Here’s an awesome question:

 

How does one go about determining one’s sexual orientation?

 

And someone else asked:

 

can one change sexuality? for example, het to homo

 

Let’s take them both together.

 

The second one is easy:

No.

Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that:

No, not on purpose. It may change, but it doesn’t change because you choose it, it changes because… life experiences changes people a little.

Sexual orientation does change over the lifespan – you can become more or less strongly attracted to people of different bodies and personalities. In women, sexual orientation seems to be more fluid – i.e., it changes more across the lifespan, according to Lisa Diamond.

 

When I teach about sexual orientation in my class, I break it into three different definitions:

—Behavioral definition: a person who has sexual contact (to orgasm) with people of either/any gender, the same gender, or a different gender.

—Affective (desire/internal sense) definition: a person who desires sexual and/or romantic contact with a person of  either/any gender, the same gender, or a different gender.

—Identity definition: claiming the social role of a person who desires and/or has sexual and/or romantic contact with people of  either/any gender, the same gender, or a different gender.

 

So you can think about sexual orientation in terms of who a person has sex with, who they want to have sex with, and who they SAY they have or want to have sex with.

The sex you do have, the sex you want to have, and the sex you socially identify as having are not always perfectly overlapping categories. Kinsey specifically assessed sexual contact to orgasm and found – as did later researchers, including Humphreys – that behavior doesn’t always match identity. And any regular reader of the blog knows that we can fantasize about all kinds of sex that we would never actually want to have in real life. And we might want to have all kinds of sex that we never get the opportunity to have, due to a lack of willing partners, fear of negative consequences, etc.

So which one is you “real” sexual orientation?

None of them. There is no “real” or “fake” here. There’s just people doing their best to live authentic lives in a world full of shaming and judgment.

There are some social justice arguments about privileged related to whether or not a person “should” claim one identity or another, but I am generally inclined to feel that one’s sexual orientation is the business of no one but the person themselves, and maybe their partners. Maybe. Have sex with whoever you’re attracted to, as long as they’re as willing to be there are you are, and no pressure to join a social group based on whose genitals you want to put next to your genitals. Fantasize about whatever sex you want to fantasize about, and no pressure to “claim an identity” based on what you like to fantasize about. Participate in social groups based on your social affinities. Social is social. Sexual is sexual. There’s overlap between the two, but only partial overlap.

It’s complicated, right? But basically how you figure our your sexual orientation is by identifying which people you’re interested in connecting with sexually. And then expect that that can change.

 

More in ask Emily
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