Can I really call myself queer if I haven’t had queer sex or been in a same-sex relationship?

I remember the point in my own queer coming-out journey when I knew clearly that I was attracted to women, but I had not yet had the opportunity to act on my desires. I struggled with this same question: could I really call myself bi or queer? 

 And, the answer is yes! If you’re in this situation, you absolutely can still call yourself queer! 

Wait! What? 

Let me explain…

Claiming yourself as queer, regardless of your sexual history, means liberating yourself from some harmful constructs we’ve learned about sex and sexuality.

If you are someone who is uncovering, exploring, or sharing your queerness for the first time, maybe you’re  wondering “what words do I even use?” 

This is partly a question of who am I? And also partly a question of how do I share and communicate this to the world

When your sexual identity is just budding, and you’re starting to play around with your self-expression, it’s natural to feel some doubt and wonder: 

… Can I call myself a lesbian even if I’ve only ever been with men?

… Can I call myself bi even if I’ve only been in straight relationships?

… Am I really queer if I haven’t ever had sex with someone of the same sex/gender?

… Am I lying? Am I misportraying myself? Am I queer enough to use this word?

As a somatic therapist, I hear these kinds of questions in my practice all the time! These questions are totally normal AND they also mistakenly blend the concepts of sexual behavior with sexual orientation. 

But guess what? Sexual behavior and sexual orientation are not actually the same thing!

Sexual orientation refers to your experience of attraction. 

Maybe you find yourself attracted to the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, to multiple sexes and genders, or to none. This is an internal, embodied experience that you will feel in your body, heart, and mind. And none of it is bad or wrong! Based on this, you might choose to call yourself bi, pan, gay, straight, queer, ace, or a number of other wonderful identity terms!

Sexual behavior, on the other hand, refers to the sexual activities you engage in. 

This is anything you actually do on our own, with a partner, or with many partners. These are the events and stories that might answer “Have you ever…” type questions from your friends. 

Your sexual behavior does not determine your sexual orientation or identity. And your sexual orientation may not always “match” your sexual behavior (especially your history of sexual behavior).

Let’s look at a few examples:

  18-year old Shauna knows that she is into guys even though she’s  never been on a date. She’s ready and excited for her first boyfriend, but there have been no kisses, and definitely no sex, yet. Nevertheless, she feels she can confidently call herself straight! Just because she hasn’t yet experienced certain things doesn’t make her wrong to declare what her orientation is, and no one would doubt her identifying this way.

  18-year old Marissa is in the same boat longing to go on her first date! But Marissa looks forward to her first girlfriend. Just because she hasn’t found intimacy or been sexually active with another girl, doesn’t mean she doesn’t know that she’s gay.

Those of us who discovered our queerness a little later in life may find ourselves in the same situation, only at the age of 25 or 35 or 65 instead of 18. Just because Shaunna and Marissa are young and inexperienced, it doesn’t make them confused, it doesn’t make them asexual, and it doesn’t determine what words they can use to describe themselves. The same is true for you!

And yes, there will definitely be jerks who tell Marissa that there’s no way she can know that she’s gay until she’s “tried it” (which they will NOT say to straight people like Shauna), and this is wrong. 

Beliefs like that are part of homophobic oppression and are not based on any real facts. Sadly, it is this kind of derogatory narrative that contributes to queer folks doubting who we are.

Similarly…

  35-year old Taylor has become fascinated with meditation and decides to join a spiritual community where they will be celebate for a period of time while they study this practice. Their lack of sexual activity during this time does not make them asexual, and they still identify as queer.

  46-year old Robert is a straight cis-man who enjoys group sex. In that context, he doesn’t mind sharing touch and play with a wide range of bodies and genders. Nevertheless, he’s very clear that his main interest and arousal happens in relation to women. He’s a straight guy still, though an open minded one, and group sex experiences don’t make him pansexual.

  22 year-old Amber has only ever had sex with cis-men, and she has never really enjoyed it. Meanwhile, she’s developed a big, secret crush on her friend. She’s confident she’s a lesbian, though she hasn’t yet come out or shared any sexual or romantic experience with women.

Are you seeing the distinction yet between sexual orientation and sexual behavior?

I’ll say it again because it’s so worth emphasizing: Sexual orientation and sexual behavior are not the same thing, and you absolutely do not have to do any particular thing, or check any boxes in order to use the language that you want to use to describe yourself. 

And, just because you orient one way doesn’t prevent you from exploring a range of sexual acts in reality either.

“But wait, Lauren! What if I really WANT to have queer sex and same-sex relationships?

Great! Getting to engage in and enjoy the sexual behaviors that you desire can be exciting, thrilling, validating, affirming, clarifying, fulfilling, and deeply satisfying. And I want that for you!

These experiences get to be part of your ongoing exploration and development of who you are rather than some prerequisite you need to meet to prove yourself as queer. Let your sex be for you, not for anyone else.

“Well that’s great for me, but what will other people think of me?”

Sometimes, anxiety around your sexual behavior is less about self-doubt, and more about your desire to feel accepted and your longing for community. 

Many people worry that they will be judged or excluded from queer community if they haven’t experienced certain things. I’m going to be real with you and let you know that may happen. 

Some people do choose to behave as gatekeepers. If that’s your experience now, then it’s time to move on from a toxic, exclusionary culture and find better friends! 

You deserve to be embraced by a community that affirms and supports you as-is. And, often finding an affirming community can provide a lot of needed validation, even before you engage in the queer sexual experiences that you may seek.

“Hey, what about solo-sex?

I am so glad you asked! Solo-sex also definitely counts as sexual behavior. Isn’t it interesting that not only do we tend to confuse sexual orientation and sexual behavior, but we also tend to think that sexual behavior is only the stuff we do with other people. Not so! Sexual behavior actually includes all sorts of self-pleasure and fantasy. So, maybe you actually have more experience with queer sex than you thought!

If you’re feeling lost or anxious about your own sexuality, somatic and dance/movement therapy can be a wonderful way to explore your experience creatively and gain confidence and clarity.

I am here to support you in your queer quest! Let’s chat.

Book a free consultation with me to get started today!