How to navigate dating if you haven’t come out yet

Exploring your sexuality while you're still figuring out the whole coming out thing can be, well, daunting to say the least. Luckily, our resident dating Agony Aunt Beth Ashley is on hand to help.

I have a pretty big dilemma: I’m queer and haven’t came out to anyone yet. I know that sounds daft, but I’m not ready to.

That’s completely fine! Lots of LGBTQ+ people are not yet out of the closet” for a variety of reasons. Having a sexual awakening isn’t always straightforward, you know? As therapist Sally Baker explains, for each and every LGBTQ+ person there is a unique trajectory of coming out”.

That’s why it’s totally OK to take your time, especially if you’re nervous about how those around you might receive it. It’s easy to think being gay is stigma-free nowadays,” says Baker. But there are many sectors of society that are still homophobic and may make people wary of coming out.”

And even if you’re lucky enough to not have homophobia around you, there are still loads of valid reasons for wanting to stay private about your sexuality. For me, despite having a family and friendship network I knew would be supportive, I didn’t come out for a long time because I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what my sexuality was. Asexual, lesbian, pansexual, bisexual – you name it, I explored it (I’ve now settled at bisexual, if you’re interested). During that time, coming out before I really knew who I was felt like it would reduce my freedom to figure things out.

Whatever your reason, you don’t have to come out if you’re not ready.

But I think I want to date? At the very least, I definitely want to explore my sexuality a bit more.

I know that might seem like an impossible feat, but don’t stress. There are a bunch of ways you can explore your sexuality while gearing up to the whole coming out thing. You can even date and have a good shag around, if you want to.

I know what you’re thinking: how the hell do I navigate that? Well, Carmen Rendell, a therapist and founder of Soulhub, says it’s as simple as just being honest with potential partners you’re talking to.

If you’re choosing to have a sexual interaction with the opposite sex for the first time, then find someone who you feel safe with,” she says. It’s important to set boundaries up front and let them know what you’re comfortable exploring – where the line is, whether you’re OK with full’ (penatrative) sex, sex toys, etc.”

Rendell also recommends having a safe word and discussing who you feel safe knowing about the interaction, which is the important bit if you’re worried about keeping things hush. Be honest about your situation and tell partners that, while they’re not your dirty little secret, there are people who you’re not comfortable about this interaction getting back to. You don’t have to offload your whole bloody life story. Just be clear and communicative. They’ll usually understand – most queer people have been through a similar stage at some point in their lives.

Be honest about your experience and what you want from the interaction too,” says Rendell. That means asking yourself: is it just for sex? Or are you looking for good ol’ fashioned romance? Maybe you’re not even sure where you want it to go and would rather take things step by step. All of these feelings are fine. The person on the other end of your affections just needs to be kept in the loop.

But how do I actually find these dates?

If you’re looking to stay in stealth mode, dating online or in LGBTQ+ specific scenes like queer-friendly clubs, restaurants, hotels and other types of nightlife are a safe bet. Set up a dating profile that feels truly, authentically you and wait for those matches to pour in. Again, just make sure you’re being truthful with potential partners about your expectations and intentions.

OK, but let’s say I’m successful in getting a match. Will I eventually have to come out to them?

If you see things going well longterm and you’re really starting to like the person, you should probably let them know where you’re at in terms of figuring out sexual identity, at least in a vague way. Once again, honesty is a key component to any relationship (sensing a theme here?) and harbouring secrets will quickly poison one. That’s why I personally love words like queer” – they mean something, but they allow room for exploration and invite little follow-up questions. Although, if you’ve been dating for a while and you’re both the same sex, they probably know already.

What if I want to explore my sexuality without dating?

Three things: community, culture and porn.

Community is really important for understanding your sexuality. I’m not going to lie, if you’re not out, this can sometimes be a bit harder. But the good news is you can replicate it online. Follow queer people on social media who you can relate to, who share resources and information about queer culture, or even just selfies and hair tips. Soon, you’ll have the feeling of queer community at your fingertips.

As for culture, hit up the LGBTQ+ section on Netflix, grab some popcorn and organise yourself a private gay film marathon. When I still lived in Narnia, great queer films meant everything to me. I could connect with my queer self without risk, and still feel excited and empowered without saying anything at all.

If you want to explore your sexuality in a more literal sense, you can find ethical, LGBTQ+ focused porn on the likes of Cheex and Bellesa. Sure, there’s a lot of chat about porn being bad for sex education, but if you steer clear from the mainstream, problematic porn sites and stick to the more wholesome (but still sexy) stuff, you’ll be fine. Scroll through different options to find what’s working for you. You’ll get to know your horny self soon enough. The best part? That information will increase your dating and shagging confidence later down the line.

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