- The term "sexual fluidity" refers to the evolving experience of someone’s sexuality.
- Sexuality may change over time, across contexts, or within specific domains of sexual identity.
- Sexual fluidity is far from a contemporary concept; in fact, history is rife with examples.
Pride month is here. Pride parades, which are celebrated in most of parts of the world, give people in the LGBTQ+ community an opportunity to be seen and heard. They help sexual minority groups, which have historically been repressed, advocate for their rights.
However, at no other time in history has the “grouping” of sexual minorities been less understood by the general public. While some folks still put themselves into specific categories like straight or gay, more and more people feel less inclined to do so, opting instead to classify themselves as “fluid” across one or more sexual domains. So, what exactly does sexual fluidity mean and how does it fit into someone’s sexual identity?
It is interesting how easily most people accept the idea of personal evolution in terms of their personality and general preferences. Perhaps you look back in horror at old beliefs you used to hold or the kinds of clothes you used to wear 10 years ago versus today. You’re the same person, but you’ve evolved. Think of the way you behave around your in-laws versus your college friends. Again, you’re the same person, but there is fluidity in how you express your personality in each context. When it comes to sexuality, however, the concept of fluidity can be a challenging concept to grasp.
The term "sexual fluidity" refers to the evolving experience of someone’s sexuality over time, across contexts, or within specific domains of their sexual identity. This concept stems from the idea that most components of our sexuality fall on a spectrum, and where they fall on that spectrum can fluctuate. Let's start by examining some key terms.
Biologic sex refers to the sex chromosomes and reproductive organs one is born with. People born with XX chromosomes have female reproductive organs, people born with XY chromosomes have male reproductive organs, and people who are born intersex have a chromosomal makeup or reproductive organs that do not fit the male/female binary model.
Gender identity refers to an individual's internal experience of their own gender. When someone asks for your pronouns, they are inquiring about your gender identity. The most common gender identities include woman, man, transgender, nonbinary, agender, and genderqueer. There are, of course, many more gender identities, which you can explore in this list.
Gender expression refers to how one presents themselves outwardly, either as masculine, feminine, androgynous, or something else. It encompasses how people perceive you based on your appearance, mannerisms, behavior, and voice.
Romantic orientation refers to the emotional and romantic attractions one experiences toward others. It is independent of gender identity and can exist separately from sexual orientation.
Sexual/erotic orientation refers to the types of individuals one finds sexually appealing as well as the sorts of things someone enjoys doing sexually.
Taken together, these aspects form an individual's sexual identity. While some people feel that they fit and stay in one category across each domain for their entire lives, more and more people do not, finding that their sexuality is more fluid in nature.
Take Serena. She was born with a vulva and uses she/her pronouns. She keeps her hair long and loves wearing dresses and stilettos. She’s happily married to Jake. They are mostly monogamous, but occasionally enjoy threesomes with other women.
Serena’s biologic sex is female, her gender identity is female, her gender expression is feminine, she is heteroromantic, and her sexual orientation is mostly heterosexual with occasional bisexual fluidity.
Now consider Logan, who was born with a penis but uses they/them pronouns. Logan presents as masculine in their professional life but leans towards an androgynous style in social settings. They find joy in cuddling and spending time with individuals of all genders, but they have no interest in engaging in sexual activities.
Logan's biologic sex is male, their gender identity is nonbinary, and their gender expression is fluid and situation-dependent. Their romantic orientation is panromantic, and they identify as asexual.
The term “sexual fluidity” was coined by modern-day sex researcher, Dr. Lisa Diamond, but it is far from a contemporary trend. History is filled with examples of fluidity across gender, orientation, and more. In ancient Egypt, some individuals changed their gender to facilitate their journey to the afterlife. Walking through the streets of Pompeii reveals numerous depictions of nonheteronormative sexual acts. Native American cultures recognized that many individuals harbored "two spirits" within them, a concept we now understand as gender nonbinary. King Louis wore long wigs to conceal his premature balding, and Persian cavalry were pioneers in wearing heels to secure their feet to stirrups.
There are plenty of celebrities who have been open about their sexual fluidity. Chrishell Stause, an actress who gained fame through the Netflix show Selling Sunset, is a good example. She had high-profile heterosexual relationships before surprising her fans by revealing her love for G Flip, an Australian musician who identifies as gender nonbinary.
Other celebrities, such as Demi Lovato, Sam Smith, Drew Barrymore, and Angelina Jolie, have openly discussed the fluid nature of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
While most individuals assert that they have known their gender identity or sexual orientation since birth, others find that they enjoy intentionally exploring their sexuality across many of the sexual identity domains and acknowledge that while they may feel one way today, they could feel differently tomorrow.
Our sexual preferences, or erotic orientation, can also be fluid. Perhaps you go through an exploratory phase of BDSM or develop a strong attachment to a particular vibrator within the confines of your primary romantic relationship. More couples are exploring the concept of consensual nonmonogamy, which can be seen as a form of sexual fluidity. They might have been content with sexual exclusivity for years before discovering a longing for experiences beyond their primary partner.
Today, an increasing number of young individuals proactively explore their sexual identity, taking the time to carefully consider what resonates with them at any given moment.
Wherever you fall on any of these domains, remember that fluidity and change are normal. You deserve to love and be loved, regardless of how you choose to identify. Happy Pride!
Diamond, L. M. (2008). Sexual fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire. Harvard University Press.
Kort, J. (2018). Erotic orientation: Helping couples & individuals understand their sexual lives. Smart Sex-Smart Love Books.