By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Mar 08, 2024
Let us know if you found this response helpful!

Cite this Response

Alice! Health Promotion. "Does fear of another sex impact my sexuality?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 08 Mar. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/does-fear-another-sex-impact-my-sexuality. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, March 08). Does fear of another sex impact my sexuality?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/does-fear-another-sex-impact-my-sexuality.

Dear Alice,

I am a woman who has always been attracted to other women. Until recently, I was attracted to men as well. Now I am almost exclusively attracted to women... which would be fine, except that I think this attraction has a lot to do with painful experiences I’ve had with men. When I was younger, my father was dominant and somewhat abusive, and my first boyfriend was emotionally manipulative and pressured me to have sex with him. After breaking things off with him, I had a very positive sexual relationship with a woman. Am I a lesbian, or am I a bisexual who is just afraid of men? If the latter is true, is there any way to get over this fear?

Thank you.

Dear Reader, 

Reflecting on how early relationships affect your current experiences can be complex and difficult to do. People can experience changes in attraction, behavior, and how they label themselves for many reasons. For some, these changes can be the result of a negative experience or trauma but may also be related to personal growth and discovery. If you’re concerned that these changes are a result of trauma, there are many ways to manage these experiences through hobbies or mental health support. That said, you may also just be discovering more about your sexual orientation. If this is the case, only you can decide what labels (if any) feel right for you. 

Sexual fluidity describes the shifts in sexual orientation that a person may experience. This includes a shift in identity, attraction, or behavior. Every situation is different, so these shifts can vary by person and experience. This fluidity is often a natural part of self-discovery and recognizing that these changes are common may help normalize it and reduce stigmas. 

These shifts in sexual identity are often associated with a range of health outcomes. While sexual fluidity can be associated with higher substance use, depression, and weight gain this isn’t always the case. There’s also further nuance when considering the person’s gender, environment, culture, and beliefs. Unfortunately, there isn’t currently an explanation of the direct cause of these outcomes. This makes it unclear as to whether sexual fluidity leads to more negative health outcomes or if the health outcomes are a precursor to understanding a new identity. 

Sexual fluidity can occur for many reasons. Researchers have studied the connection between sexual identities and how sexual trauma influences a shift in orientations. One study found that as women’s (term used by the research) likelihood of shifting towards a queer identity increased with their experiences of sexual trauma.  However, these factors are likely only a portion of what influences shifting sexual identities. Researchers note that it’s unclear whether the changes in sexual identity came before or after their experiences of sexual violence. It was also found that women’s sexual identities seem to be impacted by the enforcement of heterosexuality and rape culture. It’s important to note that the study focused on how people identify (such as gay, lesbian, straight), not who they’re sexually attracted to. 

You mention that your confusion may be due to the fear of men that you’ve developed. When this fear is significant, it may be a phobia called androphobia. This may be caused by experiencing or witnessing: 

  • Abuse or violence 
  • Bullying or intense authority figures 
  • Sexual assault or trauma 

List adapted from the Cleveland Clinic 

Whether or not you have androphobia, you may try some coping mechanisms to help you with your fears. These include: 

  • Finding a support system to discuss the trauma with and aid you with tasks you find difficult 
  • Focusing on your health by finding time to eat, exercise, and sleep 
  • Looking for new hobbies 
  • Practicing patience with yourself and your healing 

List adapted from the American Psychological Association 

Along with these coping techniques, you may consider seeking out the help of a mental health professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are often beneficial for those managing fears and anxieties. Additionally, a health care professional may prescribe medications to lower the symptoms associated with fear. 

The way you identify may vary over time, and some of these changes may or may not be related to your past experiences. Testing a variety of labels may help you better understand your identity.  If you’re hesitant to shift between “lesbian” and “bisexual” perhaps using a label like “queer,” or even going “unlabeled,” may feel more appropriate, even if it’s temporary. Consider checking out The Trevor Project to learn more about sexual orientations and to access additional resources for support. 

Wishing you all the best, 

Let us know if you found this response helpful!
Was this answer helpful to you?