Sexology Bae Says: What Does it Really Mean to "Explore Your Sexuality"?

Welcome to the first post of the “Sexology Bae Says” Series! Here, I answer questions readers ask me through the “Ask Sexology Bae!” link. All questions are as anonymous as you make them, and a great way to give me content suggestions or ask me things if you want my perspective. My Instagram and Twitter are also a great way to connect with me.

The following was sent to me by a reader: “[The phrase] ‘Explore your sexuality’ is so overused that I don't even know what it means. I know the process is different for all, but what questions do you even ask yourself to begin?”

I love this question for a few different reasons and I completely agree with the sentiment. Access to the internet has allowed us to form community, meet people with different identities, and help us discover and validate our own.

This is absolutely gorgeous, but queer identity is not the end all, be all of sexual exploration.  Source: theqmmunity.tumblr.com

This is absolutely gorgeous, but queer identity is not the end all, be all of sexual exploration.

Source: theqmmunity.tumblr.com

At the same time, an unfortunate byproduct of this kind of discourse is that it unintentionally conflates sexual exploration with queerness, kink and/or promiscuity—as in you have to have queer sexual experiences, a “hoe phase” of some sort , or develop an affinity for bondage gear in order to truly know who you are as a sexual being. This isn’t true, of course, but it is messaging that I know I saw pretty frequently growing up. This also contributes to asexual erasure because there’s an implication that you have to be interested in sex in the first place to understand your sexuality!

The internet, for all its benefits, has a tendency to take a perfectly fine concept and run in into the ground and grind it into dust. I feel like sexuality discourse falls victim to this at times, too. A lot of the times, I feel like the idea of exploration is left intentionally vague by sex educators to avoid coming off prescriptive—that is, instructing people on what they should or should not do.

Most sex educators try to present information for folks to absorb so they can do with it what they see fit. But like the question states, what if you have no clue where to start?

My first piece of advice is to take a sexual self-inventory. What are you definitely interested in, kind of interested in, and not really interested in sexually? Thinking about the multitudes of ways that humans can experience sexual pleasure that isn’t just from “sex” is also super important when trying to understand your sexuality. Think about what you think would feel good to experience in the context of a sexual situation and go from there, because there aren’t really wrong answers.

You shouldn’t feel like you have to do a particular activity to make your sexuality valid either. When there’s something you’re not interested in, you don’t have to do it because it seems like everyone is doing it and you feel left out because you’re not into it. For example, there’s a social renaissance about ass-eating (or analingus) right now. Personally, I can take it or leave it. I wasn’t into it before it became popular and I’m still not now that it is. I’m not going to pressure myself into doing something I have no desire to try just because it’s cool now.

On the flip side, you should feel secure in the sexual interests you do have, as long as they’re ethical, all parties are able to consent, and expectations are clear ahead of time (especially when other people are involved).

Like I mentioned above, you also don’t need to engage in sex at all to better understand your sexuality. Exploring, for you, can be learning the methods of masturbation that are most pleasurable, or what kind of porn you like, or if you’re into kink. You don’t need to overthink it.

If Sex Workers lose, We All do.

*A note about language: many words and phrases have been used to describe sex work and Sex workers throughout history, most of them derogatory. Some sex workers have opted to reclaim these slurs for themselves as a means of resistance. That's not my lane, so I will be using "sex worker" as an all-encompassing term.

This bad weave bitch is really the president and I am DISGUSTED.

This bad weave bitch is really the president and I am DISGUSTED.

In my corner of the internet, sex work is having a moment right now. That's not to imply that it hasn't always been a part of my life in some form or another (more on that another day, maybe), but the recent SESTA/FOSTA bills signed in to law by y'alls little president has radically altered the way we'll engage with sex and sex work as a society in the years to come. 

"But Sexology Bae," you're undoubtedly asking yourself, "what are those acronyms and why are they throwing people into hysterics?"

Great question, reader! Let me help break it down. I'll to my best to give an overview of SESTA/FOSTA as well as explain the differences between sex trafficking and sex work.

These are actually 2 separate bills, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, and the Fight Online Sex Traffickers Act. The broad premise is to make websites liable for what people say and do on them, in an attempt to crack down on websites that supposedly enable sex trafficking. You might have noticed this impact, should you frequent websites like Backpage.com or the personals section of Craigslist. More recently, sites like Patreon are shutting down the accounts of sex workers or refusing to release payments to preemptively cover their butts.


There is an important distinction to be made between sex trafficking and sex work: CONSENT. People who are being trafficked are inherently forced against their will to participate, by violence, threats, or other means. Sex work, while nuanced, is the exchange of sexual acts or goods or services between consenting adults. Sex work is commonly called the world's oldest profession, and the shame and vitriol that sex workers face for providing in-demand services is ultimately rooted in outdated ideas of what people (namely women) should be allowed to do with their bodies.

People operate under this moral panic over saving trafficking victims with the understanding that consenting sex workers will likely be negatively impacted too. I'd go so far as to say that it's intentional, but it's hard to imply that there's malicious intent behind these efforts to stop trafficking because everyone agrees that exploitation is bad. I'll stop being frustrated about the shame that sex workers face when we acknowledge as a society that people sell sex because people are willing to buy it, and unless you're one of the people involved in the transaction you should leave well enough alone.

My biggest issue, as someone who knows a lot of sex workers and saw how this impacted them, is how uneducated the general public is about modern day sex work and by extension how little they care about sex workers. I feel like there are three common sex work archetypes: the street walker, the high-class escort/companion, and the abused trafficking victim (sometimes conflated with number one).

While sex trafficking is very real and something that thousands if not millions of people are experiencing at any given time in our country alone, it's important to remember that not every person who participates in sex work is trafficked. Implying that every sex worker is a trafficking victim is dangerous, because it allows for the passage of laws and policies that put sex workers in danger and makes their jobs harder, such as SESTA/FOSTA. Other all-sex-workers-are-trafficking-victims policies that negatively impact sex workers are those that attempt to "get them off the streets", via arrest or other misguided detaining efforts like group homes. For actual sex workers, all this does is keep them from making money, putting them at further risk of being exploited.

As SESTA/FOSTA takes hold and more websites shut down or otherwise block sex workers from accessing them to advertise, sex workers will lose their ability to thoroughly screen clients and eventually be forced back to the streets, which ironically increases their chances of being trafficked. 

I need to break this down a little bit further for the sake of nuance. Even if they aren't being trafficked, all sex workers are not necessarily in the profession completely willingly. This is part of a phenomenon called "survival sex work", which is when people turn to sex work out of necessity because they can't participate in the so-called formal or mainstream economies due to things like family needs, (lack of) formal education, and the like. I had the opportunity to work with people who participated in survival sex work while in college during my work with a local New Orleans non-profit, Women with a Vision.

I naively approached this work with the idea that sex workers were either doing it because they loved the work, or they were trafficking victims participating against their will. I learned that there's a gray area, and it's not a bad thing to acknowledge it because the people participating in survival sex work are normally the workers who are on the streets and more likely to face violence and arrest, so they need the most advocacy and protection.


This is all of us trying to find cat memes in 5 years.

This is all of us trying to find cat memes in 5 years.

Now that Sex Work 101 is done, you're probably wondering wtf this has to do with you and why you should care that life may get a little bit harder for people who sell sex. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 is the basis of the open internet as we know it today, and SESTA/FOSTA was able to pass by targeting this portion of the now 22 year old legislation. Section 230 was intended to prevent a platform from being held liable for content posted by its users. By amending this section, the doors are now potentially open for websites to start blocking any kind of speech they think could present a liability issue--negative news about the president, for example.

 The passage of SESTA/FOSTA has poked a hole in this pillar of internet freedom, potentially signaling the beginning of a crackdown on all morally abhorrent content. Morally abhorrent, of course, if you're an old conservative white person who wants to preserve the status quo. Free speech as we know it will likely come under fire sooner rather than later, and the powers that be are counting on society to ignore the plight of sex workers while they continue to snatch the rug from under the rest of us. We ALL have something to lose here.

HAPPY PRIDE MONTH!

It's June 1st, also known as National Donut Day and the beginning of LGBTQ Pride Month.

As a quick history primer: Pride Month is celebrated in June to honor the Stonewall Riots, an uprising led by Black and Latinx queer and trans people in response to police violence in Manhattan, New York in June of 1969. This riot is known as the beginning of the modern-day LGBTQ+ rights movement that continues today.

After Stonewall, the last Sunday in June was known as “Gay Pride Day” around the United States. In 1994 a group of organizers selected October as Gay Pride Month. Over time, October became LGBTQ History month and the designation of Pride Month shifted back to June. With this shift, the scope of the celebration expanded from just gay pride to the entire LGBTQ+ spectrum.

This is the Bisexual Pride Flag. It becomes relevant soon.

This is the Bisexual Pride Flag. It becomes relevant soon.

My relationship to Pride Month is constantly evolving. I don't think I genuinely knew about Pride Month until I was in college, so around 2013/2014. I'd questioned my sexuality since I was a kid, because I knew I was attracted to boys and girls during elementary and middle school. By high school, I'd convinced myself that it was a phase, even though my first crush and the first person I ever kissed was one of my childhood best (girl) friends. I somehow convinced myself I was straight for the better part of 4 years, because I couldn't agree with the concept of a more expansive sexuality, I thought you had to pick a side, and I knew I wasn't a lesbian.

Couple that with being part of a super-religious Black family, and I honestly decided that trying to figure out who I really was wasn't worth the headache. I've still never had an open conversation with my family about my sexuality and don't really plan to unless it's necessary, as in I start dating someone who isn't a man. I feel like I'm fighting battles every day for my existence because of my other, more visible identities, I'm not sure if I could handle more.

Once I got to college I met new people, joined organizations, and went to lectures and events geared to LGBTQ identity because I considered myself an ally. These experiences gave me the language, history, and validation needed to start processing my feelings toward my sexuality again (spoiler alert: I'm bisexual). The thing about coming to an epiphany about your sexuality while you're 2 years into a long-term relationship with a cisgender man is that it's hard for people to believe you, for lack of a better word. It's why I consider myself eternally closeted. 

I've been told so many times to my face that I'm just a straight girl who wants attention. And i'd be lying if I said that those statements didn't get to me. If I'm in a heterosexual monogamous long-term relationship, does the fact that I'm bisexual even matter? It's not like anyone can tell by looking at me or my partner. I'm "straight-passing" for lack of better words, and while it gives me a level of privilege many LGBTQ don't have to be free from harassment about my relationship, it also means that my identity as a bisexual woman isn't seen as legitimate and I feel constantly on the fringes of the community. Which comes with its own pros and cons, because the mainstream LGBTQ+ community definitely struggles when it comes to supporting most of the letters in the acronym that aren't "G". 

I wish I could say that I've reached closure regarding my own identity and the general idea that all sexualities are valid regardless of how they're presented, that you can't judge a book by its cover, etc. but these feelings of confidence in my own identity are few and far between for me. When it comes to Pride Month specifically, I normally opt to take a back seat to the more marginalized whose voices should be heard more often. And I still plan to do that this year, but maybe I'll also choose to be more open about my identity and experiences in the hopes that it makes others feel seen and heard as well.