What to Do When You're Questioning Your Sexuality

Our teenage years are the most well known for being the time that we discover important parts of our identities such as sexuality, but questioning one's sexual orientation can actually occur at any age.

Not only is it common for many people to be better able to learn about their identities in adulthood, when they're no longer heavily impacted by hormone induced mood swings and drama, but sexuality can also change with age.

One study that examined sexual orientations of people from teenage years through early adulthood showed that changes occurred throughout the duration, noting that "Substantial changes were common not only from late adolescence to the early 20s but also from the early 20s to the late 20s, indicating that sexual orientation development continues throughout emerging adulthood."

The Most Well Known Identities: LGBTQIA+

No matter what age you are, or what your relationship and sexual background is, it's perfectly okay for you to delve further into understanding your own orientation. To help you best understand what you might be experiencing, we've broken down the various known sexual identities, along with how to find resources that can best guide you through your self discovery.

Gender Identity vs. Sexuality

Gender identity and sexuality are often grouped together, but they are separate topics. Your sexuality is centered around who you are attracted to, whereas your gender is about how you yourself identify, not in relation to anyone else. If you are questioning your gender, some great resources include The Trevor Project, The Gender Unicorn, and the Transgender Law Center.

There are more options in regards to sexual orientation than those represented in the acronym LGBTQIA, but that term is the most well known. Here is what the words in that acronym stand for.

Lesbian

A lesbian is a woman who is attracted to people of her same gender. Usually, people who identify as lesbians do not partner with people other than women. The National Center For Lesbian Rights works to advance the rights of lesbians and other marginalized people.

Gay

A gay person is someone who is attracted to people of their same gender, and the term is often used to describe men who are attracted to other men. However, women can identify as gay instead of or in addition to identifying as lesbian.

Bisexual

Someone who is bisexual is attracted to more than one gender. Before the release of the "Bisexual Manifesto" in 1990, it was often assumed that bisexual people were only attracted to cis men and cis women.

However, since then the term has come to include people who are attracted to more than one gender, period. If someone thinks they may be bisexual but isn't yet sure, they may identify as bi-curious. The Bisexual Resource Center can help you learn more.

Transgender

A trans, or transgender, person is someone whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. As mentioned above, gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation.

Because of the overlap of the two topics, though, particularly in regards to the fight for human rights as marginalized people, the transgender label is included in LGBTQIA+. Nonbinary and genderqueer identities also fall under this umbrella.

Queer or Questioning

Queer is an umbrella term for anyone who isn't heterosexual. Being queer means that a person isn't straight, but it doesn't provide any details about who they are or aren't attracted to. While the word queer was once used as a slur, it has been reclaimed in recent years by many in the LGBTQIA+ community.

Questioning is the word for people who are in the process of discovering their sexual orientation. You can be questioning at any age, for as long as is appropriate for your unique journey.

Intersex

People who are intersex were born with bodies that don't fit completely into the male/female gender binary. Just like the transgender label, intersex is not a sexual identity.

The term gets placed in with sexual orientations for the same reason as transgender does, because advocacy is necessary for this marginalized group. The Intesex Societ of North America is a great resource for this subject.

Asexual

Asexuality is the term for a person who doesn't experience sexual attraction to other people. It's considered a spectrum, meaning that some people who are asexual will experience more attraction than others, but to be on the asexual spectrum implies that sexual attraction isn't a typical part of your day to day life. Individuals who are asexual may refer to themselves as "ace." The Asexual Visibility and Education Network can help you learn more.

Greysexuality, or graysexuality, also falls under the asexual identity. Someone who identifies as grey/graysexual may be rarely attracted to other people, but not so rarely that they fully identify as asexual.

Plus (+)

The + symbol at the end of LGBTQIA denotes that there are more identities than just the ones in that acronym. Let's take a look at what those are.

Other Sexual Orientations

For some people, none of the terms in LGBTQIA accurately describe their sexuality. These are some lesser known, but still equally real identities.

Pansexual

Someone who is pansexual is attracted to all genders of people. This might sound similar to bisexual, but it's different. For instance, someone who identifies as bisexual isn't necessarily attracted to all genders of people (just because they're attracted to more than one gender). Conversely, a pansexual person could be attracted to anyone regardless of their gender.

Demisexual

A person who only becomes attracted to other people once they have formed an emotional bond can be described as demisexual. Similar to asexual and pansexual people, a demisexual individual could be of any gender, and who they are attracted to once they feel emotionally bonded is not related to the term. The Demisexuality Resource Center has more info about this identity.

Sapiosexual

Brains matter more than physical beauty for some people when it comes to attraction. For those individuals, intellectual chemistry is paramount, and their attraction to others is more centered around that than it is on physicality. People whose attraction to others is based on intellect identify as sapiosexual.

Skoliosexual

This newer term refers to those who are usually attracted to people who fall outside the typical gender binary. That means that trans, nonbinary, or genderqueer people may be the ones that a skoliosexual person is generally attracted to.

Romantic Versus Sexual Attraction

When discussing sexual orientation, the distinction between romantic and sexual attraction sometimes comes into play.

It's good to understand the differences between them because even though they tend to go together—meaning that usually people want romantic relationships with the same gender or genders of people they are sexually attracted to—there are some individuals for whom the two are different or disparate.

A person can be sexually attracted to a gender but not enjoy the way relationships with them play out, or they can like the relationship dynamic with a certain gender but not enjoy sexual acts with them.

Fluidity

Sexual orientation can change at any time of your life. If you're experiencing a shift in your own attractions, your sexuality may be changing. There's nothing wrong with that. For one thing, as we age we get to know ourselves better, and we may be able to acknowledge facets of ourselves that we couldn't before.

Additionally, as we age our priorities change. What you once found attractive in others might now be off-putting. For some people, their sexuality never stops changing. Those people might consider themselves sexually fluid for life.

Steps To Take To Discern Your Identity

If you're questioning your sexual orientation, there are a number of simple and easy emotional exercises you can conduct to help reach yourself and your attraction on a deeper level. Start by asking yourself one or more of these questions:

  1. What imagery resonates with you: when you see photos of couples or families, which ones tug at your heartstrings or your libido? Do you feel feelings of envy or hope when you see same-gender couples?
  2. What's in your imagination: when you close your eyes and envision your perfect partner, are they a specific gender? If so, is their gender different than that of people you've partnered with up to this point?
  3. Separate the dogma you've learned from your true self: as we go through life, we absorb a lot of ideologies about what's "right" or "good." If you focus on getting those out of the way, does your idea of who you're attracted to change?

Resources To Help Understand Your Sexual Orientation

No matter what you're experiencing in relation to your sexuality, there is no need to go through it alone. Questioning your sexuality is a perfectly healthy activity, and talking about it with other people can help you work through it more effectively.

If you're comfortable discussing the issue with a loved one, bring up the subject with them. Choose a friend or family member you know you can trust, who doesn't have any homophobic tendencies and will have your best interest in mind.

Share your feelings with them, letting them know that you're unsure about your orientation. Don't feel pressured to walk away from the conversation with a label—you have all the time you want to figure that out, if you ever even need to.

If speaking with a loved one isn't enough, consider speaking with a professional. If you're twenty three or younger, the LGBT Youth Hotline offers confidential, free support by phone; if you're older, the LGBT National Help Center has a hotline as well. Additionally, you can speak to a therapist, and most major cities have LGBTQ Centers, many of which have free support groups.

Lastly, dating apps can help you connect with others who are also questioning their sexuality. Apps like OK Cupid give you the option of choosing "questioning" as an identity, and allow you to search for others who are in the same situation.

A Word From Verywell

Questioning one's sexuality can happen at any age. There are many different sexual identities, and finding which one fits you best may take some time. Your identity also might change over time throughout your life.

There are many resources to help you understand your orientation, from organizations dedicated to specific identities to broader hotlines that offer help for any questions you might have. There's no need to feel stressed if you're questioning your sexuality—you have all the time you need, and plenty of free resources, to figure out what, if any, label fits you best.

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