What Is Sexual Fluidity?

No matter where you fall on the sexuality spectrum, your feelings are valid.

Sexual fluidity is an aspect of sexuality that is about flexibility in your sexual preferences. It refers to the ability for a person's sexual identity, attraction, or behavior to change depending on particular situations. Whether it's for the short term or long term, people might experience changes in how they sexually identify, who they are attracted to, or what type of sexual partners they have.1

Sexual fluidity means that your sexuality can be ever-changing. Even if your sexuality has stayed pretty constant, it might change once or several times throughout your adolescence and adulthood.

What Does Sexual Fluidity Look Like?

Sexual fluidity can mean different things for different people.

For example, someone who is lesbian might consider themselves sexually fluid if they start experiencing attraction to someone who is non-binary. People who have heterosexual sexual encounters could be sexually fluid if they have an occasional desire for the same sex. Someone who is attracted to both men and women might eventually feel attraction to people of any gender.1

Changes in sexual attraction, identity, or behavior can be unexpected. The changes can be temporary or lasting.

Sexual fluidity doesn't mean someone is confused or in denial about their sexual orientation, which is who you are attracted to sexually. Being sexually fluid is also not the same as being bisexual, a sexual orientation when you are consistently attracted to more than one gender.1

Unlike sexual orientation, which suggests that sexuality falls under one fixed category, sexual fluidity shows that your sexual thoughts, feelings, and attractions can be continuously evolving.2 Attraction isn't always confined to one label, which is why some people might prefer the label of sexually fluid. And just because people can be sexual fluid doesn't mean that sexual orientation doesn't exist. Sexual fluidity simply highlights that your sexual orientation may not rigidly predict each and every desire you'll have in your life.1

That said, it could be possible, for example, for a woman to identify as straight and still wonder how to know if she's a lesbian due to a sporadic attraction to the same gender. Labels can definitely help you identify who you are based on a series of emotional, romantic, and sexual patterns, but they can't predict each and every desire you will have over your lifespan, which is where sexual fluidity comes into play.

How Common Is Sexual Fluidity?

Research has shown that anywhere between less than 1% to 66% of people whose gender aligns with their sex at birth (cisgender) are sexually fluid. One study showed that, compared to cisgender men and women, trans men are even more likely to show sexual fluidity.3

Although sexual fluidity can affect someone of any sex or gender, research has suggested that more women than men are sexually fluid. For example, a small study 2013 study of 199 young LGBTQ+ adults showed that 64% of women and 52% of men identified as sexually fluid.4 However, newer research seems to suggest that women might not actually have higher rates of sexual fluidity after all.1

Someone can experience sexual fluidity at any point in their life. This might be because you meet someone new or learn about a sexual identity with which you more closely identify. But research does suggest that substantial changes in one's attraction to others seem to be common in late adolescence to the early 20s as well as from the early 20s to the late 20s.5

Overall, there's been an increase in the percentage of Americans who identify as LGBTQ+. Researchers suggest this rise could be from political changes, like the legalization of same-sex marriage, as well as social changes, like the destigmatization of sexual minorities.6

How to Know If You're Sexually Fluid

Since sexuality is a spectrum and where you fall on it can be different throughout your life, there is no sure way to know exactly if where you are now on the spectrum will be where you stay at all times. But that doesn't mean you can't still regularly check in with yourself to acknowledge your feelings.

Here are some signs you might be sexually fluid:1

  • You feel a nonexclusive attraction to different genders. Unlike the constant attraction to more than one gender that comes with bisexuality, sexual fluidity means you sporadically feel attracted to different genders, sometimes at the same time and sometimes not. Your change in attraction can happen several times throughout your life or it can happen only once.
  • Your sexual attractions change over time. If your attraction to others consistently fluctuates, you might find that you don't identify with the description of any one sexual orientation because not just one fits your sexual attraction pattern.
  • Your sexual attraction, behavior, and identity aren't consistent. You might find that there are times in your life when your thoughts and actions don't match your identity. For instance, if you identify as straight but are sometimes sexually intimate with the same gender or if you identify as gay but often find yourself attracted to someone of another gender. These inconsistencies across your attraction, behavior, and identity might mean you are sexually fluid.

Young adults who have a fluid sexual orientation might experience or be worried that they may experience negative social reactions when letting people know about their fluidity. This can play a role in the negative mental effects some people might experience during their time of fluctuation.7 But accepting that your sexuality is changing might actually lead to better authentic self-expression. And being your true self can benefit your overall satisfaction and well-being.8 Self-acceptance of your sexuality has itself been linked to better mental health.9

Summary

Sexual fluidity is the ability for a person's sexual identity, attraction, or behavior to change over time. This change can happen several times throughout your life or only once.

Wherever you find yourself on the sexuality spectrum, the real importance lies in your ability to remain honest and true to your feelings. And remember you're not alone. You can reach out to a trusted friend or family member for support; make an appointment with a healthcare provider or counseling service; join a support group to meet other people who are sexually fluid; or visit resources like The National Resource Center on LGBTQ Aging, which provides information and support to older members of the queer community, their families, and care partners.

Sources:

  1. Diamond LM. Sexual Fluidity in Male and Females. Curr Sex Health Rep. 2016;8(4):249-256. doi:10.1007/s11930-016-0092-z.
  2. Hargons C, Mosley D, Stevens-Watkins D, Studying Sex: A Content Analysis of Sexuality Research in Counseling Psychology. Couns Psychol. 2017;45(4):528–546. doi:10.1177/0011000017713756.
  3. Katz-Wise SL, Williams DN, Keo-Meier CL, Budge SL, Pardo S, Sharp C. Longitudinal Associations of Sexual Fluidity and Health in Transgender Men and Cisgender Women and Men. Psychol Sex Orientat Gend Divers. 2017; 4(4):460–471. doi:10.1037/sgd0000246.
  4. Katz-Wise SL. Sexual fluidity in young adult women and men: associations with sexual orientation and sexual identity development. 2013;189-208. doi:10.1080/19419899.2013.876445.
  5. Kaestle CE. Sexual Orientation Trajectories Based on Sexual Attractions, Partners, and Identity: A Longitudinal Investigation From Adolescence Through Young Adulthood Using a U.S. Representative Sample. J Sex Res. 2019;56(7):811-826. doi:10.1080/00224499.2019.1577351.
  6. Gates GJ. LGBT Data Collection Amid Social and Demographic Shifts of the US LGBT Community. Am J Public Health. 2017;107(8):1220–1222. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2017.303927.
  7. Frickea J, Sironib M. Sexual fluidity and BMI, obesity, and physical activity. SSM Popul Health. 2020; 11:100620. doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2020.100620.
  8. Al-Khouja, M., Weinstein, N., Ryan, W. and Legate, N., 2022. Self-expression can be authentic or inauthentic, with differential outcomes for well-being: Development of the authentic and inauthentic expression scale (AIES). Journal of Research in Personality, 97, p.104191.
  9. Camp, J., Vitoratou, S. and Rimes, K., 2020. LGBQ Self-Acceptance and Its Relationship with Minority Stressors and Mental Health: A Systematic Literature Review. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(7), pp.2353-2373.
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