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COLUMN: Kinsey Confidential answers questions about sexual orientation

I wasn’t educated about sexuality until freshman year of high school. I didn’t know women could like women, but I came to the conclusion that I was bisexual during my sophomore year. I tried coming out to my mom recently, now that I am in college, but she dismissed it, saying I hadn’t showed any signs of being gay as a child and thus it was just a phase. 

This completely screwed me over mentally because it was already so difficult to go through the questioning process. My family is super conservative and Christian. Women in my family are expected to go to college, get a job, marry a man, have his kids and die. I don't really want that. Despite all this, I feel like a fake and a liar. 

I have a girlfriend whom I love to pieces. I love kissing her, being intimate with her and spoiling her, and I daydream about getting a place of our own someday. I do not want to pursue romance with a man, and I don't particularly like being intimate with them, either, though I still find them physically attractive. 

I much more enjoy intimacy with women, and I feel a closer emotional connection with them. Yet, I don't feel an automatic physical attraction as I do with guys. I don't feel straight. It doesn’t feel true. I'm scared. I'm confused. My heart and mind are in tatters right now. What are your thoughts?

Thank you for your very good and heartfelt question. The journey of figuring out one's sexuality is not necessarily quick or easy, and I often encourage young people to allow themselves time to explore, without any rush to decide on a specific label. 

You have a girlfriend you enjoy – that's great! You're attracted to guys, too – also great! I understand these things may not feel "great" to your family, but please rest assured that there are literally millions of people, according to years of Gallup polls, accepting of a broad range of sexual orientations as well as same-sex sexual experiences. And family members often do come around, though I understand how difficult, sad and frustrating it can be not to have family support. 

Research has shown that family acceptance and support are important aspects of lesbian, gay and bisexual youths’ self-acceptance. If you’d like to try approaching your mom or other family members again, you might share family resources such as those from the Bisexual Resource Center, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Pride Resource Center, or PFLAG, which has information about how parents can support their LGBT children.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior demonstrated that bisexuality is not rare – especially among young women, more of whom identified as bisexual now than decades earlier. NSSHB showed that about 4 percent of adult women and 8 percent of adolescent women identified as bisexual. In the CDC data, about 6 percent of young women identified as bisexual, with many more than that – about 17 percent – reporting sexual behavior with other women.

As you go about your own journey of exploration, you may find it interesting and enlightening to read Dr. Lisa Diamond’s book “Sexual Fluidity." You might also like to browse videos on the It Gets Better website, which features tens of thousands of videos from people of all genders and sexual orientations that talk about their processes of exploring their sexual orientation and creating satisfying, interesting and meaningful lives for themselves. 

An interesting thing about sexual orientation and romantic attraction is that they don't necessarily fit into neat little boxes. Sometimes people feel very romantically or intimately attracted to one sex but more physically attracted to another. And sometimes they have strong attractions to a specific person but otherwise aren't that attracted to people of that person's sex or gender.

It's pretty individual, which can make it seem frustrating, but it is also a pretty beautiful complexity. Humans are far more diverse than the notion of conforming or being like "everyone else" suggests. Sexual feelings and attractions can also shift over time, which is much of what "Sexual Fluidity" discusses, based on research with women.

I hope this helps in some way and that your exploration is largely a positive experience as you figure out who YOU are! 

Kinsey Confidential is part of a joint partnership between the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington (IU SPH) and The Kinsey Institute. The column is written by Dr. Debby Herbenick, professor in the IU SPH. Read past Q&A or submit your own question at Follow us on Twitter @KinseyCon  

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