Do you remember your first crush? Think back to when you gazed upon someone and felt that tingle down there, began to sweat a bit and wonder what it was you were feeling. For me, this happened in the late 1980s, when Michael Jackson became the King of Pop. At the same time, I found myself gazing upon his younger sister, Janet, and feeling the same ways I felt when I watched him.

I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but in retrospect, I can pinpoint that as the time when I first became aware I wasn’t 100% heterosexual. What do you do when you realize you have thoughts, desires and feelings that don’t fit into what’s considered “normal” or “straight”? Coming to this realization and fully embracing that this is who I am took several years, and it’d be a few more before I even acted on what I felt. It isn’t always easy having feelings that vary from the so-called norm, and there are some things you should consider as you take steps towards sorting it all out.

What is “Bicurious”?

Bicurious is a colloquial term used to describe people who are confident in their attraction to the opposite sex and working through feelings and desires for people of the same sex. These are people who have more than likely had some sexual involvements with people of the opposite sex, but haven’t taken that leap into being physical with the same sex. They’re curious about what it would be like, but vary in how determined they are to actually test the waters.

Sexuality is fluid, as noted sexologist Alfred Kinsey outlined, and most people exist along a spectrum at points that aren’t 100% homosexual or 100% heterosexual. Do you have to have physical interactions of a sexual nature to determine your sexual orientation? Not at all! Sexual behavior doesn’t automatically speak to orientation or preference, so just because you haven’t done it yet, it doesn’t mean you’re 100% heterosexual. In fact, many people never act on their same-sex desires due to a number of influential factors.

Family Matters

There are a few things that contribute to your comfort level with exploring your sexual fluidity, and your family likely has the biggest influence. How you were raised and the values instilled in you play a big part in how you view various sexualities and identities, as well as how you embrace your own sexual orientation. One of the barriers to being open with one’s sexuality is the feeling that you’ll be judged, ostracized and abandoned by the people you care about most: your family. This is why many people keep their inclinations and behaviors to themselves; they fear being shamed out of relationships they rely on for love and support.

One thing you can do is reach out to a trusted family member or close family friend who is “out” as being queer, and begin having conversations about how you feel, what s/he experienced, and get some advice on taking the next steps.

If you were raised in stricter religious homes and communities, you were likely taught that any orientation other than heterosexuality was wrong, and that if you felt any sexual desire for people of the same sex, there was something wrong with you. I don’t believe that, and millions of other people disagree with that way of thinking too. There are an increasing number of places of worship and spiritual leaders who are more inclusive in their messages, and it might help to find a safe place that supports rather than condemns.

You Know You Want to Try It. Now What?

Society is becoming more progressive and accepting of all types of relationships. New Jersey recently ruled in favor of marriage equality, making it the 14th state to support same-sex marriage. For a while, people didn’t believe marriage was a possibility, so they felt it not even worth it to pursue “the other side.” Luckily times are changing, and marriage is increasingly becoming a viable option for all. Online dating sites even offer options for men-seeking-men and women-seeking-women; there’s even a niche market for bisexuals.

If you’re a college student, you can likely find a supportive group on campus as well as social events catering to LGBTQ-identified individuals. This is a great way to meet others who might be “curious” like you are, and you can explore possibilities together. Social media has also been helpful for people working through their emerging inclinations. Sites like Twitter and Facebook offer people the opportunity to find communities and individuals with similar experiences. Getting the hookup from a trusted friend can help too; it becomes a more personal connection and probably even safer.

As with opposite-sex contact, safe sex is important. Don’t think that because you’re a woman seeking to have fun with another woman that you don’t need to take precautions. It’s one thing to inadvertently kiss a woman while out partying with your girls at the club. It’s entirely different when you’re alone and clothes begin to fall off after a romantic comedy goes off. Maybe you two were watching girl-on-girl adult films and begin to feel “inspired” by what you saw to try new things. You should still discuss recent STD tests and HIV status, and you should definitely consider using barrier protections.

For African-American men who have sex with men, the risks are even greater and you absolutely should take precautions, especially if you’re still experimenting and not settling into a monogamous relationship just yet. There’s a dangerously pervasive thought that using a condom while having sex with a man somehow makes you “more gay.” Let’s put an end to that right now. Wrap it up, fellas!

While stigma lingers, particularly in the Black community (and especially among men), there are safe ways to explore your sexual fluidity. Understand that it is, in fact, fluid, and you’re not locked into any one identity. When you’re 18, you might feel like you prefer the opposite sex; at 21 you might prefer the same sex; and at 30, you might find yourself dating all kinds of people as your decide who makes you feel the best, regardless of sex.

All of this is normal and you should feel no shame. There will always be someone who will be against what you do, so you can’t sweat that. Just be open and honest with yourself, first and foremost, and remain true to who you are. 

Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.