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Two teenagers kissing, taken from the March 2000 issue of DazedPhotography Rankin

Sexual orientation is fluid until your late 20s

According to new research, sexuality continues to develop way into early adulthood

They say your 20s are the best years of your life – few commitments, miraculous ability to bypass a hangover, and, as it turns out, fluid sexuality. A new study in The Journal of Sex Research has found that sexual orientation continues to develop between the late teens and late 20s.

Researchers analysed surveys from 12,000 students conducted between 1995 and 2009, following participants from the ages of 16-18 into their late 20s and early 30s. Over the years, participants were questioned about who they were attracted to, the gender of their partners, and how they identified. The results showed that traditional labels ‘straight’, ‘bisexual’, and ‘gay’ are insufficient, and that sexuality is on a spectrum.

“Sexual orientation involves many aspects of life,” researcher Christine Kaestle explained in a press release, “such as who we feel attracted to, who we have sex with, and how we self-identify. Until recently, researchers have tended to focus on just one of these aspects, or dimensions, to measure and categorise people. However, they may oversimplify the situation. For example, someone may self-identify as heterosexual while also reporting relationships with same-sex partners.”

Based on the results, Kaestle has outlined nine categories of sexuality. For young men, these are: ‘straight’, ‘mostly straight or bi’, ‘emerging gay’, and ‘minimal sexual expression’. While for women, the categories include ‘straight’, ‘mostly straight discontinuous’, ‘emerging bi’, ‘emerging lesbian’, and ‘minimal sexual expression’.

Those identified as ‘straight’ made up the largest group, veering from their sexual preferences the least, with men more likely than women to be straight. 67 per cent of women in the ‘mostly straight discontinuous’ group were attracted to both sexes in their early 20s, but reported only being attracted to the opposite sex by the time they reached their late 20s. Though overall, women showed greater fluidity in sexuality over time, with fewer than one in 25 men falling in the middle of the spectrum.

“The early 20s are a time of increased independence,” Kaestle continued, “and often include greater access to more liberal environments that can make the exploration, questioning, or acknowledging of same-sex attractions more acceptable and comfortable at that age.”

Although categorising people isn’t the best way to define sexual orientation, this research demonstrates the fluidity of sexuality and will hopefully lead to more mainstream understanding when it comes to sexual minorities. Plus, given young Brits are having less sex than ever, maybe it will reignite our collective desire to shag everyone and anyone before it’s too late. Happy humping!