I questioned myself as I fall somewhere between heterosexual and bisexual, and I find that my sexual interest fluctuates based on the specific situation or person I’m with. But I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way.
Women may be more likely to experience fluidity (or at least admit to it) than men, found a recent study in the Journal of Sex Research, with changes in how they identify and in sexual partners occurring well into their late 20s.
“The idea that your orientation can change or be in transit, makes space for the fact that your sexual identity is not fixed, and that your sex life or relationships don’t have to meet someone else’s expectations,” says Andrea Barrica, CEO of O.school, an online sex-ed resource.
Research from the journal Sexualities confirms this: some people who self-identify as straight also say they’ve been intimate with the same sex, which could be because proper labels often aren’t available (slang terms are hetero-flexible, straight-curious or mostly straight).
“We’re not static – desires can change over time,” explains Barrica. Culturally, it makes sense that more women are choosing to explore that now. Acceptance of same sex relationships is climbing, research in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour reveals, and dating apps make it easy to find others who are experimenting.
“In the last few years there’s been this societal OK and validation for women to explore beyond gender roles and conformity,” says Renee Divine, a relationships and sex therapist. Still, like me, a lot of women wrestle with what to call themselves, since nothing feels quite right. (Good news: both the straight and LGBTQ communities have become more open to a label-less identity, and queer seems to satisfy most.)
And many women still struggle with dating outside their usual pool, not knowing what to expect. That’s why I asked our experts to help pave the way. Now, as for my own first lady-date worries? Turns out, she was in the same boat as me – new to dating women and just as scared I’d be turned off by it. And luckily, we were both wrong.
1. Check Privilege
If you’ve identified as straight in the past, you likely haven’t experienced frustrations that LGBTQ-identifying people have, so it’s important to acknowledge that. Before you start chatting or dating anyone, “you need to educate yourself on their terminology, culture and history,” says Barrica. “You don’t have to be an expert, but you should know how not to be offensive.” Ask for and use people’s personal pronouns, read relevant articles and books, follow a lesbian culture account (such as @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y on Instagram), talk to friends in the community and start hanging out in queer spaces (such as an LGBTQ-friendly yoga class). “When you are new to the culture, educating yourself on issues can ease some anxiety,” asserts Barrica.
2. Be Upfront
You don’t have to disclose on your Bumble profile that you’re new to dating women, but you should bring it up during your first convo, says Barrica. Say, “Hey, I want to be honest and let you know I’m exploring my sexuality right now, so I’m new to this. If you’re open to that, I’d love to see where this goes.” Be gentle with yourself if they’re not comfortable with the idea. If that’s the case, respect their decision and keep searching. Some women won’t be bothered.
3. Slay Shyness
If you’ve always dated men, you might be used to being pursued – and those dynamics won’t always fly here. I’ve had to be a lot more aggressive in making the first move with women. But it can be fun and empowering to explore a different side of yourself through a new relationship role. If you’re not into taking the lead, though, Barrica notes that women tend to be cooler with taking things slow, so don’t be afraid to wait to be physical. When you’re ready, “ask specifically what you want to try,” Barrica says – which can be surprisingly hot. “Say, ‘I’ve never touched a woman, and I’d love to know how it feels. Can I give you a massage?’” Or if the thought of your first public kiss is giving you anxiety, ask to hold hands for a few minutes instead. Baby steps are just as good as any steps in the name of exploration.
This article originally appeared in the February issue of Women's Health.