Sian, 22, feels attraction to people of all genders, but it varies from week to week. Sometimes, she exclusively wants to date women and non-binary people. Other times, gender's not a factor. She's not sure why this is, but it's very common. Many people's sexual preferences change throughout the day, the week, or the month. For these people, society's expectation to identify with one sexual orientation may not feel right.
On Reddit, this series of changes is affectionately known as the "bicycle" — a play on the word "bi" — though those of all identities can experience it. As one man describes it, "After I work out, I want to f*ck a girl. In the morning, I want a to f*ck a girl. At night, I want a guy to f*ck me. When I have anxiety, I want a guy to f*ck me." Another Redditor writes, "My preferences change during the month with my hormonal fluctuations. I like men more towards ovulation and women more around menstruation. As you can imagine, it caused a lot of problems when I was trying to figure my sexual orientation"
Astroglide's resident sexologist Dr. Jess O'Reilly tells Bustle this is common. "I have some clients that find that their desire in terms of gender is fluid — sometimes it aligns with their cycle and other times it corresponds with what’s going on in their lives," she says. "Several of my clients who identify as bisexual have reported that they are only interested in men in the middle of their cycle — this corresponds with older research suggesting that women are more open to men’s sexual advances when they're ovulating." Also supporting this theory is a study in Evolution and Human Behavior, which found that women are drawn to more stereotypically masculine faces during ovulation.
The male Redditor isn't the only one with the pattern he describes either. "I have a cis male client who is married to a woman who reports that he’s only interested in sex with men during periods of high stress," says Dr. Jess.
Others' attraction varies for a variety of reasons — or no apparent reason. Jim, 48, tells Bustle he's more likely to be attracted to men when he hasn't had sex in a while. Zach, 26, tells Bustle his preferences fluctuate randomly. "At times I find myself only turning my head when a cute guy walks down the street and don't even see women. Other times it's the exact opposite," he says. "But there is no real pattern. And sometimes it seems like they change daily whereas sometimes it's more stable."
The reasons behind these shifts may be hormonal, or they may have more to do with emotional cravings. What they all underline, though, is that the way we think of sexual orientation doesn't capture the changing nature of many people's sexuality.
"What you enjoy today is different than what you wanted five years ago, and this is what keeps sex so exciting."
"I believe that fluidity in sexual attraction (with regard to gender and other factors) is more common that we realize," says Dr. Jess. "The problem is that we want to 'classify' sexual orientation according to the gender binary (e.g. I’m attracted to men and I’m a woman; therefore, I’m straight), but this can be confusing for those who don’t buy into rigid definitions of gender. It can also be confusing for those who find that their attraction varies."
It's not just gender preferences that shift either. Dr. Jess has had clients whose interest in rough sex, non-monogamy, and sex in general fluctuates. She's also seen people's desires change in the long-term. "What you enjoy today is different than what you wanted five years ago, and this is what keeps sex so exciting," she says.
Given how common this is, we shouldn't feel pressure to identify with just one orientation if it doesn't always fit us — or label our sexual orientation at all, for that matter.
"I like to identify as queer, as it's broad and encompasses all my feelings and identities," Sian tells Bustle. "I find it useful to have that label so that I can identify with a community and feel like I belong. But beyond that, I don't feel a need to constantly specify exactly who I'm attracted to with a word."