Sexuality is increasingly defined as being part of a spectrum, with more people rejecting the idea that they are strictly heterosexual or homosexual. Because of that, the language surrounding sexuality has changed as well. Enter heteroflexible, a term dating back to the early 2000s to describe those who are heterosexual, but not exclusively. Here’s what experts say about being heteroflexible, how it differs from bisexuality, and how to be an ally to those who fit this sexual identity.

What is heteroflexible?

Heteroflexibility is a valid sexual orientation; it typically applies to a person who is primarily heterosexual yet has some level of attraction to their own sex, Debra Laino, a clinical sexologist and relationship therapist based in Delaware, tells Health.

“Heteroflexible, like most labels, means different things to different people,” Casey Tanner, a clinical sex therapist in Chicago, tells Health. “It comes up most of the time when a person identifies as mainly straight with a slight propensity towards queerness in certain circumstances.” According to Tanner, heteroflexible can include people who are questioning or exploring their sexuality outside of heterosexuality but not quite ready to identify as queer.

Does heteroflexible fit into the LGBTQ+ spectrum?

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Yes, since it’s a way to describe sexual fluidity. “It’s not quite bisexuality, as the orientation remains ‘mainly straight,'” says Laino. However, whether someone who is heteroflexible chooses to identify with the LGBTQ+ community is entirely their choice. “The base root of the orientation is still hetero,” says Tanner.

Heteroflexible vs. bisexual

These two sexual identity terms might seem similar, but they aren’t. People who identify as heteroflexible primarily embrace heterosexuality. “The identification with heteroflexibility is primarily straight with hues of same-sex experience,” say Laino, “whereas bisexuality is more open to both same-sex and opposite-sex attraction.” By definition, bisexual individuals are sexually and emotionally attracted to people of their own sex and the opposite sex.

“Heteroflexibility can include bisexuality or pansexuality,” says Tanner. (Pansexual people are attracted to others regardless of the other person’s gender or sexual identity.) “There could also be no intention to pursue non-heterosexual behaviour at all,” adding that many heteroflexible people may be in relationships that are or appear heterosexual to others.

How can I be an ally to someone who identifies as heteroflexible?

As always, don’t judge or make assumptions; let the other person describe themself and accept the terms they use. In her experience as a sex therapist, Tanner has found that some people who identify as heteroflexible may fear coming out as a queer individual and worry about the stigma that can arrive with that. As an ally, be respectful of their identity and how they choose to label their sexuality. “I would be affirming and open and make space for that person to be and share what feels safe to them,” says Tanner.

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