7 Things To Remember When Experimenting With Your Sexuality
Sexuality is a spectrum, and as such, it's not unusual for someone who previously identified as straight or gay to have feelings of curiosity towards people of the gender they don't usually crush on or have sex with. Bi-curiosity is normal, as is experimentation, no matter what spurs it. Whatever (or whoever) it is that has you questioning, there are some things to remember when experimenting with your sexuality. Discovering who you are sexually is a beautiful, delicate process and it ought to be treated as such.
The concept of experimenting with one's sexuality has garnered a great deal of societal stigma. Bi-curiosity is sometimes not taken seriously. Some (ignorant) people falsely claim that bisexuality doesn't even exist, while others say that women just experiment with other women to get attention, or that bisexuality is just a layover on the way to declaring you're gay. In truth, being bisexual is a totally valid sexual identity, every bit as valid as being straight or gay. As Loren A. Olson, M.D. pointed out to Psychology Today, the term "bisexuality" lacks clarity about the differences between attraction, behavior, or self-identity — thus people who do not identify as bisexual may have trouble understanding it, and may unfairly stigmatize those who do identify this way.
As someone attracted to both sexes I can confirm that bisexuality does exist, and that experimenting to discover your true sexual identity is totally OK, as long as you're being honest with yourself and others. When introducing anything new into your life, it's key to identify two things: what you truly want out of that experience and why you want it. Easier said than done, I know. It's just that there's really no rigid formula for finding what and who makes you happy other than trying it out. Pursuing anything with someone new, especially if you've dated one gender your entire life, is intimidating. So to get things started, here are seven things to consider that will help you avoid heartbreak and confusion when experimenting sexuality.
1. Be Transparent
It's important to be transparent about your intentions when you're experimenting. It's only fair, to all parties involved. By letting your prospective significant other know that you're not 100 percent solid on where you stand on the sexaulity spectrum, you're ensuring that you're kicking things off on the same page. Douglas LaBier Ph.D. told Psychology Today that radical transparency is essential for sustaining intimacy in a romantic relationship. He broke it down into two parts. One way is revealing more of yourself to your partner (i.e. letting go of inhibitions and defensive feelings), while the other is being open and receptive to your partner's reality.
Again — there's nothing wrong with experimenting. Because honestly, how else are you supposed to figure things out until you try them? The important thing to remember here is to be honest and open about it. No one wants to be used or be thought of us as the "guinea pig" in your sexuality quest. Just as you would have the "this is what I'm looking for" conversation with someone you start seeing, make sure that this is a situation you're both comfortable with pursuing. If they're looking for something a little more serious, they may not be the optimal choice to try things out with.
2. Identify Expectations
As with being transparent, it's important to keep tabs on what you want and where you see things going and to share that. Of course, it's OK not to know from the get-go. But the second you start feeling like things are headed in a direction you're not really cool with, speak up! As clinical psychologist Jennifer Kromberg, PsyD pointed out in Psychology Today, it's important to differentiate the reality of your current situation from your inner fantasy or perception. Because unless you're dating Edward Cullen in all his telepathic charm, chances are, your partner can't read your mind.
3. Be Open To Taking Risks
Dating is an emotional rollercoaster in and of itself, so adding the factor of figuring out your sexual orientation can stir up plenty more confusing frustration. But congrats — you've navigated that beautifully complex web of questions bouncing between your heart and brain expertly enough that you're now seeking some answers. So maintain that boldness and act on it. Don't be afraid to try new things. Don't be afraid to feel things. Take those risks!
In fact, Julie Zeilinger pointed out seven reasons why risk-taking leads to success in The Huffington Post (in all you do — relationships included). Especially when applied to experimenting with sexuality, great, unforeseen opportunities arise from risks; we learn from risks that can lead us to new, important paths; success won't just happen unless you pursue it; and playing it safe doesn't usually get you anywhere extraordinary or self-revealing. Embrace the unfamiliar like the healthy risk-taking boss that you are.
4. Check In
While stepping out of your comfort zone is important, there is a healthy line that needs to be drawn, so be sure to check in with yourself. How do you really feel? Channel that emotional intelligence to make sure you're in a good head space. Psychiatrist Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal wrote that emotional intelligence is especially important in perceiving, controlling, and evaluating emotions in oneself and one's relationships. He advised not to judge or edit feelings too quickly, to find connections between your feelings and thoughts, and continue asking yourself how you feel. This is especially important when diving into a new relationship and covering new ground with something as delicate as sexuality and really getting to know yourself. Be kind to yourself and give your brain a giant hug by embracing all of the feels.
5. Educate Yourself
The more insight you get, the more clarity and comfort you'll receive about any confusion you have. In fact, your confusion will be totally validated when you realize how not alone you are. Beyond this, as Zachary Zane wrote for Pride, a LGBTQ website, it’s good to learn more about sexuality and gender in order for you to better understand yourself. And whether or not you're questioning your sexuality, you should definitely check out artist iO Tillett Wright's brilliant TED Talk on the 50 Shades Of Gay, in which she explores just how many people exist in the gray areas of sexuality and what it all does — or doesn't — mean.
6. Don't Let Labels Drive You
We live in a world that's constantly striving to define the unknown and categorize everything we may not quite understand. And this can be a great way to organize and make sense of things as we learn more. But when it comes down to the way we feel — since we're on an emotional roll with feelings on this topic — any rigid structure should go out the window. Rather than trying to mold yourself to a set of societal expectations and stereotypes, just allow yourself to feel freely. Phil Nicol, Co-Chair of the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, told The Site that gender isn’t always the defining factor in why people find others emotionally or sexually attractive. He said it could be confusing to have these feelings when you always thought you could clearly define your sexual orientation.
Because of how much can change over time based on the people you meet and what you experience, there's no need to declare anything unequivocally. As Dr. Sharon Horne, a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston told Her Campus, in comparison to men, women often take more time before they adopt sexual identity labels and have more shifts or fluidity in their identities over time. She advised not to feel pressured to label yourself, if at all, because what's the rush? It's your identity, and it's totally OK to say if you aren't sure but you know you're attracted to "x, y, or z."
7. Reach Out
Tap into the expansive amount of support systems at your disposal. Friends, family, anyone and everyone in the LGBTQ community/support groups, etc. You have so much love to give and the world is just as ready to send all that love right back to you. As has been reiterated, it's OK to be confused and to not necessarily have the answer to absolutely everything.
So ask the questions, talk it out, hug it out, feel it out, and love it out. Because as we know, love always wins.
Images: Pexels; Giphy (7)