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Is Everyone Basically Bisexual?

I’m sure you’ve heard this before: “Everyone is basically bisexual.” It’s something a lot of bi activists used to say a lot, and that some bi activists still say. I used to say it myself, back in my mis-spent youth. (And yes, my mis-spent youth was basically bisexual.)

Is it true?

My simple answer: No.

My somewhat more complex and nuanced answer: It depends somewhat on how you define your terms. But if you define your terms in any useful or commonly-understood way… then no.

If you define sexual orientation purely on the basis of physical sexual attraction — and if you define “bisexual” as “having any physical sexual attraction whatsoever to both women and men ever in your life” — then okay, yes, I think most people probably fit that definition. Not all, but most. People on the absolute far ends of the Kinsey scale, people with absolutely zero sexual attraction to the same sex or the opposite sex ever in their lives, do seem to be fairly rare.

But that’s not a very useful definition of “bisexual.”

And I don’t think it’s what most people mean by the word.

I’ve been in the LGBT community for a long time, and there’s definitely not a single definition of “bisexual” that everyone agrees on. (For that matter, I don’t think there’s a single definition of “gay” or “straight” that everyone agrees on, either.) But I think most people would agree: If you’ve had sex with an opposite-sex partner a couple/few times in your life, and it was tolerably okay but no more than that? If the overwhelming majority of sex that you’ve had in your life, and the overwhelming majority of sex fantasies you’ve had, and the overwhelming majority of people you’ve been attracted to, are all of the same-sex variety? It’s totally reasonable to call yourself “gay.” Most people have at least some opposite-sex experiences when they’re in the process of figuring out that they’re gay, and some of those experiences aren’t completely miserable failures. It doesn’t make these people not gay.

And ditto with being straight. A lot of people have passing fantasies or curiosities about same-sex sex. A lot of people experiment with same-sex partners. Some of those experiments aren’t utterly laughable disasters. That doesn’t make these people not straight.

So again, I think most people would agree: Having the occasional passing attraction to, or even experience with, both the opposite sex and the same sex… this does not make you bisexual.

For most people who self-identify as bisexual, what makes us bisexual seems to have more to do with the fact that these attractions and experiences are not trivial. They matter to us. They’ve shaped our lives. They’ve shaped how we see gender. They include relationships and people in our sexual histories that are important to us, and that we don’t want to dismiss. They’re an important part of how we see ourselves, and how we relate to the world. Or any combination of some or all of the above.

And that is most emphatically not true for everyone.

If we define “bisexual” as “anyone who’s had even a trivial passing interest in both women and men ever in their lives”… then what would the words “gay” and “straight” even mean? I guess we could define “gay” and “straight” as “being entirely, 100% sexually and romantically oriented toward the same/opposite sex from birth to death”… but that’s not very useful. It doesn’t tell us a lot about a person and how they live their sexual and romantic life. The difference between someone who’s entirely, 100% oriented toward the same sex (or the opposite sex), and someone who’s 99.5% oriented toward the same sex (or the opposite sex)… for most people, I don’t think that’s a hugely important distinction. So this “anything but 100%” definition of bisexual… it’s not just that it isn’t how most people define the term. It also isn’t very useful.

Finally, and maybe more importantly:

Because we don’t have a universally agreed-upon definition of these terms — gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual? And because for a lot of people, these terms are really personal, and really important?

I think that we need to let people define these terms for themselves.

This language is largely subjective. “Trivial” and “important” are subjective terms. If part of the definition of “bisexual” is “you’re attracted to women and men, and that attraction isn’t trivial”… then to a great extent, this definition is going to be subjective. And that means that if it’s true for us, then it’s true.

If a woman had sex with her husband twice a week for ten years before leaving him for another woman, but that sex always felt false and alien and detached… it’s not up to the rest of us to say that those experiences were important, and she’s therefore not “really” a lesbian.

And if a man has put his hand on another man’s cock exactly one time in his life, but that one time was a formative experience that shapes how he sees his own sexuality and male identity and how he sees other men and their erotic possibilities… it’s not up to the rest of us to say that this experience was trivial, and he’s therefore “really” straight.

If anyone of any gender has sexual thoughts or experiences about both women and men… it’s not up to the rest of us to say that they’re “really” bisexual. Or, for that matter, that they aren’t. It’s not up to the rest of us to say whether these thoughts or experiences are trivial or important. It’s up to the person thinking them and having them.

Of course some people are in denial about their sexual orientation. When we’re talking about this subject, it’s important to acknowledge that. And I do think that, if it weren’t for homophobia and biphobia (both external and internal), more people would probably act more bisexually. More people might even self-identify as bisexual. But even with all that being said… everyone is still not “basically bisexual.” This is still subjective terminology, and we still need to let people define it for themselves. And the power to name ourselves is too important for us to take away from each other.

Yes, that makes the language less precise. Language is sometimes imprecise. In fact, language is often imprecise. It’s dependent on context, and it’s dependent on culture, and it can easily be misunderstood, and it can mean subtly or not-so-subtly different things to different people.

Suck it up.

Comments

  1. Cuttlefish says

    Nice post–this is a real problem with … well, with language, I suppose. Our language uses dichotomies to describe spectrums. Look at politics: a person who is caught saying one false thing can be legitimately labeled a “liar”, and others who hear that term will assume that the majority of what that person says is untrue. One person’s “I am bisexual” is vastly different from another’s “you are bisexual?” (At a party, one friend of mine told another she was bi; what he heard was so different from what she meant as to render the words meaningless.)

    I agree strongly with your “no”, both because some people find themselves firmly at one or the other end of the spectrum (oh–it bears mentioning that not all spectrums are rainbows; there may or may not be an even distribution all along the way. I don’t know enough to say what sort of spectrum, or what sorts of spectra, are the case here. http://astro.u-strasbg.fr/~koppen/discharge/) I also agree because marked agreement on terms may still disguise underlying disagreement on definitions.

  2. says

    It’s something a lot of bi activists used to say a lot, and that some bi activists still say.

    This inclination strikes me more than anything as something one says when trying to build bridges, and see our similarities, this sort of “we’re all the same; why can’t we be friends?” tendency. And to the degree that it isn’t hopeless, I think that can be just as easily accomplished by saying some of the things mentioned here: that human sexuality amounts to more than three little check boxes, that it is a spectrum, and we’re all on it together.

    Then again, it is pretty fucking hopeless, anyway.

  3. Dunc says

    this is a real problem with … well, with language

    I’m not sure it’s a problem with language… I think it’s a “problem” with people – we want them to fit into nice neat boxes to make understanding the world easier, but they stubbornly remain hideously complex and resistant to classification. The real problem is with the desire for neat categorisation of an almost infinitely complex and finely-shaded phenomenon. To quote Captain Jack (Harkness): “You people and your quaint little categories…”

    Language is imprecise because people are imprecise. And long may they remain that way.

  4. says

    I don’t find the labels ‘gay’, ‘straight’, ‘bi’, etc particularly useful. Nor do I think that those labels are particularly conducive to reducing discrimination against minority groups. My interest in who other people sleep with is pretty limited unless I am looking to sleep with them. I’d hope that the same is true in reverse.

    If I fancied a woman and was told that I didn’t stand a chance because they weren’t into men then I’d probably be a bit disappointed but I’d want to test the claim to see if it were true anyway. If I didn’t fancy a man and was told that they fancied me then I might feel a bit awkward that I may have to let them down but also pleased that I elicit a reaction like that from someone.

    An assertion that “everyone is bi” applies a label to people who don’t feel comfortable having that label applied to them. It causes people to react negatively to being labelled and to (probably) deny the label and so deny the group who do accept the label. I have no issue with people being ‘gay’, ‘straight’, ‘bi’, etc. I’m happy for them if they want to use these labels for themselves. I appreciate that they may wish to use them as a shorthand way of expressing the kind of sexual partner that they are seeking. To apply it to others though is simply rude and short-sighted.

  5. Cal says

    Nice post – thank you! It was interesting reading. Just as a point of terminology, though:

    “People on the absolute far ends of the Kinsey scale, people with absolutely zero sexual attraction to the same sex or the opposite sex ever in their lives, do seem to be fairly rare.”

    We’re estimated to be one per cent of the population, which isn’t really that rare. Kinsey actually referred to us as Category X, separate from the scale; these days, we call ourselves asexuals.

  6. says

    Cal, I don’t think Greta is talking about asexuals, but about people like me, so heterosexual that I have trouble viewing even my own body sexually. At least from the outside, which makes living in a “male gaze”-centered society awkward. Luckily, the view from inside is somewhat different.

  7. says

    When I first became engaged in LGBT issues and realized that the labels “straight” and “gay” were hopelessly reductive, I went through a brief period of anxiety, trying to tease out whether my history of solely opposite-sex attraction was me repressing some hidden gay urges. Whether I was secretly bi, but conditioned to hide the truth even from myself.

    Then I realized I was being a silly ass, and that I should just have happy sex with whoever seemed like a good idea at the time.

  8. Ibis3, féministe avec un titre française de fantaisie says

    Personally, I find the “everyone is bisexual” meme annoying, frustrating, and, depending on how hard it’s pushed, offensive. It’s often just another way of saying that bisexuality doesn’t exist at all (i.e. he/she is straight or gay just like everyone else, but wants to use the bisexual label for some other motive, like being greedy or promiscuous).

    No, folks. There really are a lot of people who are actually straight or gay and don’t feel attraction to people of the same/opposite sex respectively. Telling them that they are lying is like telling someone gay that it’s a choice or telling a bi person that they’re really gay but haven’t admitted it to themselves. Can’t we just take people* at their words?

    There are a lot of bi people who end up in opposite-sex marriages with kids who feel like they can’t even tell their partners about their s-s attractions, let alone find a way to accommodate them. Maybe that wouldn’t happen so much if we were to make it very clear to kids that there is a third option: just because you’re attracted to people of the opposite sex, doesn’t mean that you’re straight, and just because you’re attracted to people of the same sex doesn’t mean that you’re gay. You really can be somewhere in the middle.

    *except of course for anti-gay preachers and politicians who are found to be consorting with rent boys or hooking up in airport men’s rooms

  9. says

    hoverFrog @4:

    “If I fancied a woman and was told that I didn’t stand a chance because they weren’t into men then I’d probably be a bit disappointed but I’d want to test the claim to see if it were true anyway.”

    “test the claim” how, exactly?

  10. Ibis3, féministe avec un titre française de fantaisie says

    @myself because I’m not sure if what I said is so clear:

    You really can be somewhere in the middle.

    But not everyone is.

  11. dfl42 says

    I identify as a heterosexual, but strictly speaking, when pressed, in order to be truly rational, I have to identify as an agnostic heterosexual :-p

  12. Dhorvath, OM says

    I can appreciate this post very well. I don’t want to claim a term that doesn’t fit and find the terminology a little bleah at times. Even spectrum seems distracting at times, as I tend to note differences between kinds of attraction and types of play. It feels multidimensional, but in general I just say I can find the sexy in most.

  13. miltom says

    No one is homosexual, bixsexual, or heterosexual; they engage in sex that is homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual.

  14. Krytella says

    I find the terms “heteroflexible” and “homoflexible” to be useful in describing the distinction between “my experiences with and attraction to multiple genders are meaningful to me” (bisexual/pansexual) vs. “I’m straight/gay identified but have had passing experience with or attraction to another gender and do not rule out that it might happen again” (homo/heteroflexible). Someone who’s “flexible” probably isn’t going to get into a relationship with someone outside their general preference, but they might feel passing attraction or be more open to sex play involving an off-preference gender.

  15. Greta Christina says

    Cal @ #5: Thanks for commenting! But to clarify: People at the far ends of the Kinsey scale are not asexual. They’re heterosexual or homosexual. Being a Kinsey 0 means you’re 100% sexually oriented towards the opposite sex; being a Kinsey 6 means you’re 100% sexually oriented towards the same sex. But you’re still sexual. When it comes to the Kinsey scale, asexuals are not… not on it at all, I guess.

    And I’m very entertained that every time I try to type “Kinsey,” I initially type “Kinkey” instead.

    Ibis3, féministe avec un titre française de fantaisie @ #11 I just want to say that I really like “@myself.” It seems like new Internet slang for masturbation.

  16. says

    Ibis3: “There are a lot of bi people who end up in opposite-sex marriages with kids who feel like they can’t even tell their partners about their s-s attractions.”

    This is my mother, and it’s more complicated because she’s a very serious Christian. Sad, really.

    Krytella: “Someone who’s “flexible” probably isn’t going to get into a relationship with someone outside their general preference, but they might feel passing attraction or be more open to sex play involving an off-preference gender.”

    My ex-girlfriend identifies as a proud lesbian, who will call herself “homoflexible” when pressed. Thing is, she’s been dating a cis man for a year now. This isn’t to say she’s a liar when she calls herself lesbian, but only to say that political labels and sexual experiences aren’t necessarily going to match each other. Neither of these are things we get to define for other people, either.

  17. Kagehi says

    No, folks. There really are a lot of people who are actually straight or gay and don’t feel attraction to people of the same/opposite sex respectively.

    The problem I have with the whole mess is that its damn hard to pin down how much of that is biological, and how much is social. There are bound to be a fair number of people on the “1” end of the scale who *do* lie, because its socially not acceptable, and some percentage of them that have so encapsulated that into their thinking that they don’t even recognize when their reaction is, to some degree, attraction, because it simply doesn’t compute that it “could be”.

    This isn’t to say that their can’t be those on either end of the scale that are very, very, near the extremes, but you can’t even use arousal as a measure, since a huge amount of everything dealing with attraction is purely mental, and you can get attraction without arousal, arousal without attraction, and a whole rats nest of other complications, all mental. Basically, you don’t need to be knowingly lying, to be lying, on some level (and that isn’t insult, its just plain fact). Which makes figuring out what the percentage of people really are on the opposite ends of the scale seriously difficult.

  18. Chris says

    What does “sexual orientation” or “sexual” even mean?

    Heterosexuals aren’t attracted to all members of the opposite sex; homosexuals are not attracted to all members of the same sex. In both cases, it’s a pretty small number of people overall that individuals are attracted to, an even smaller percentage of that whom they’d actually be interested in, and an even smaller percentage with whom they actually pursue anything.

    And what is the attraction about? A single gender is pretty diverse in terms of the appearances and personalities of the people in it.

    I’d heard somewhere recently of a blind homosexual. I was initially surprised, and then thought, well, of course there would have to be, what was I thinking. But at the same time, how did that self-realization come about for them (or for anybody, actually: I really don’t know).

  19. Ibis3, féministe avec un titre française de fantaisie says

    @ Greta Christina

    Yeah, it does kind of sound that way doesn’t it? Sorry, can’t talk. I’m @myself right now. :)

    (btw, I don’t mind if you just call me Ibis3 or even Ibis; the “title” is just a Pharyngula thing)

    Another thing I feel I should clear up. Just in case. When I wrote “in opposite-sex marriages with kids” I meant “married to their *adult* o-s partner with whom they have kids”.

  20. says

    As an intersex person, terms like “bisexual” simply promote the myth that sex and gender are binary. To me, it’s not unlike presumptions of heteronormity. ie, when I took sex ed, the issue of sex other than male/female penis/vagina & maybe some kinky oral sex on the side, was not even considered.

    Intersex folks, up until recently have been largely invisible in our culture. So it’s not surprising that our language allows little space for them in the conversation. But we are here. And we may be as much as 4% of the population… so we do have a place in the conversation.

    I tend to define orientation, in terms of to what one is attracted.. sexually and / romantically. For me, it’s more useful, if less common.

  21. Kevin says

    I’m wondering if there’s some sort of reverse correlation between lack of interest in the same sex and homophobia.

    I, for one, cannot possibly understand why anyone would be sexually attracted to another man. Even acknowledged hunks like that big Swede in True Blood (whose name I can’t be bothered to look up right now). I know he’s an “impressive” specimen of manhood, but to me, it’s nothing I don’t look right past — especially when Anna Paquin shares the scene with him. I’m impressed by his devotion to his abs in an abstract “wow, he must work out a lot” kind of way — but as an object of sexual interest? Meh.

    And I’m the least homophobic person I know. In fact, I get teased by gay friends for how un-naturally not-homophobic I am.

    It’s probably a corollary to “the more homophobic you are, the deeper in the closet you are.”

  22. Chris says

    @maxvoltage Androphilia and gynephilia you mean?

    Personally, I can’t make any more sense of those than I can of homo-, hetero- and bisexuality, for my reason stated above. They seem at once both far, far too broad, and yet possibly too narrow as well.

  23. oldebabe says

    And what about those who have been attracted to and vacillated between both genders, at one time or another, sometimes for years, but found them both sexually unsatisfactory, and now in old age just don’t care anymore one way or the other???

    We are out there…

    :-)

  24. says

    @XtinaS (10), there’s nothing sinister in that really. I’d just ask them out. If they weren’t interested then they’d turn me down (or laugh maybe).

  25. Kathryn says

    I generally agree with what is said in this article, but I would point out that while labels such as “bi” “gay” and “straight”, may perhaps not be completely referent (being the poorly defined latent concepts that they are), the expectations that people have for us as a result of their application are very real. I may reject my bisexual or gay status as much as I like- however once I am perceived as bisexual or gay and a status has been applied to me, that status will cause me to be treated very differently from my peers who lack a deviant label. In this way, the categories of “bi” “straight” and “gay” are very real- not in the sense that they label what they are intended to label, but in the sense that they designate roles that we are socially expected to fill. They have a profound influence on the prestige that each of us possess.

    We may find this arbitrary status distribution to be unfair- certainly I find it disagreeable- but one cannot deny that it is part of our social reality. Attempts to redefine “gay” “straight” and “bisexual” will merely be replacing one socially constructed reality for another- we will not, by this method of redefinition alone, be able to determine the “true” nature of sexuality (should an objective fact of it exist). It is only by empirical research that we can find support for any such objective reality. All other attempts to redefine it are equally likely to be non-referent. The best we can do is construct a social reality that maximizes one of our objective values (such as the minimization of suffering, or the maximization of prestige). Without empirical evidence of strongly correlating measures of sexuality, how can we claim we know any better than society en mass?

    While there is research on this topic, I am generally ignorant of any studies which provide a reliable and valid measure of human sexuality- and I have my doubts that such a study exists. On what grounds, then, can we say that we understand the nature of bisexuality? Perhaps I am incorrect in my assumption that there is no such evidence. Is anyone aware of some that I might examine? (quantitative please)

  26. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @hoverfrog –

    the thing is, “testing” that hypothesis by asking someone out is another way of saying that you wouldn’t respect their self-description…which is exactly what we’re talking about here with the everyone is bisexual thing. You’re assuming that your interest in them is worthy of sufficient respect that it should be considered in an individualized way, that someone who is the object of your interest should take the time out of their day to recognize, process & react to your interest.

    And declaring oneself gay or straight or lesbian is one of the methods we use to eliminate having to do this.

    Furthermore, “she’s lesbian, but she might be interested in a man if it was me” necessarily includes the assumption that many people are bisexual without applying the label bisexual to themselves.

    This doesn’t mean that if you have an ongoing relationship with someone of a professed sexual orientation who spends time and energy expressing interest in you that you cannot take time to clarify that interest if you feel that there is any confusion. But in your example, there is no long term interaction predicate. Even if you don’t know the person in your example, your words say nothing about holding off.

    This is exactly what we’re talking about when we say it is a bad thing to call others bisexual when they wouldn’t do so themselves.

    And, @ several people above – the problem isn’t labeling people.

    We should be clear: the problem is disrespecting people’s individual autonomy. I value my autonomy. You value yours. Shouldn’t we each value each others’?

    …….
    finally…

    although I’m not militant about it, I tend to talk about same-gender attraction rather than same sex attraction, but this is a complicated thing. Our fantasies often include genitals, an indicator of sex, but our attractions to people nearly always precede any knowledge of the genitals or chromosomes of the persons to whom we are attracted.

    So are our attractions same-gender or same-sex? I ultimately come down on the side that the better term is same-gender. People can disagree, of course. This isn’t like people saying “female pronoun” when they mean “feminine pronoun” and they are demonstrably wrong because we know for certain that pronouns don’t have genitals. This is a choice to value experience with fantasies over experience with other people, or vice versa, when examining one axis and experience with many people in less intimate settings versus experience with few (or one or none) in much more intimate, especially physically intimate, settings (or vice versa) when examining another axis.

    This in itself is a topic worthy of some discussion.

    …..
    oh, and I guess this makes the previous section not-so-final:

    @MaxVoltage:

    I’m with you: Bisexuality is a term that, because it perpetuates invisibility and oppression, is ultimately a bad term. Now, bisexuality as a term represents a much under-discussed topic and I’m very forgiving when people use the term to describe themselves, but any time we discuss two sexes and assume we’re discussing everyone, we’re being f*d up. Every time we discuss two genders & assume we’re discussing everyone, we’re being f*d up. [and part of the reason I'm very forgiving about use of bisexuality is because it's at least theoretically possible that the person *is* being very clear about their sexuality and they are saying that they are not attracted to trans people, are not attracted to intersex people, but are attracted to both men and to women who belong to neither of the previous two categories]

    I’d like to see assumptions of this type end. Whether that means the end of the term bisexual or the more limited and thoughtful use of the term bisexual (“I’ve only been attracted to two people in my life & they were of different genders, so I cannot yet confidently describe myself as trisexual/ pansexual/ etc”) I think is an interesting question to be played out in the future.

    –)->

  27. Kathryn says

    my post above: meant to say “subjective” values, not “objective” values. I do not believe in the objectivity of value.

  28. says

    @Chris. no, I do not mean androphilia and gynephilia.
    I mean: ” I am sexually and / or romantically attracted to short haired people who have vulvas, small boobs, big butts, dark skin, who enjoy sex activities a, b & c, as well as kink activities x, y & z” <– that is an example of a sexual orientation that I mean.

  29. Dhorvath, OM says

    Crip Dyke,

    I tend to talk about same-gender attraction rather than same sex attraction, but this is a complicated thing. Our fantasies often include genitals, an indicator of sex, but our attractions to people nearly always precede any knowledge of the genitals or chromosomes of the persons to whom we are attracted.

    I just wanted to say that this is part of what I was trying to verbalize above when I noted the difference between attraction and play. It’s still something I am piecing together, although it has floated in my brain for years. I don’t know as I want to fumble around with the idea too much, but what you posted resonated and is giving me some material to think about. Thanks.

  30. says

    @hoverfrog, I think the pushback you are getting is because your phrasing “was told that I didn’t stand a chance because they weren’t into men” is unclear.

    If the woman in question has told you so, then respect it. If it’s hearsay via third parties, then your polite inquiry is quite fine. (I hope you meant the latter, of course.)

  31. Robin Raianiemi says

    I think language fails in relationship to matters of sexual orientation.

    Here’s the example from my own life.

    For decades, I identified as a gay male. So did my partner. We were both contented “Kinsey Sixes”.

    Two years ago, I started to transition from male to female. My partner stayed with me through the transition.

    Now, I identify as a straight female, sort of. I still have zero interest in other females. (Sorry, girls!)

    My partner still identifies as being a gay male. But he’s with me; I’m “grandmothered in”, so to speak.

    The strangest part of this transition for me is giving up the word “gay”, which has been such an important part of my life for so long. I know that “straight” isn’t quite the word I want to identify as, because it has a lot of negative emotional baggage for me.

    I’ve relegated labels like “gay”, “straight”, “bisexual” and so on as nothing more than cultural shorthand.

  32. Carlie says

    I’ve often wondered if libido is another dimension to the straight-bi-gay scale definitions. For example, someone who is mostly straight or gay but with a high sex drive might be much more likely to look at a broader swath of people as potential sex partners and then call themselves bi, whereas someone with the same levels of basic attraction to the same/opposite sex but with a low sex drive would be perfectly happy not going outside of their own main attraction and would then identify as completely straight/gay. (does that make any sense?)

  33. Sara K. says

    Yes.

    As other have stated, I understand that the term “bisexual” implies a gender binary, which is why when I am talking about people sexually attracted to multiple genders in a general sense I prefer the term “pansexual” … but I also have no right to tell other how to self-identify, and when people (like Greta Christina) choose the label ‘bisexual’, I will also refer to them as a bisexual.

    Much of the same could also be said of the word sexual in the sense used in the sentence “All people are sexual”. Ummm, yes, you could probably find *some* aspects of sexuality in anybody if you look hard enough, and in most people you don’t even have to look very hard … but saying that everyone is sexual ignores the fact that there are some people who experience *significantly* less sexual attraction and/or sex drive than the general population, or lack various other attributes associated with sexuality. For example, while my level of sexual attraction and sex drive is not absolutely zero, it is so far below the norm that I don’t even identify as a demisexual or a gray asexual – I just identify as a plain vanilla asexual these days. And if something as little as cracking a dirty joke makes someone as sexual person, then the word ‘sexual’ is not very useful. There is an great series of blog posts on this topic at http://asexystuff.blogspot.com/2008/12/all-people-are-sexual-beings-summary.html

  34. Carlie says

    I’ve always thought that the “you can choose to not be gay” concept from fundamentalists was thought up by someone who was bisexual and didn’t realize it: they could look at someone attractive and “choose” whether to think about that attraction whether it was a man or a woman, and they assumed that everyone else was the same way.

  35. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Sara @34 –

    thus the discussion in asexual communities (and the multiplicative IDs in asexual communities) that serve to try to tease out the important similarities between people who do not have sex with other people but have sex with themselves and people who have sex with neither other people nor themselves.

    There are other distinctions to be made as well.What about people who have no romantic attractions or physical/sexual attractions? How is that experience similar to or different from the experience of having romantic attraction but no sexual attraction?

    what about people who have had sex in the past, but don’t now? What if that sex was only had under what was subjectively experienced as coercion – such as someone getting married out of social pressure then having sex because it is perceived as a necessary part of marriage and to avoid “failing” at marriage and thus hurting spouse and family….and not because you actually wanted to have sex?

    in other words, if you have had sex or if you are currently sexually active, can you still be asexual?

    In still other words, does it matter WHY you want sex? Nearly everyone agrees that if an asexual person is raped, they do not lose the label asexual. But what if one grows up in an insular and oppressive community where neither remaining unmarried nor declining sex throughout marriage even occurred in the mind of the person as options that could be chosen? What if you had a vague notion that those are things (at least remaining single is a thing) that some people have done, but you are convinced that the choice will result in emotional damage to those in your family who are expecting marriage and reproduction and, b/c of reproduction, sex? What if you’re worried about the emotional consequences to yourself, once the family learns of your choices?

    Plenty of people have straight sex and later come out as lesbian. So can you have sex and later come out as asexual?

    Anyway, you’re not at all alone in thinking about/ wrestling with these issues. There’s lots of discussion about this stuff.

    Although I also want to validate that just because these issues are complex and that some people find certain qualifications of asexual useful in some contexts does not mean that I think you’re wrong to use asexual as a shorthand version of explaining your sexual orientation. ..

    Oftentimes it is inappropriate of people to expect detailed sexual information from you, yet not inappropriate to know your general sexual orientation. And in many of these situations the people to whom you’re communicating are ignorant of all the asexual complexity. I think asexual sounds like a great word for you to use, based on what you’ve said here, in those situations.

    And, frankly, even if I didn’t think it was a great word, you should use whatever word you think is best anyway.

    –)->

  36. Cal says

    “to clarify: People at the far ends of the Kinsey scale are not asexual. They’re heterosexual or homosexual. Being a Kinsey 0 means you’re 100% sexually oriented towards the opposite sex; being a Kinsey 6 means you’re 100% sexually oriented towards the same sex. But you’re still sexual. When it comes to the Kinsey scale, asexuals are not… not on it at all, I guess.”

    Ah, yes, I get what you mean now – thanks for the clarification! (What can I say, it was late and my reading comprehension skills went west).

    But we are actually still on the scale, sort of. Category X is its third dimension. That’s where the inspiration for the asexual triangle symbol comes from.

  37. says

    @Crip Dyke

    the thing is, “testing” that hypothesis by asking someone out is another way of saying that you wouldn’t respect their self-description

    No. I just don’t respect hearsay. If I fancy someone then I’m going to want to ask them out. If they tell me that they aren’t interested for whatever reason then I’ll respect that. Similarly if they always dated short, black men and had said that this was their “type” and no other would do then I’d respect that too.

    Furthermore, “she’s lesbian, but she might be interested in a man if it was me” necessarily includes the assumption that many people are bisexual without applying the label bisexual to themselves.

    As I said above I dislike these labels except as shorthand ways to self identify oneself. I haven’t claimed that I would somehow be the man to turn a lesbian straight as seems to be implied by this comment nor do I think that is a sensible approach to dating unless one really likes rejection. I’m simply suggesting that hearsay and the labels that others use are poor indicators of sexual preference and that expressing an interest in someone in an open and honest way causes no harm.

  38. says

    No one is homosexual, bixsexual, or heterosexual; they engage in sex that is homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual.

    @miltom: I have no idea what this means. How are you defining “being homosexual” or “being bisexual” such that you can say “no one is homo/bi/hetero”?

    ————

    General response: I have an issue with this concept of defining “bisexual” in such a personal manner, or “homosexual,” or “heterosexual.” Namely, how can we hope to study these phenomena in any empirical fashion without a proper, agreed upon, definition?

  39. says

    Eugh, I really didn’t want my first comment on Greta’s blog to be an off-topic asexual one. So I’m going to start by saying that I completely agree with Greta’s post. If all people were bisexual, then bisexual would be a really useless word. Someone I know describes sexuality as a ‘best model based on previous experience’. Basically, we could decide tomorrow that, since no-one has met every person (or every gender), no-one could assume they weren’t sexually attracted to a gender. We’d suddenly have millions of ‘pansexual’ people who had only ever been sexually attracted to one gender, who no longer had the words to express that. It would be an utterly useless step backwards in how we express and talk about sexuality.

    Now, Crip Dyke @36; “Nearly everyone agrees that if an asexual person is raped, they do not lose the label asexual.”
    Also, pretty much all the asexuals I know agree that if an asexual person has consensual sex, while labelling themselves as asexual, they do not lose the label asexual. ‘Asexual’ is about sexual attraction, not about sexual behaviour.

    Also, the similarities between asexuals who masturbate and asexuals who don’t, FYI- Pretty much everything apart from whether they masturbate or not. More subtly, the idea of masturbation as ‘sex you have with yourself’ is a really useful one for sexual people (or it at least beats ‘the thing losers do when they can’t get laid’) but not a very good model with which to try and understand asexual masturbation.

    However, you were completely right on your advice to Sara re. labels. When it comes to all the new labels the asexual community is creating, I tend to adopt a three-pronged model of usefulness. Some labels will only really be helpful inside your own head, for figuring yourself out. Some labels will be helpful to describe yourself to the asexual community. And only a few labels will actually be useful to you in explaining who you are to the people in your life outside the asexual community. Everyone gets to decide for themselves which labels fit in which categories.

  40. Michael Swanson) says

    I don’t see it as a language problem so much as with peoples’ obsession with categorizing everything, and strictly at that. Descriptors like “straight” “bi” or “gay” are loose categories for convenient communication. If someone doesn’t conveniently fit into any of those categories, then it just means that you don’t get to use convenient terms to discuss them. It’s like political affiliation. Someone can be a Democrat, Republican or Libertarian, but in each of those categories there as many ideological differences as there are people. Yes, there are a handful of Democrats who fall exactly down the party line, but there are also people with such a complex amalgamation of political views that you just can’t categorize them.

  41. CG says

    Great post. I found it thought-provoking.

    I identify as bisexual. I’ve only had sex with another woman once in my life (while I’ve had sex with men many more times than that). That doesn’t mean that that was the only time I’ve *wanted* to have sex with a woman… rather, I was turned down a few times by women I was attracted to, and I lacked the confidence to continue asking. On the other hand, I had a high success rate with men.
    I would resent it extremely if someone labeled me as “straight.” (Many people assume that I am, since I’m currently in a committed relationship with a man.) My attraction to other women has been a big part of my mental landscape since I was very young, and labeling me “straight” would discount that experience.
    So, turning that around, I can extrapolate that people who consider themselves straight or gay would be offended if I labeled them “bi.”

    On the “‘bisexual’ implies a gender binary” issue… I haven’t met any transgender or intersex people that I’ve known were transgender or intersex, so I’ve never been able to test whether or not I’m attracted to those individuals. I’m not theoretically opposed to the idea. But I’m still going to call myself bisexual. “Attracted to people of the same gender and of the opposite gender, and possibly people who don’t fit into the male/female dichotomy” is too cumbersome; “bisexual” conveys most of the same information in a fraction of the time.

    @Carlie (#33): Hehe, that’s what it’s always looked like to me, too.

  42. says

    I think you basically summed up something I’ve been trying to explain to others for quite a bit. I like men, I fantasize about men, and when I have sex, I always expect my partner to be male. That’s just my preference. I like women, just not sexually or romantically. I don’t see them that way.

    But, I have an affinity for women’s bodies. I like looking at them, particularly their breasts, and this is erotic for me. But as you mentioned, this is “trivial” for me too(I really like how you used that word). I don’t want to have sex with women…try as I might to foster desire ( I wanted to expand my dating pool :P).

    And it really hurt my feelings when I’ve had certain activists call me closeted. I’m not repressed, I’m just boring and straight :P

  43. Sara K. says

    @CG

    The most common word for somebody who attracted to people of any gender (regardless of whether they fit the categories of ‘female’ or ‘male’ or not) is ‘pansexual’. I can understand using the word ‘bisexual’ because you are not sure whether you are attracted to intersex/trans* people, and I would respect the label you choose for yourself whatever your reason. However when I am talking in a general sense (as in, not about specific individuals) about people who attracted to more than one gender, I am trying to use the word ‘pansexual’ instead of ‘bisexual’ out of respect for people who are excluded by the gender binary.

    @ the people giving me advice

    I am surprised that people think that I needed advice, given that I had already comfortably settled on a label. However, looking back at my original comment, I realize that it might have come off as insensitive to people who prefer more nuanced labels. So I want to say that I think discussing the various nuances of asexuality is very important, and I don’t think less of people who identify as pan-romantic demisexuals or any of the other more specific labels … but of the labels which are widely understood in the asexual community (and if it’s not even understood in the ace community, it’s pretty darn useless outside of the ace community) ‘asexual’ still seems to be the best fit for me. In order to get a more specific label than that that feels appropriate for me, you pretty much have to use my name.

  44. CG says

    @Sara K.:
    Thank you for clarifying. I went back and read your original comments, and I think I had misinterpreted what you said. Sorry about that!

  45. LS says

    Nuances upon nuances – human sexuality can be so hard to pin down.

    If we’re going to use the labels, though, I feel it is best if you simply use what the person self-identifies as.

    On self-identification, I have been mildly physically and emotionally attracted to males before, but, since the vast majority of the attractions (and by far the strongest of them) have been towards females, I self-identify as straight. While one might consider me ‘bi-curious’ or some such, I find that it hasn’t really affected my sexual identity any, and they are so few and far between that I don’t really consider them part of my sexual identity. Straight it is.

  46. azkyroth says

    What? Not even a mention of asexuals?

    Right.

    On that note, how much information about hyenas is there in the Wikipedia article on tigers?

  47. says

    the way I see it homosexuality is simple: we get our heart broken by the opposite sex and take it out on our same gender. your either predator or prey. in my case, I was the predator. of course I was 4. so there was nothing physical. I understand this “experience” happens to most people later on. The fact of the mater is: I realized how fucked up I was, began to hate myself, failed at life for a long time to come. Eventually I became a Christian/Catholic. Unable to forgive myself, a merciful and loving God forgave all of us. My experiences with lust, made me afraid to lust. I knew I wasn’t gay, but couldn’t get a girlfriend cause sex was always on my mind. Fear is the beginning of wisdom.

    Aside from that… YES. Almost the entire world is at least bi-sexual. I can’t count the number of male friends I’ve had who have a girlfriend, but then started throwing signals at me I usually wouldn’t pick up. Even if I did, I just put it out of my head, “that’s my friend”. It’s not gonna happen, but we can still kick it. They beg to differ, time for me to go. Which is sad cause, if it was that much of a problem, all they had to do was say something. Usually though, people are so far-gone in this lie that they would rather try to hurt/kill/rape me.

    Not to mention all the lesbian friends I had who were usually the “prey”. Then they started to like me, even though I wasn’t interested. Then their predator girlfriends would come “rescue them” from me. GTFOH.

    Today I have openly gay friends. I have no problem with them hitting on me occasionally, cause they know it ain’t gonna happen. They don’t press it. I can look them in the eye, I can give them hugs. They get hurt sometimes cause they know I’m being genuine.

    Closeted homo’s… people with beards… that shit has got to STOP. If you say your gay, be gay. If your scared, why are you scared? why all the hiding?

    No, I don’t think gays are going to hell. I think they are already in hell. Thus why so many retreat from the world and hide, which I have more respect for than other. Who are into the meat-market, meth, insanity.

    It’s okay to love your friends without bringing sexuality into it. I love every friend I ever had. I love pretty much everybody.

    I get told I’m homophobic and in the closet all the time. It doesn’t even bother me except that it’s sometimes from a close friend who… wishes.

    There is no closet, only what you create. Do more than just open the door. Do more than just walk out so you can lock yourself in later. KNOCK IT DOWN.

    If not for you than the next generation. If you were the original predator. Remember how bad it used to make you feel before you “accepted” it. If you were the prey, remember how bad it felt when you got violated.

    I’m out. I’m out of this world. Y’all can flip my words. Read into it and project whatever you want. The truth is here. The truth is God loves and forgives us all.

  48. says

    Im kinda blown away that I have stumbled on two articles saying the same thing. I personally have neither have been apart of a bisexual movement nor seen any such thing. However I do hold to the position that everyone at some degree is bisexual. And its not to say that hetero or gay are orientations omitted, but are sorta culminated through experiences. A rough example would be if you find more fulfilling relationships with one sex, your immediate gratification would tell you “I must be x since y didn’t ever work out as well. However, I also don’t believe that there will never be someone of the “y” sex that would be a great fit to you, which is how I met one of relationships I valued most in my life. Simply put. People are exposed to people, actions, media, and various stimuli which motivated a different response toward a particular topic. All humanity is subject to change but at one point another bisexual would be an adequate title for any human being. Things just change. Does that mean you wont go back to being bi? Who knows, but I don’t see a group of like minded opinions as a formed agenda, or the particular observation of “Everyone is, to some extent, bisexual” to be a misguided and childish opinion. It’s just an opinion.

  49. says

    God I must be blind… It’s a meme too? When? I have been sorta saying this stuff for years. x___x leave it to the internet to turn a motivation of open-mindedness into a selecting close-minded… meme….

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