Research published in the Journal of Sex Research found that people ranging in age from adolescence to their late 20s reported variation in who they were attracted to and partnered up with, as well as how they identified sexually. The studies authors mined statistics from surveys including the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health.
"Sexual orientation involves many aspects of life, such as who we feel attracted to, who we have sex with, and how we self-identify," Christine Kaestle, PhD, a professor of developmental health at Virginia Tech said in a press release. "Until recently, researchers have tended to focus on just one of these aspects, or dimensions, to measure and categorize people. However, that may oversimplify the situation." She gives the example of someone who might consider themselves heterosexual, but also have a history with partners of their same sex.
Of course, how people interact sexually is far too complex to fit into the labels "gay," "straight," or "bisexual," argue the study authors. "We will always struggle with imposing categories onto sexual orientation," said Dr. Kaestle. "Because sexual orientation involves a set of various life experiences over time, categories will always feel artificial and static."
"Because sexual orientation involves a set of various life experiences over time, categories will always feel artificial and static."
While the study's findings on sexual fluidity highlight insufficiency of the labels gay, straight, and bisexual, researchers divided people into nine distinct categories based on their findings, including "mostly straight or bi," "minimal sexual expression," and "emerging lesbian." The groupings leave much more room for nuance than the run-of-the mill labeling so often used to herd people into sexually simple boxes, and it also allowed them to discover for some truly thought-provoking findings.
For example, more men identify as straight than women, who, on the other hand, had a greater sexual fluidity over the course of their young adulthood. And less than one in 25 men fell somewhere in the middle of being either gay or straight. "At the same time—as more people pair up in longer term committed relationships as young adulthood progresses—this could lead to fewer identities and attractions being expressed that do not match the sex of the long-term partner, leading to a kind of bi-invisibility," explains the researcher.
No matter your age, it's 100 percent okay if you don't feel like you fit into one of nine categories. As Dr. Kaestle and her colleagues are quick to point out, when it comes to sexuality, we're really just looking at the tip of the iceberg (for now).
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