By Macaela Mackenzie; Photography by Sam Manns/Unsplash
If you’ve only dated men before, this can be confusing at first.
Sexuality is, shall we say, complicated.
Just look at Orange Is the New Black’s Samira Wiley and Lauren Morelli, for example. The two got hitched earlier this year, after Lauren penned an essay for Mic about realising she was gay (and splitting from her husband) while working on the set of the Netflix show. But despite our current cultural obsession with celebs like Kristen Stewart and Sarah Paulson who have publicly dated women after a history of relationships with men, “going gay” isn’t about being trendy.
“The idea that more women are identifying as bisexual has nothing to do with a fad or trend,” says Dr. Kat Van Kirk, licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist. “Bisexuality has always been present, it’s just that the behaviours have been hidden due to cultural stigma.”
Thanks to rising support for gay marriage and a upswell in depictions of gay and bisexual relationships in the media, acting on feelings for another woman and talking about it publicly have luckily become more widely embraced. “Women may be more open to discussing these relationships or becoming more public about it because the culture or community where she lives has become more accepting of the fluidity of her choice,” says Sari Cooper, an individual and couples’ therapist, certified sex therapist and director of The Center for Love and Sex. Younger people are also more likely to ditch the labels, gay, straight, or bisexual, all together focusing more on attraction to a specific person than a gender, she adds.
When It Happens To You
Still, even with all the cultural conversations embracing fluidity, personally realising you’re attracted to a woman after a lifetime of dating men can be a little freaky at first. Does this mean you’re gay?! Do you have to come out?! “Don’t get caught up in defining yourself,” says Van Kirk. “More and more women are realising that their sexual orientation is more fluid than what they realised. Labels are not required.”
There are lots of reasons why you might be catching feels for a female for the first time—it might not even have anything to do with the fact that she’s a woman. “You may be having these feelings because you have become emotionally, psychologically, romantically and physically attracted to a particular person,” says Cooper. Or you might subconsciously have been attracted to women all along. “You may have always had some interest in women in your fantasy life or on an unconscious level, and although it wasn’t as strong as someone who identified as lesbian or bisexual, it was an underlying attraction nonetheless.” It could also have something to do with where you are in life. Once you’ve landed your dream job, and have built a life you’re happy with, it might suddenly feel easier to explore feelings you were previously worried might rock the boat, Cooper adds.
So how should you explore these new feelings? No need to come out to the world just because you’ve realised you’re into your friend from the gym—go slowly, says Van Kirk. “Feelings come and go. Look for the patterns and pay attention to how you feel. You want to make the decision to pursue unplanned sexual feelings in a conscious and healthy way,” she says. How, exactly? For starters If you do decide to act on your attraction, be upfront with the women you start exploring with. “Communicating that you’re not sure where you are in regards to orientation is totally understandable,” says Van Kirk. “No one likes to be led on.”
Once you’re both on the same page, be intentional about the sexual and emotional exploration so you can really learn about the many facets of your sexual identity and ability to connect with another person, says Cooper. Give yourself permission to “immerse yourself in the person, the sexual experience, and the emotional connection,” she says.
It’s also perfectly okay not to act on your same-sex feelings at all if you don’t want to. “Just because you may have lesbian-oriented fantasies doesn’t mean you have to be bisexual. Fantasies can just be fantasies,” says Van Kirk. “Oftentimes, women realise they can be sexually attracted to other women but not romantically attracted.”
The bottom line? Having feelings for a woman even if you’ve always dated men is totally normal. Whatever you decided to do about those feelings is up to you, whether they become a hot new fantasy for your solo sessions or you decided to to follow in the footsteps of Wiley and Morelli and get #wifed.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com