Good Sex with Emily Jamea: Sexual Fluidity

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Emily Jamea, Ph.D., is a sex therapist, author and podcast host. You can find her here each month to share her latest thoughts about sex.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself 10 years ago. What were you interested in? What were some of your preferences? What kinds of relationships did you have?

Now open your eyes and reflect on your life today. How are you the same or different? Has your life followed the path you thought it would?

Most people don’t bat an eye when they think about their personality evolving, but for some reason, when it comes to our sexuality, the idea of fluidity can be a difficult concept to grasp.

Sexual fluidity is an umbrella term. There are, after all, many dimensions of sexual identity. Let’s break down a few key terms.

Biological sex refers to the organs that sit between your legs at birth and whether you were born with an XX (female) or XY (male) chromosomal makeup. There are, of course, rare variations to binary biological sex.

Gender identity refers to your internal experience of being masculine, feminine, both or neither. When people ask for your pronouns, they are asking about your gender identity. Common gender identities are male, female, transgender, nonbinary, agender and genderqueer. When your gender identity and your biological sex match, you are cisgender (cis).

Gender expression refers to your outward appearance as masculine or feminine. This is how people see you at first glance based on your dress, behavior and voice. People may express themselves as masculine, feminine, androgynous or anything in between.

Romantic orientation refers to your emotional and romantic interest in others. This is independent of your gender identity and may be different from your sexual orientation.

Sexual/erotic orientation refers to the types of people you are physically attracted to and enjoy having sex with. Sexual orientations include homosexual, people who are sexually attracted to people of the same gender; heterosexual, people who are sexually attracted to people of the opposite genders; bisexual, people who are sexually attracted to men and women; pansexual, people who are sexually attracted to all genders; and asexual, people who are not sexually attracted to anyone or do not have a sexual orientation.

Now, let’s look at some examples.

Bethany was born with a vulva and uses she/her pronouns. She wears her hair long and loves flowy dresses and stilettos. She’s in love with her cis male husband and enjoys having sex with him.

Bethany’s biological sex is female; her gender identity is female; her gender expression is femme; her romantic orientation is toward men; and her sexual orientation is heterosexual.

David was born with a penis and uses he/him pronouns. He wears men’s suits and gets a haircut every three weeks. He and his girlfriend have been dating for five years and occasionally enjoy bringing another man into the bedroom.

David’s biological sex is male; his gender identity is male, and his gender expression is masculine; his romantic orientation is toward women; and his sexual orientation is primarily heterosexual with some fluidity toward bisexuality.

Blake was born with a penis and uses they/them pronouns. They present masculine at work but androgynous in their social world. They enjoy cuddling and spending time with people of all gender identities, but have no interest in sex that involves the genitals. They anticipate they may feel differently after undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

Blake’s biological sex is male, and their gender identity is nonbinary. Their gender expression is fluid, situation-dependent. Their romantic orientation is panromantic (toward all people) and their sexual orientation is asexual (at least for now).

To make matters more complicated, your sexual identity can change over time. In other words, these categories may be fluid. Did that one fling with a same-sex partner in college make you gay or bisexual? Probably not. Most likely, it was a moment of sexual fluidity.

If you think sexual fluidity is a new trend, think again. History is full of examples of fluidity across gender, orientation and more. Ancient Egyptians sometimes changed their gender to make passage to the afterlife easier. Walk through the streets of Pompeii and you’ll see plenty of depictions of nonheteronormative sex acts preserved in carvings in the stone. Native Americans are known for accepting the fact that many people had “two spirits” inside of them, a concept we now understand as being gender nonbinary.

One of the more well-known cases of fluidity in the celebrity world is that of Chrishell Stause, an actress who became popular on the Netflix hit, “Selling Sunset.” She presents as female and had several high-profile heterosexual relationships. She shocked fans when she admitted to falling in love with G Flip, an Australian musician whose biological sex is female but identifies as gender nonbinary. G Flip uses they/them pronouns. This was initially confusing to her fellow cast members who viewed her as the poster child for heteronormative sexuality.

While some people have known since the day they were born that they were male or female, straight or gay, others find that their sexual identity is more fluid and evolves with time.

While not listed in the glossary above, sexual preferences may be fluid as well. Maybe you go through a BDSM phase, or a role playing phase, or a phase where you become especially attached to a particular vibrator, all within the setting of your primary romantic relationship.

Or maybe you and your partner explore the idea of consensual non-monogamy, which can also be considered a form of sexual fluidity. You may have felt satisfied with sexual monogamy for years only to discover that you now long for experiences beyond your primary relationship partner.

Most people still take their sexuality at face value and conform to the heteronormative script. Others may not question it until they meet someone who forces them to look in the mirror. And sometimes we don’t change until we meet someone who sparks our curiosity. More and more, young people are proactively questioning their sexual identity, taking time to thoughtfully consider what works for them at any given moment and not feeling like they have to fit in a certain box.

Wherever you fall, know that fluidity and change are normal. You deserve to love and be loved no matter how you identify.

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