What exactly does it mean to be straight, gay, bi, ace, grey-A, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, queer..? We have so many words to describe our sexual and/or romantic orientation but how useful are these labels when it comes to describing an individual’s sexuality? Do we miss the nuances of sexual orientation by focusing on labels? Do we close ourselves off to the possibility of fluid sexual orientation by identifying with a label?
The inspiration for this post came from a recent experience I had. I went out on a night out and, like 16% of British women (Natsal, 3), had a same-sex experience. It isn’t the first time I’ve kissed a woman (in fact I am one of 8% of women who have had genital contact with another woman) yet I define myself as straight. I’ve met plenty of people who have decided that my same sex experiences mean I should call myself bisexual but I don’t. Here’s why:
- Less than 1% of all the people I have been attracted to have been women
- Only about 3% of people I’ve kissed have been women
- I don’t fantasise about women
- I have never felt romantic attraction towards a woman
- I only feel sexually attracted/want to be physically intimate with women when my sex drive is very high (research does suggest a correlation between high sex drive in women and increased attraction to both men and women but this research hasn’t looked at whether sexual attraction fluctuates with sex drive, see: Lippa, 2006)
Some people prescribe to the idea that if you have ever been attracted to both a woman and a man then you are bisexual. I do understand that attitude but, for me personally, the label ‘bisexual’ doesn’t feel correct. When asked about my sexual orientation, I usually say I’m primarily straight because that feels like the best fit for me. Heteroflexible is another possible label I could use but for some reason I associate it with women who choose to have same-sex experiences, not necessarily people who are occasionally attracted to people of the same gender. I personally want to stress attraction over behaviour.
I’ve had same-sex experiences in the past, so what was it about this one that got me thinking about my sexual orientation? The simple answer is that part of me is actually considering meeting up with her again. I’ve never given a woman my number before because it’s always been about immediate sexual attraction and sexual satisfaction (as it often is with men too). This is complete new territory for me and I don’t even know how to go about handling it. I’d ask her to take the lead but…this is new to her too. She also identifies as straight.
How useful do you think labels are when it comes to sexual identity? Have you made up your own label? What do you think makes a person heterosexual/homosexual/bisexual/asexual etc? Have you found your sexual identity has been stable over time or has it changed?
Lippa, R. A. (2007). The relation between sex drive and sexual attraction to men and women: A cross-national study of heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(2), 209-222.Chicago
Sexual attitudes and lifestyles in Britain: Highlights from Natsal-3 from. Available: http://www.natsal.ac.uk/media/2102/natsal-infographic.pdf