“Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Nature rarely deals with discrete categories… the living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.”
—Kinsey et al (circa 1948) p 639
That’s Alfred Kinsey, famed creator of the Kinsey Scale. A measure of sexual orientation, and yes, you read that date correctly—1948! If someone who was born in the 1800s knew that human sexuality wasn’t as binary and static as many imagined why are we still so confused about it over 60 years later?
The roots of our sexuality may be biological but the concepts behind how we label our sexuality are purely from culture. For much of modern Western existence, one was either straight or gay—“normal” or a deviant. Fast-forward a few hundred years when a blend of the two emerged: bisexuality, which some scientists, even as recently as 10 years ago, argued doesn’t actually exist.
Oh wait—studies now show bisexuality exists in women but not men.
Er, hold on… I guess we were wrong about that one, too, and all those men who professed to appreciate both genders actually weren’t insane—just honest.
In our post-millennial era, we have more ways to identify sexually than ever before—heteroflexible, ambisextrous, pansexual, transgender, asexual, questioning, bi-curious—and there is proof that more of us than care to admit are at least curious about sex play with a gender other than the one we predominantly favor.
But buried beneath all the monikers is the experience of sexual identity—those tender, terrifying moments when we confront who we are at a fundamental level.
Bi-curiosity remains one of the more prevalent and lesser-understood sexual labels. The name itself implies that a state of inquisitiveness is fundamental to sexual identity—that, for the bi-curious, sexual orientation itself may be rooted in a continual process of discovering and not knowing.
Marion*, 25: identifies primarily as a heterosexual male
I do have a sexual identity, and it’s ‘I don’t know.’
Have you ever connected sexually with a man?
Oh… (He laughs.) It was a sad tale from high school. I was drunk and my [male] friend really wanted me, and I just went with it. It was a pure performance—I wasn’t really into what I was doing. It was out of pity—there was no attraction.
Why did you pity him?
Because he wanted me so much and I didn’t return it, only as a friendship. Because he wanted me, I felt superior in some way. This was how my ego dealt with it—that I did it “for him.” Some part of me was really curious about sex with men but didn’t want to admit it. Being drunk and doing it out of pity made it possible but it also sullies the story. When I start admitting to myself that I’m actually attracted to men then I get really scared. I don’t know how to deal with that.
When did you first become curious about connecting with men?
It started when I was 13. I was questioning sexual identity in general: are people really gay or not? I came to a theory that gayness and straightness are just socially contrived—not inherently real.
How did you apply that theory to yourself?
I started questioning: Am I actually heterosexual? How do I know? When I was young (we are talking middle and high school age), images of women turned me on. But I questioned it: Was it because I was taught to be straight?
When I started learning more about [Alfred] Kinsey and [Ancient] Greek sexuality in college, I found it fascinating. I majored in classical studies; so Greek culture has had a huge influence on my sexuality.
Tell me about Greek culture.
Here’s a way to get an inside view of Greek culture: it was considered liberal when the men started inviting female slaves into the orgies they held before a symposium.
Before intellectual debates, Greeks would have orgies in order to get connected. When they invited women in, it was considered liberal—out there—almost dirty. Since women weren’t educated at that time, men couldn’t connect with them sexually in the same way.
The men didn’t have anal sex. Anal sex would be demeaning—it would reduce a man to the role of a woman. You might anally rape your conquests at war, but not your friends. The men had intercrural (a type of non-penetrative) sex.
Will you give us a demonstration?
(A friend at our table stands up stiffly and turns around with a grimace) No, no—turn around and face me. They would stand face to face and let their cocks ride up each other’s groins and stomachs. (“Oh!” our friend says, grinning. “Tummy sticks.”)
What do you want next for yourself with your bi-curiosity?
There are so many fears I have about my own desire. If hooking up with guys can’t be a fun experiment, I don’t want to do it. It’s not that I don’t want to have full on sex with a guy, but that feels 5 steps away. When I start connecting with a man, it brings up a lot of my own stuff. There’s this intense attraction but it also brings revulsion, and a lot of fear.
What’s step number one?
Find someone who is willing to experiment with me.
How does your bi-curiosity shape your sexual identity now that you’re an adult?
I just don’t put labels on it. My sexuality is shaping the story of me—different people could call my identity different things. I do have a sexual identity, and it’s “I don’t know.”
There might be natural boundaries I feel in sex—with men and women—but I won’t know what they are until I get there. So it’s hard for me to determine my identity ahead of time, without ever having tried it.
Sophie, 31: Identifies as a bisexual woman but has mostly heterosexual experiences
“I haven’t had that much experience with women… but I can’t imagine having that option off the table.”
When did you first notice that you were curious about sex with women?
Probably when I was in 5th grade I remember having sleepovers with girlfriends and having a desire for them, to cuddle or make out.
I remember wondering, “am I gay?” But I didn’t think I was gay because I also liked boys. I think I actually kissed and did some breast touching when I was in 5th grade with one of my girlfriends.
How does being bi-curious play into your life and relationships now?
It’s interesting because romantically I feel most drawn to men. I feel like the bi thing is this mysterious closeted part of me. I don’t hide it—but I don’t feel like I’m totally out about it. I don’t seek relationships with women because I identify with women as friends first. I have a fear of approaching them sexually, that I’m going to push them away or scare them.
With men, I find that being open to playing with women adds a lot of attraction and allure. I think I use it to my advantage. (Laughs sheepishly.)
What sexual experiences have you had with women?
I’ve mostly only had threesomes because of that fear of going for it with a woman. I have a story that we need some masculine drive to really get it on. But I don’t believe that’s actually true. I just don’t let my sex out with women all the way. Yeah… I think that’s truer. I’m intimidated by women.
I’m afraid of rejection.
More than with men?
Yes, a bit. I think it’s because of the social stigma. With men, I have more confidence—if a man likes women, then I’m not going to offend him by approaching him sexually. With women, I don’t know if they like women or not. It’s not as easy to navigate. Gay women tend to stay away from bi women a lot of times. They want more solid relationships, which makes sense—they’re not as available for experimentation.
What do you want, with women?
I want to practice eating pussy. I want to make it really simple to explore this curious part of me. I don’t want the whole song and dance [of romance with a woman]. At this point, I want some practical skills under my belt with pleasuring women so when I have an opportunity to go deeper I’m prepared.
How do you identify yourself sexually now?
I would say that I’m bisexual, though sometimes I feel like I don’t have proof that I’m bi because I haven’t had that much experience with women. I’ve never gotten the female attention that I want. But I feel bi because I’m definitely attracted to women, I have a desire for them. I like their bodies, I like feminine women, I fantasize about them. I like going on the ride of feminine orgasm in the threesomes that I’ve had. I felt so much pleasure in her orgasm—more so than I’ve ever felt in pleasuring a man.
If it’s so compelling for you, why have you not given it to yourself?
(Laughs.) I don’t know! It’s scary. The thought that crosses my mind is, “What if I’m actually gay? What if I stop liking men?” Then I would be an outcast… But I can’t imagine never exploring with women, or having that option off the table. That would be not being true to myself.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about bi-curiosity?
I have a male friend who originally came out as gay but has recently evolved to identifying as bi. We talk about how hard it is to get the experience we need to explore our sexualities fully. The gay community judges him for not being truly gay. Straight women won’t come near him, or they just see him as that “safe gay friend.”
He has dated women secretly for 7 years because his gay friends wouldn’t even talk to him about it—they just walk away when he mentions women.
There's a lot of exploration that happens under the radar, and I’d like to see that come out more—more openness about bisexuality and questioning in all communities. Because it’s there.
*Names and ages have been nominally adjusted to protect the identities of those interviewed.