were essential for my personal maturity, for my getting past emotional blockages from my childhood and while I still prefer the IDEA of having sex with a woman, I don’t need to prove it. I am enough for myself.
Anastacia KuryloOctober 25th, 2012 at 5:56 PM
I am thrilled to see this discussion. I just participated in a segment about gender fluidity in children and how parents handle it.
JakeMay 8th, 2013 at 2:14 PM
:) there ya go!
LarryFebruary 24th, 2013 at 12:07 AM
At the time of writing this I am a 24 year old young man. Although looking back at my childhood some clues that I was going to end up bisexual were there but I had only ever liked girls and had even grown to ‘love’ one as a late teenager. Then, sexual fluidity hit me square in the guts at about 20.
There are times when I feel totally straight just like there are times when I have felt totally gay. I would love to know how to have some kind of influence in understanding the triggers of random sexual preference change and think that it would be an interesting and ethically profitable study (identifying triggers in sexual preference change)if someone were to take it on board.
Usually I find my preference swaying somewhere in-between guys and girls however the catch is I am yet to fall for a guy the way I have for girls, even since the fluidity kicked in.
To put it briefly, some days I notice and feel attracted to guys; some days I notice and feel attracted to girls.
The way today’s youth that I know and associate with sends up, mocks and makes reference to same sex attraction in a derogatory form is appalling and has kept me bisexually in the closet for the past 4 and a half years and has also prevented me from ever sexually engaging with a person of the same sex – most likely because of the guilt and shame.
The way I deal with my bisexuality is by contributing to discussions on an online bisexual forum with other guys from all around the world.
To put it bluntly, sexual fluidity undeniably exists and if you do not believe that it does this is only because you have not experienced it yourself to truly understand what it is and now that you are aware of its existence, be grateful that you do not have to live with it.
To those who experience sexual fluidity, stay strong and know that at least you aren’t alone out there.
In or out of the closet as long as you are true to yourself, that is the main thing.
JakeMay 8th, 2013 at 2:11 PM
Hey Larry, just want to let you know I appreciate your thoughts. Thank you for being open about yourself and your own sexuality firstly. I also appreciate this article. I am tired of retorake of the “born this way” theory. Regardless of whether we are or are not it is generalizing and just as stuffy as saying we choose our orientations to say every single person is born with a certain sexuality and they are that way till death. Just my thought.
As far as for me I often feel attraction to other guys but I appreciate females romantally and by my sexual desire for them is smaller and goes up and down, there’s always one here and there that perks my interest.
nzchicagoOctober 19th, 2015 at 10:00 PM
When I was your age I was convinced I was bisexual, but that I could only ever fall in love with a woman. Well, it took me a good 15 years to figure out it was really men that I wanted to be with and now I identity totally as gay.
I believe in the reality of bisexuality (common) and that genuine fluidity is possible for some people (though rare), I only wanted to point out that our social conditioning is so strong that it can make us believe things that are not necessarily the case for us. In my case, I believed that love was not possible with another man, only sex. Boy was I wrong! And I believed that I was meant to be with a woman and have a family, and that was wrong too.
GeoffMay 5th, 2013 at 1:23 PM
The era that included the naming/delineating of homosexuality and heterosexuality also included the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic and Isaac’s storm – the hurricane that tore Galveston, TX apart as the Weather Service was claiming that no hurricane moved through the Gulf of Mexico.
To think that we not have the arrogance to say that this sexual identity can never change, that people are this way or that way is just as arrogant as when the delineating started. We want to own a reality we cannot actually nail to the wall.
LarryJune 11th, 2013 at 1:42 AM
haha no worries! Glad I came back to this thread. I was just having a bit of a rant… as you can tell I was kinda pi$$ed off at the time of writing! With the benefit of hindsight perhaps I would have worded some of the past and present tenses in my original piece a little differently to more accurately describe my own situation. Tying in with my original post and reinforcing what you’ve written, after the first ‘short term scare’ I’ll call it, I identified as hetero again for a good portion of the aforementioned time I’ve listed as identifying as fluid. I get it lol land some one who slots in or a ‘straightener and not a turner’ again ;)
TrishNovember 9th, 2013 at 9:32 AM
I’ve read all of the comments here. Yes, I’m late to the conversation and I do understand and have “experienced” sexual fluidity. My question is this; Though transgender has been discussed, why has “A” sexual not been acknowledged? There are numerous young people out here who think they are broken because they do not identify as male or female. They have to turn to Tumblr to get answers…what’s up with that?
etseqJanuary 1st, 2014 at 5:39 PM
What wonderful world of metroplolitan american liberal tolerance you guys live – this utopian view of sexual identity is very popular in the humanities and “therapy” field. However, this notion of fluidity is not a “new” concept nor is it something “more common” in this generation. “Fluidity” is a pop-science term that can mean very different things – bisexuality, closeted gays, forced prison sex, pubescent “experimentation”, etc. However, these are all specific phenomena that have very little to do with a fixed sexual orientation, which is the case for the vast majority of post-pubescent adults. It is true that there is sometimes a progression is some people as they age but it is almost exclusviely in one direction – towards homosexuality. That is, straight to bi, straight to gay, or bi to gay. In some women, it is bi to straight but usually this just means a bisexual women has married a man and remains in a monogamous marriage. My point is that descriptive labels for sexual identity may be “fluid” but underlying orientation rarely is in adults. In fact, in a heteronormative society, there is intense pressure to identify as straight so shifts in later life are almost always towards homosexuality.
PoidaFebruary 16th, 2014 at 2:38 AM
I think this article is very accurate with its reporting and descriptions although the heading is a little misleading and it could be made clearer that sexual fluidity is not a new sexual identity, it’s just a new concept to the modern day, heteronormative society. Having said that, articles such as this one are small steps in the right direction.
The one adjustment I’d make is the reference to the Kinsey scale; it needs to be noted that fluid bisexuals do not shift upwards in one single direction along the Kinsey scale, as seems implied by this reference in the article? Rather, the fluid bisexuals slide up and down the Kinsey scale at random and as far as my understanding goes, there is no known reason for how or why this sexual preference change occurs. Source: I am a fluid bisexual.
@etseq – I like the way you have carefully constructed your opinion but think you are being a little overly critical; it is a positive and re-inforcing attitude towards the concept of sexual fluidity that makes society more accepting, and those who are of a non heterosexual background, more at peace with themselves (unless of course there is some kind of misguided grude). While a fluid sexuality may not be as common as your interpretation of the tone of the article suggests to you, there is no need to undermine it, or the Kinsey scale’s model for fluidity for that matter, which although was potentially skewed/biased by the source of the collated data, undeniably exists. It is also worth noting that the Kinsey scale isn’t solely restricted to fluidty but rather the point in which a persons sexuality resides, be they gay, straight, bi etc.
cindyDecember 5th, 2014 at 7:32 PM
I’m bisexual and my parents think its a sin to be bi.i get some of you didn’t grow up in a world where being bisexual/gay/lesbian was acceptable. i’m sure they were out there they just never came out cause its frickin scary coming out to people.but anyways I want both genders equally its kinda hard to choose.
Maggie H.June 30th, 2015 at 10:35 PM
For me, having a fluid sexuality means that some days I just cannot for the life of me picture me sexually being with either a man, woman or either. Some days I am all about the man-booty, but other days I need a softer, cushier woman. Then there are the days when anything sexual makes me nauseous. I am only 16, but I have come out to my friends/family at least 3 times, first as bi, then as pans, then as asexual, and it gets easier with each time, but they also never feel quite right. I tried aegosexual , grey-ace, asexual but hetero/homo/bi-romantic, everything, but nothing really applies to me. This is probs a super old blog post/website/whatever but I just felt like chipping in my two cents.
DreDecember 17th, 2015 at 8:21 PM
Jeni: re: the idea of whether you want your child to fit into a nice neat box, and the fact of sexual fluidity scaring you: I am 38 years old. I’m VERY into fitting into boxes. I have wanted myself to fit into boxes for years and years. The disabled box. The Jewish box. My sexuality box has changed shape a few times in my life: I was straight for most of my life, but then I had a crush on a woman and decided I was bisexual. But then I realized that sex with men was not appealing so I decided I was lesbian. THEN the persistence of my tendency to be physically (but not sexually) attracted to men made “lesbian” not fit as a box. So, just in the last few weeks, I have started searching for my box, the place on the spectrum where I feel most comfortable. My exploration on the internet brought me to the concept of sexual fluidity, and thus I found the box that fits me. I am sometimes attracted to men, sometimes to women. Sometimes (many times) I am attracted to people who are female to male transgendered (although so far never the other way around). So, sexual fluidity is the box that fits me. I respect your anxiety around your child being sexually fluid and not fitting into a box, but I suggest that you try out the idea of sexual fluidity being its own box.
CCJanuary 22nd, 2016 at 10:44 AM
Currently describing my quarter-life crisis. I really appreciate this comment!
ChelseaJune 29th, 2016 at 9:11 AM
Hi Ellen, I know this blog is several years old but I am curious, are there self reporting scales/surveys that exist for measuring fluidity, or changing in sexual desire and attraction? I know The Kinsey Scale measures changes in identified sexual orientation, but most of those who are fluid still identify as just one orientation. And of course the SDI (Sexual Desire Inventory) measures change in desires but does not focus on different gender attractions. Any ideas? Thank you
Leave a Comment
By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.
Search Our Blog
- The Other Side: That’s so true and she indeed complained that I’d become needy (given that I felt nothing coming from her I was trying...
- Sarah: Hello, Melody – thank you for writing. “Culture shock” is often a pretty good metaphor for what you’re describing:...
- Laurie Leinwand: Kendra, I love the feeling of crossing things off a list as well! Glad you have a winning technique. :)
- Bonnie D: I am so sorry that you are going through this. I have been dealing with it also, my husband did 5his while he was suffering from...
- Myra D: I thought that my husband and i had all of these things and somehow all of them put together still wasn’t enough to save our...