QUESTION: How do you know you’re bisexual?

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Hello! Straightish female with some questions about ‘questioning’.

So I’m attracted to men and have been experiencing that since at least as young as 6 years old (weird, I know, but my point is that’s something I’m very sure of… Actually, related question: is that weird?). Around that age I recall seeing certain women on television and thinking they were attractive on some level, and totally had a crush on Xena: Watrior Princess haha, but that dropped off completely in adolescence and was never something I experienced with a woman in person, that is until very recently at age 24.

I met this woman who I find very beautiful, and I find myself wanting to touch her and wanting her to touch me, but it still feels VERY different from my attraction to men, so I’m having a hard time figuring out what it is. With men I feel this overwhelming fiery passion, a need to rub all over them, I find their scent intoxicating, etc. With her it’s a much more quiet, peaceful feeling. She’s my yoga teacher so I guess that part makes sense, and maybe that’s all the touching desire comes from; the yoga adjustments she provides that might feel pleasurable but aren ‘t sexual? But then I’ve totally thought of her while masturbating so that seems pretty clear, but then I kind of did that on purpose experimentally, but it worked, but maybe that was just a result of the novelty? This woman is married to a man, and therefore almost certainly off-limits, so not someone I could experiment with expressing my sentiments towards, which only makes it more confusing.

So: – do bisexual people often report their attraction varies qualitatively based on the person’s gender? – why would it take 24 years for me to ever feel this way about a woman I know in person? Is it a fluke? Am I just exceptionally picky? I mean I see women naked all the time in movies and porn and locker rooms and never feel anything, and see them pole dancing in videos or running in sports bras and other things that are supposed to be sexy and just feel absolutely nothing. – Is it possible this is just my one weird same-sex crush and it won’t ever happen again? Then I’ll never know? Ahhh – Aren’t you supposed to be able to just know what your sexuality is without experimenting? – How would I know even with experimenting? Obviously if I pick a random woman to experiment with but I’m not attracted to her that won’t help me to know if I actually want that right? And anyone touching your genitals is going to feel good, so just getting physical pleasure won’t tell me anything… Or maybe it would? Maybe me thinking “anyone touching your genitals feels good” is a bisexual thing?

How do you politely experiment? I’d hate to end up alone and naked with a woman and THEN realize I feel nothing, because then how do you end it without offending them? “Oh sorry I saw your naked body and instantly realized I’m not attracted to, not just you but, your entire gender because of it.” Sounds kinda rude – Would bisexual people be offended if I started calling myself bi based on this one experience? Particularly a feeling I never even acted on? Like I could see how it could seem like just “some girl pretending to be bi to impress guys” even if that’s not the truth. I wouldn’t be upset about it if I was gay or bi or whatever, actually I think it would be great if I could open up my dating/sexual options a bit, I just want to figure this out. Sorry for so many questions! Just trying to wrap my head around things.

When I got your question I leaned over and asked my boyfriend: okay, I’ve got this really great question, do I break it up into a few different posts or do I answer it all at once? He said it deserved one big post. I agree. Your question is one that so many men and women have. It’s a question that I had for a long time, too. Actually, it’s a question that I still ask myself sometimes. For a while I will feel secure in my sexuality and then, every now and then, a question will appear. The answer for myself isn’t the same as the answer for everyone else, but sooner or later it always gets answered.

The all encompassing answer to your question is this: I believe sexuality is fluid. I believe sexuality exists on a spectrum. I think that we have all constructed a system to identify certain behaviors that do not allow for freedom of exploration or discovery. There is certainly no room for experimentation. Even the boxes that do exist (bisexuality, heterosexuality, homosexuality) are so rigid in their forms that we get questions like you asked above: what does being bisexual actually mean and what are the rules? There shouldn’t be rules! If you do something that isn’t in the bi-box you shouldn’t be kicked out of the club if thats how you identify. The boxes limit us and separate us, they don’t bring us together.

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My first piece of advice is always to imagine that the boxes don’t exist and simply be who you want to be, and do what you want to do. As long as you are open and honest with the people you wish to form relationships with, you’re good to go. I like girls. I don’t like girls. I’m experimenting because I’m not sure I like girls. The woman on the other side of this scenario has time to consent to whether or not she wants to be involved in a relationship with you depending on how it is presented to her.

When I was a little kid I felt something different when I watched Disney movies. I didn’t like Eric, I liked Ariel. It’s hard to say if that’s a crush. Children have sexuality, as much as people try to ignore it, and push it away. They have crushes, they develop feelings, they have a sense of gender and what gender they are attracted to. Children learn to touch themselves. The sexuality of children is not like the adult version of sexuality. We diminish children’s ability to grow and discover themselves by saying things like “little girls find princes and become princesses!” or “do you have any crushes on boys yet? don’t worry, you will!” We fret when children touch themselves or ask questions. Why? What are we afraid of? We don’t know how to talk to kids about sex in a way that is age appropriate. We don’t recognize that we can create boundaries for them and feed them information at a pace that they can handle.

Whatever you felt was real, but who knows what it means for you now? It might take some time to figure that out. It might not mean anything. It might take you a long time to figure it out both in part because sexuality can be a big deal, but also because of how sexuality is stifled and led in a certain direction throughout childhood.

Everyone I know who is bisexual reports different ways of experiencing bisexuality. Some people note very different feelings towards men and women. Sometimes they’re more picky with one gender than the other. Sometimes they don’t notice gender and it’s more about the person itself. Sometimes they go through phases. I think all of that is perfectly normal. If you want to explore bisexuality politely, do as I said above. Be honest with your partners about what you are experiencing, what you’re looking for, what you expect, and allow them to give you the same information. You’ll be able to find others out there like yourself if that’s where you want to start. (It is, perhaps, sometimes more fair to date/play with others who are similarly confused or similarly experimenting, rather than someone who feels solid in their orientation.) But, ultimately, consent. That’s the biggie. If you have an experience and you want to call it off because you realize it’s just not for you, that’s okay. You have that right. You always have that right.

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I feel like every day there is a new word to describe sexual orientation. The reason for this, presumably, is because people feel that the words that are out there don’t describe them accurately enough. It’s important to remember that the word heterosexual didn’t even exist until fairly recently. It wasn’t always there. Sexual history is happening right now. The words we use to describe ourselves put us in boxes, but before those words and boxes were there, those people still existed.

I picked some (mostly random) events from a timeline in a book I have on my shelf. I thought it might be interesting to visualize some of the ups and downs of sexuality in recent history. The point of this is to note that you’re not the only one figuring your sexuality out. Pretty much everyone is. We’re only just now understanding what people are capable of when it comes to love and sex. We’re becoming more open minded to this fluidity and the ability to explore in ways that aren’t traditional. These things may have been happening all along but now we’re talking about them. And talking about them – as I do on my blog – is what gets people questioning.

Who am I, what am I, and can I be something else?

1892 – Earliest known use of the word heterosexual

1930 – Hollywood Production Code banning references to homosexuality is adopted

1947 – Kinsey Institute Founded

1968 – APA revises its classification of homosexuality to a non-psychotic mental disorder (still a mental disorder)

1972 – First gay studies program

1972 – National Bisexual Liberation Group formed in NYC

1973 – APA removes homosexuality from list of mental disorders

1975- Bisexual forum founded in NYC

1990 – National bisexual conference held for the first time

1996 – Defense of marriage act passed

1997 – Conversion therapy is questioned by APA

2001 – Journal of Bisexuality first published

2004 – Antigay marriage amendments pass in 11 states

2014 – Nearly 44% of the U.S. population lives in a state with the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. SOURCE

Do you have a question about sex or love? Submit at the top by hitting ask advice and I’ll answer it on my blog.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Khai says:

    I call myself queer, because I’m genderqueer, which makes it hard for me to say “gay” or “lesbian” or “bi” or “straight” or whatever because all of those imply a cisnormativity I just can’t be part of. But, for a while I experimented with both cismen and ciswomen and trans people of all stripes, and I DEFINITELY experience a difference in attraction between differing genders.

    With women– HOOBOY I WANT SEX AND I WANT KISSES AND CUDDLES AND LIFETIME COMMITTMENT YES PLEASE

    With men–You’re hot. I might like to touch you/have you touch me, but I definitely don’t want penetrative sex, but also can I kiss you and borrow your clothes?

    With other non-binary people– hey. You are who I want to be. Let’s explore each other and figure out what we like in a safe space.

    So, dear asker, yeah. You’re normal.

    Also, almost every child I’ve ever known has some curiosity/exploration/feelings of sexuality.

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