Identifying as bisexual can bring many benefits, but it’s not the only identity available to people who experience attraction to more than one gender. Terms such as bicurious, heteroflexible, homoflexible, ‘mostly straight’ and ‘mostly gay’ all create spaces for people to develop new understandings and ways of expressing their sexual desires. They can all be tools to help us interact effectively and happily in the world, used alone or even in combination.
Which identity you prefer depends, in part, on what your sexual attractions mean to you. My attractions to women and men have been significant to me, so it makes sense to me to identify as bisexual. It feels integral to my sense of who I am. No other term but bisexual would do justice to my experience. Calling myself bisexual also functions as a simple descriptor of who I can be attracted to. It’s a way of being honest and clear with myself and other people.
Some people who experience attraction to both men and women find that the term bisexual doesn’t fit them so well. A 2013 review of multiple studies on sexual attraction found that up to 23% of women and 9% of men identified as ‘mostly heterosexual’. Mostly heterosexuals (MHs) were found to have greater same sex attraction than heterosexuals, but less than those who identified as bisexual. MHs reported experiencing minor same-sex attractions which were purely sexual in nature, and lacking any romantic element. The review also found that MH is an enduring sexual orientation, and not a temporary or one-off experience.
The MH label was provided as an option on the surveys that informed the studies, so it’s unlikely that many people actually use this term to describe themselves in real life. MHs probably identify as heterosexual, but they might also use identifiers like bicurious or heteroflexible in certain contexts such as dating sites.
An MH could also choose to identify as bisexual. Bisexual identity includes people with almost any degree of attraction to more than one gender. So, if you’ve been attracted to 500 women in your life and only 1 man, then it’s entirely legitimate to identify as bisexual, if that’s what feels right to you. Alternatively, if your attraction is heavily weighted to one gender, you might decide to choose a label like bicurious or hetero/homoflexible, or even a monosexual label such as straight or gay.
There’s no obligation to adopt any sexual identity at all, if you don’t want to. It can, though, be advantageous if you do. Labels and identities can help us find communities of like-minded people, so that we can build supportive relationships with others. They’re also tools which enable us to understand ourselves and our desires. They help other people understand us better, too.
But sexual identities are not prisons. We are free to adopt different labels at different times of our lives, should our understanding of our desires change. Sexual labels are not fixed, scientific descriptors of some absolute reality. In fact, sexual identities were invented in the 19th century by the pioneering academic sexologists seeking to study and categorise sexual behavior.
The work of Alfred Kinsey and subsequent sex researchers has since shown that sexuality is complex and can’t always be expressed in simple categories. As LGBT activist Peter Tatchell has argued, if a post-homophobic, post-biphobic society ever develops, then sexual identities could even become redundant. Until that time, however, sexual identities will remain essential tools of understanding and activism.
There is no one right way for any person to identify. The important thing is that we feel comfortable with the identity we choose.
So, bisexual or bicurious? It doesn’t matter, as long as you’ve found an identity that works for you.