Dancer and America’s Got Talent judge Julianne Hough was recently on the cover of Women’s Health’s September issue. In her interview, she talked about the importance dance has on her life, and how creating her dance method, Kinrgy, allowed her to undergo a “massive transformation.” This transformation helped her feel more comfortable to eventually come out to her husband, Brooks Laich.
“I [told him], ‘You know I’m not straight, right?’ And he was like, ‘I’m sorry, what?’ I was like, ‘I’m not. But I choose to be with you,’” Hough told Women’s Health. “I think there’s a safety with my husband now that I’m unpacking all of this, and there’s no fear of voicing things that I’ve been afraid to admit or that I’ve had shame or guilt about because of what I’ve been told or how I was raised.”
Laich went on to Instagram to post Hough on the cover of Women’s Health saying he was “so proud” of her for sharing her journey.
Although the interview didn’t go in-depth on the topic, aside from Hough identifying as “not straight,” it has helped to shed light on the complexities of identity, sexual orientation, and what it means to be fluid.
So what exactly does “sexual orientation” mean?
According to Planned Parenthood, sexual orientation is defined by “who you’re attracted to and want to have relationships with.” Examples of sexual orientation are identifying as gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, asexual, and many more. But identifying as one sexual orientation or another doesn’t necessarily indicate the gender of the person you decide to be in a relationship with. For example, a bisexual woman dating a man does not make her straight or erase her sexual attraction to women.
Sexuality is a spectrum that can change over time. It’s complex and can be difficult to define. In fact, a study published by the Journal of Sex Research found that it’s not uncommon for there to be significant changes when it comes to an individual’s attraction, preference of partner or partners, and sexual identity throughout life.
In the study, 12,000 people were surveyed starting at 16 to 18 years old throughout their late 20s and early 30s and asked “what gender/s they were attracted to, the gender of their partners, and whether they identified as 'straight', 'gay,' or 'bisexual'.” The study found that when it comes to sexuality, there are at least nine categories participants identified with over time. From late teens to late 20s and early 30s, male participants identified as straight, mostly straight or bi, emerging gay, or minimal sexual expression. Female participants identified as straight, mostly straight discontinuous, emerging bi, emerging lesbian, or minimal sexual expression over time. Researchers found that participants who fell in the middle of the sexuality spectrum showed the most changes throughout the study.
The study has provided further evidence that the traditional labels of sexual orientation can be limiting and aren’t inclusive of all the aspects of human sexuality. And as Hough and Laich illustrate, even the romantic relationship you’re in doesn’t necessarily define your orientation.
Sexuality exists on a spectrum, with many identities existing between heterosexual and homosexual. The Kinsey Scale — the result of a large-scale study developed by doctors Alfred Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy, and Clyde Martin — defines this spectrum. The scale ranges from 0 to 6, with 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual. Those who land anywhere between 1 to 5 report varying levels of attraction to either sex.
Your number is flexible and can change at varying times in your life because sexuality is fluid. Sex educator Myisha Battle tells O.school that “while [the Kinsey Scale] is helpful for normalizing the fact that people have a wide range of desires, sometimes people mistakenly see their number as fixed for life. What I have seen in my client work is that desires can ebb and flow throughout the lifespan.”
It’s important that Hough shared this conversation with the world: Just because someone is in a relationship with a person of a certain gender, doesn’t mean they are bound to a specific orientation.