Sexual Fluidity: Why Do Sexual Preferences Change?

Sexual fluidity is the term given to describe changes in a person's sexual attraction, sexual identity, or sexual behavior over time. For most people, sexual orientation and preference are stable, but for others, they may change one or more times throughout their life. Research has found that sexual fluidity is more common in women, young people, and those who identify as LGBTQIA+.

Key takeaways:

What is sexual fluidity?

If you think back to the person you were a decade ago or maybe even a year ago, you may notice a few changes. Perhaps you have changed jobs, relationships, neighborhoods, musical tastes, or developed a love for a new type of food. Or maybe you noticed changes in your sexual orientation and identity. Changes in sexual orientation and identity are fairly common, as quite a number of people experience changes in whom they're sexually attracted to, whom they have sex with, or how they choose to identify themselves. This change in attraction or behavior is known as sexual fluidity.

Sexuality exists along a spectrum, with completely heterosexual at one end and completely homosexual at the other. Some people may move around this scale during their life, which is entirely normal. For instance, a person may have only been attracted to a single gender during their teenage years and then become attracted to and dated people of multiple genders during their 20s. This attraction could then change again as they age.

Why do sexual preferences change?

Changes in sexual attraction can happen for several reasons, including new experiences, cultural and societal influences, personal relationships, or physiological factors. Some people change their sexual identity when they discover a label that suits them more accurately.

Is sexual fluidity a label?

The term “sexually fluid” is sometimes used to refer to a person whose sexual orientation is flexible, or changes depending on the situation. Many people identify themselves as gay, queer, heterosexual, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, or one of the many other labels that exist.

However, sexually fluid people may not feel like these labels identify them correctly or feel they only identify with these labels in certain circumstances. So, instead, they prefer to use the term sexually fluid.

How common is sexual fluidity?

Research on the prevalence of sexual fluidity has found that it is most common in women, young people, and people who identify as LGBTQIA+.

A large-scale US-based study found that 26% of adolescent girls and 11% of adolescent boys reported changes in their sexual identity over time, and 31% of adolescent girls and 10% of adolescent boys reported changes in sexual attraction.

Another study examining sexual-minority young adults aged 18–26 found that 64% of women and 52% of men reported a change in their sexual attraction. The study also found that 49% of the women who were sexually fluid changed their sexual identity depending on their sexual attraction, compared to 39% of sexually fluid men. The women who reported being sexually fluid used a range of labels to identify themselves; however, the sexually fluid men usually only labeled themselves completely gay or straight.

Sexual fluidity vs bisexuality

The terms sexual fluidity and bisexuality can sometimes be confusing, or they get used interchangeably, but they are two distinctly different terms.

Bisexuality is a sexual orientation that refers to a person sexually attracted to two or more genders. When dating, a bisexual person may choose to date a man, woman, non-binary person, or a person of another gender. For most bisexual people, this attraction is constant and doesn't change over time.

A sexually fluid person will not experience constant attraction and will experience changes over the years. For example, they might initially be attracted to one gender for some time, then experience attraction to another gender or multiple genders some years later.

It is important to note that bisexual people can also be sexually fluid. A bisexual could be sexually fluid if their attraction to a particular gender fluctuates. Some bisexuals find that they are temporarily more attracted to one gender at some stages and another gender at other stages of life.

How do I know if I am sexually fluid?

If you have experienced a change in whom you find sexually attractive or whom you have sex with, you may be sexually fluid. If this is the case, it’s important to remember that sexual fluidity is a normal experience and a valid aspect of human sexuality.

If you find that you are distressed by whom you find yourself sexually attracted to, it's best to seek help from a sex therapist or mental health professional specializing in gender and sexuality.

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