It can be confusing to experience non-heterosexual attraction when you’ve consider yourself to be straight. Does a single experience or interest make you bisexual? Would being bi change how you can date or who you are? There are a lot of misconception about bisexuality. Juicebox sex and relationship coaches have guidance to help you understand bisexuality and to help you answer the question, “Am I bisexual?”
So what is bisexuality? Well, according to the Human Rights Campaign “A bisexual person is someone who can be attracted to more than one gender.” Studies show that as much as half of the lesbian, gay and bisexual population identify as bisexual. In other words, bisexual–– or bi –– people comprise the largest single group in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.”
Being bisexual means you have the capability to be attracted to more than one gender. It does not mean you have to be all the time. In fact, it’s normal for people’s preferences to change over the course of their life. Being in multiple successive heterosexual relationships doesn’t make you straight if you still feel attraction to other genders. Being bisexual also doesn’t mean that your attraction to different genders is equal. In fact, many bisexual people do have a preference.
Educator and activist Robyn Ochs sums up the range of bisexuality:
“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
The Kinsey Scale
The Kinsey Scale is a tool to help understand the continuum of sexuality beyond the strict categories of heterosexual or homosexual attraction. The scale was originally developed by Dr. Alfred Kinsey and used by researchers to evaluate a patient based on their sexual and romantic history. After the evaluation, the researchers assign each patient a number from 0-6, with 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being homosexual. For example, if you are primarily heterosexual, but occasional have encounters with someone of the same gender, you would be a 1-2 on the Kinsey Scale.
More recently the scale has evolved, allowing people to self-assess and sexuality is such a personal identity. Another criticism of the Kinsey Scale is that viewing bisexuality strictly on a scale from heterosexual to homosexual, does not acknowledge bisexuality as a category in it’s own right.
Bisexual vs. Pansexual
Bisexual is a pretty flexible term. At first it described attraction to just men or woman, however, over time it has expanded to include non-binary or non-conforming identities. Similar terms, like pansexual or queer, are often used interchangeably and more explicitly acknowledge gender fluidity. This means that being bi can look different from person to person.
Romantic vs. Sexual Orientation
Once you realize you have attraction towards more than one gender, you can dive more into the type of attraction you are experiencing. For example, you may feel more sexual attraction or more romantic attraction to certain genders. Sexual attraction is based on sexual chemistry and is typically felt right away. However, romantic attraction, focused more on feelings of love, typically takes more time to develop.
Bi-Erasure and Other Obstacles
Even with society’s increasing knowledge on LGBTQ+ issues, there are still a lot of misconceptions and prejudices about bisexuality. Unfortunately, bisexual people can feel pressure to “pick a side.” They are often accused of being closeted homosexuals or faking it for attention.
This discrimination doesn’t just come from people outside the LGBTQ+ community. Bi-phobia and bi-erasure is present in LGBTQ spaces and conversations about LGBTQ issues. Many people assume bisexual people are straight or gay based on the gender of the person they are currently dating. Too often when a bisexual person is in a heterosexual relationship, they are presumed to be straight. Actress Anna Paquin describes bisexuality in context of her marriage to a man:
“If you were to break up with them or if they were to die, it doesn’t prevent your sexuality from existing. It doesn’t really work like that.”
It doesn’t help that bisexual people are underrepresented in media, despite being the largest group in the LGBTQ+ community. This lack of exposure makes it harder for some people to understand bisexuality and its prevalence.
Labels and What This Can Mean For You
There is no exact test you can take to tell if you are bisexual. Two questions to ask are:
- Are you attracted to more than one gender?
- Are you comfortable with the term bisexual?
It’s fine not to know for sure. Understanding your sexuality and orientation is not easy. Some people find labels to be uncomfortable and others find them to be empowering. Check in with yourself to decide whether you want to use a label like “bisexual” to define your sexuality. In the end, all the terms and identifies exist to help you understand yourself, but they don’t have to define you.
Additionally, you may find that your sexual identify shifts over time as you experience life events and learn about yourself. This it does not mean you were ‘faking it’ or “going through a phase.” It is natural to change and evolve through your life. Don’t be afraid to explore and question as you see fit.
What Comes Next?
As you explore your identity, it can be a good idea to get involved in the LGBTQ+ community. Reaching out to people who have had similar experiences can normalize the experience. If you aren’t comfortable discussing feelings about your sexuality with friends or family, consider talking to a sex and relationship coach.