Here’s How To Explore Your Sexuality & Discover More About Yourself

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I vividly remember the desire I felt to kiss another girl back when I was a teenager because I thought my reaction to a single kiss would clarify all the questions I had about my sexuality. Well, I eventually got that kiss and spoiler alert — nothing was clarified. It turns out there’s no simple test you can put yourself through for easy answers. But there’s good news: these days we have more resources and tools for exploration than ever before.

It’s never too early or too late to explore your sexuality. And it’s rarely a one-time process that you complete, and never have to think about again. Our sexualities continue to change throughout our lives, especially in the first few decades. A 2019 study published in The Journal of Sex Research found, “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.”

What does this research mean for you? It’s OK if you don’t have everything figured out already — most people don’t. But it’s worth starting the process. Sexual satisfaction is an important element of overall health and well-being and to get there, you need to understand what you want.

How To Explore Your Sexuality On Your Own‌

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When you’re at the beginning of your exploration journey, starting on your own may feel safest. Finding resources online, including Instagram, TikTok, Reddit, and FetLife, allows you to stick your toes in the water from the comfort of your own home. You can also begin to explore through media, from books to television.

Books are my personal comfort zone, and the one that was an early game-changer for me was Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out. Here are some others that can be a good place to start:

Non-fiction:

Fiction:

Comics and graphic novels:

Television:

  • Heartstopper
  • Our Flag Means Death
  • Stephen Universe
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
  • Sex Education
  • The Magicians

Besides reading and research, there are other, more hands-on ways you can explore on your own. “I think one of the least intimidating ways to explore sexuality and test boundaries can be with yourself through masturbation, watching porn, trying on underwear or lingerie to see what feels good, taking sexy selfies, or experimenting with toys,” says psychiatric nurse practitioner Casey Granbois, PMHNP, who specializes in working with LGBTQIA+ people.

Diving into porn for the first time can be intimidating — here are some options start with that focus on LGBTQ+ filmmakers and performers:

How To Explore Your Sexuality Out In The World

If and when you’re ready for some explorations outside of your house, there are a variety of options. Although big cities usually have more going on, even small towns generally have at least a few events every once in a while. Try googling things like “lesbian + town name” or “bisexual + town name” to see what comes up. You can also find resources and events through a local Q-Center, through local sex toy shops (which often host classes,) and through websites like FetLife and Meetup.

To find local chapters of national groups, check out Center Link, which maintains a listing of LGBT centers nationwide. You may also find local chapters of national groups, such as the Bisexual Resource Center, or find resources through GLAAD (an organization that advocates for positive LGBTQ+ representation in entertainment and media).

What kind of events are you looking for? Aim for entry-level gatherings at first, which include mixers aimed at newcomers or anything where you can blend into the audience, such as a RuPaul’s Drag Race watch party at the local gay bar. Just about any activity you can think of may have its own LGBTQ+ version, such as Gay Skate in Portland, a monthly takeover of an amusement park roller rink, or themed nights at clubs.

You don’t even need a specific event to attend — try grabbing one of the books suggested above and heading to your nearest gay or lesbian bar to read. You’ll be able to take in the vibe without having to socialize.

Pride month is an especially good time for these explorations because there will be more events than at any other time of year. The Pride parade and festival itself can be a great option because they draw big crowds, making it easier to stay incognito. These events bring out all kinds of people, including the curious and the supportive, so being spotted there doesn’t need to feel incriminating.

Some advice to hang onto during this journey — there’s no rush and no timeline for your explorations. “[C]ut yourself some slack. All of this can happen at whatever pace you’re feeling good about. If you go to an event and it feels too intense for where you’re at right now, that’s OK! You can always take a step back and rethink your sexuality or how you’d prefer to explore it,” says Rachele Manett, coordinator for the sex education program at the sex shop and bookstore Venus Envy in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Labels Aren’t Necessary

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Starting with a few keywords helps get your research started. From Google searches for events to Amazon searches for books, you need to start somewhere. But ultimately, you don’t need to assign any labels to yourself. “[T]he goal of exploring doesn’t have to be to label yourself as anything. For me, the goal is always to just learn about myself and enjoy my life a little more. My sexuality and gender has felt fluid ever since I let myself explore those things without so much expectation around how I identify,” says Manett.

Part of the move away from labels is due to the inability of current options to fully encompass identity. A 2020 paper published in Big Data & Society found, “LGBTQ people often understand their own sexual and gender identities as overlapping, incomplete, or in flux,” with many survey respondents choosing multiple identity options.

Meanwhile, in pop culture, there are numerous examples of high-profile stars rejecting labels. Speaking to Billboard, Lizzo said, “When it comes to sexuality or gender, I personally don’t ascribe to just one thing.” And both Kristen Stewart and Harry Styles famously refuse to label their sexuality.

In one of the best-ever responses to the invasive question, “do u like boys or girls,” Ava Phillippe responded, “I’m attracted to… people! [Gender is whatever].”

Ruling Things Out

You’re not going to like everything you try, and that’s OK. In fact, that’s great. Finding out what you don’t like is just as valuable as finding out what you do like. Not only is this information useful for its own sake, but it will help you communicate with partners down the line, if and when you decide to explore with other people.

So don’t get frustrated if you feel like you’re compiling a list of things that don’t work — those aren’t failed experiments, they’re valuable information.

“The curious phase and adventurous phase are two phases of sexuality where you’re gathering information that builds your sexual confidence,” says Jessie Fresh, a sex and intimacy coach. “[A]ll of this information you absorb prepares you for the adventure that gets to be had when you try the new things that entice you.”

What About Exploring With Others?

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It’s not uncommon to feel like you need to “prove” your sexuality to yourself by having an experience with another person. Feelings can be ignored, fantasies can be brushed aside, but once you’ve done the thing — you tell yourself — it will be real.

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this lesson from my teenage kissing adventures. In college, I was eager to up the ante and have sex with another woman, because surely that would bring all the answers I needed. But of course, it didn’t. I was so eager to explore with someone’s anatomy that I skipped the part about sharing a spark, and ultimately that’s what matters.

First of all, feelings are perfectly valid all on their own and don’t require any proof or justification. There’s no timeline on which you need to move from thoughts to actions. In fact, your sexuality is no less valid even if you never explore it with other people.

If you do want to begin exploring with other people, how do you start? The first step is making sure that you’re ready. “Knowing when you’re ready will look different for everyone. Take note of your own reactions when you think of the possibility of taking that next step. Do you find yourself getting nervous? Is it more of an excited nervous or a stressful nervous?” says Manett.

Dating apps are a great way to explore, whether you’re a first-time user or a veteran ready to switch up your sexuality settings. Most well-known dating apps, like Hinge, Bumble, and Tinder, have settings that allow you to focus on LGBTQ+ dating, while other dating apps have LGBTQ+ dating as their whole focus.

Here are some apps to try:

Hinge: On Hinge, you can decide if you’re looking for men, women, non-binary people, or everyone. You can also choose from 56 descriptors of your own gender.

Bumble: Known for making women message first, in the case of a same-sex match, anyone can send the first message, but you still face the 24-hour countdown before your match will disappear.

Tinder: The app that introduced the swipe has kept up to date by expanding its gender and orientation options. To date, it has introduced 30 gender identity options and nine sexual orientations. Further showing its commitment to the LGBTQ+ community, Tinder has added the “traveler alert” feature, to warn members they might want to hide their profiles when traveling to less friendly areas.

OKCupid: One of the earliest online dating sites, OKCupid has continued to update its options to be friendly to a wide variety of people. In 2021, they added an additional 60+ identity options for non-straight users.

Her: “Created for queer people by queer people,” it includes nearly 20 options each for gender and sexuality.

Lex: Based on the idea of old-school personal ads, Lex wants words to come first, which can be a refreshing change from the photo focus of most other apps these days. (You have the option to link your Instagram profile, but not all users do this.)

Fem: The TikTok of lesbian dating apps, Fem focuses on videos, although photos are still allowed if that’s your comfort zone.

Feeld: Although it began with a kinky focus, Feeld’s wide variety of descriptors has made it a good option for people with any interests beyond the mainstream.

#Open: This app started as a way for ethically non-monogamous people to connect. Their interface allows for a variety of gender and orientation options, as well as room to indicate your other sexual interests.

How To Explore With Other People

You may be concerned about bringing other people into your explorations because it feels like using someone, or because you’re afraid of what happens if you suddenly change your mind, and leave the other person hanging. Both of these concerns have the same solution: communication.

You’re not using someone as long as you’re clear about where you’re coming from, allowing them to decide whether they want to take part in someone’s first experience or not. “Just being upfront about where you’re at and what your expectations are can avoid a lot of awkwardness, confusion, or hurt feelings. Simply [say] something like, ‘[T]his is new to me so can we take this slow?’ Or, ‘I can’t promise you anything right now but I’d like to get to know you better,’” says Manett.

If it feels impossible to actually get those words to come out of your mouth, here’s some advice that may help. “One technique: rehearse what you want to say in the mirror. Another technique: when you’re with them, tell yourself you’ll say it on the count of three — but then say their name on two to get the ball rolling and roll with it. Short-circuit your anxiety and that growing tight feeling in your throat, and jump the gun on the countdown. It works,” says counselor Jennifer C. Wimmer, LCSW.

Another strategy is to say something like, “There’s something I want to ask you but I feel scared/awkward/shy.” Once the other person knows what you’re going through, they can help put you at ease.

Exploring intimacy with different genders or different bodies than the people you’re used to can feel intimidating at first. But remember, we’re more alike than different.

From an anatomical perspective, we’re made of the same stuff. And while the most sensitive nerve endings might be in different positions on different people, the difference between individuals within a gender is often bigger than the difference between genders. For example, every single person likes different styles of touch, so you always need to ask a new partner what they like — even if you think you’re familiar with the equipment.

In short, no matter who you’re planning to play with, you always need to talk to them about their likes and dislikes first. “[A]sking questions about how someone wants to be touched is honestly just a good skill for all kinds of sex!” says Manett.

Want even more help with communication? I wrote a whole book about it, Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships.

How To Find Support

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None of this exploration takes place in a vacuum. The fact is, much of the world can be sex-negative, and especially hard on LGBTQ+ folks. So digging into these issues can be stressful, or can bring up intense feelings. For some positivity, explore the videos shared through the It Gets Better Project as a reminder that you’re not alone.

Support is available, and you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out. There are lots of people who know what this process feels like, and who are willing to talk. Dating apps can be used for more than just dates — try writing a profile that says you’re currently exploring and would love to talk to people who have been through the same process. You might be surprised by the results you get.

Finding sex-positive support can be difficult, so check out resources such as the Trevor Project which connects people with resources and counselors, or LGBT Near Me which sorts resources by zip code.

There’s also plenty of support available in the how-to variety. “Sex coaching is going to get you to the sexual experience you want in the quickest route possible. You’re provided [with] techniques, tools, and guidance to help move past any lack of confidence, fears, or stumbling blocks,” says Fresh.

Whenever and however you decide to explore, remember that resources and support are available. As long as you’re taking care of yourself, there’s no way to do it wrong — have fun with it!

Experts:

Jennifer C. Wimmer, LCSW, PWS

Jessie Fresh, Sex & Intimacy Coach

Rachele Manett, Education Coordinator for Venus Envy Halifax

Casey Granbois, PMHNP


https://www.elitedaily.com/dating/how-to-explore-your-sexuality

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