It's not a "one-size fits all" kind of thing.
I have always been attracted to both men and women. When I was a teenager, I found it confusing at first as my other friends gravitated to one or the other. One of my first relationships was with a boy who came out as gay during our relationship. David and I spent lots of time talking, helping me to define my attractions more clearly.
Back then, I didn't know anyone who was bisexual and had never heard of bisexuality. In university, however, I met a number of men and women who identified at bisexual. The first thing I noticed was that we each saw being bisexual very differently.
I was always most attracted to the energy of a person. If the connection was right, gender and physical presentation became much less relevant. This remains true today. When I enjoy someone and connect well with them, I usually am attracted to them. I quickly learned that to many people this was unacceptable. People wanted me to choose a side.
I stopped using the term bisexual some years ago. I became tired of watching the eyes of straight men light up as they fantasized about threesomes or watching me with my girlfriends. I was tired of listening to women who identified as lesbian tell me that I just had not met the right woman and then proceed to try to convince me that the right one had just come along.
I have frequently been "educated" on the queer experience as if I have no understanding or knowledge of issues relating to HIV and AIDS, AIDS activism, and the fight for equal rights simply because I'm bisexual.
It's not either or OR all or nothing
Sexuality is a moveable feast. Though we may be born this way, it's my clinical and personal experience that many people move across a continuum during their sexual lifetimes with heterosexual on one pole and homosexual on the other. In addition, orientations change over time — sometimes temporarily and others permanently.
Even people who identify as strictly homosexual can find themselves in a situation in which they are aroused by heterosexual images or by a heterosexual experience. I have been to gay male clubs where lesbian women were watching gay male pornography and clearly expressing arousal. I have been in situations with gay men who happily brought a woman into a sexual experience.
Some people are 100% homosexual. They only find people of their own sex attractive. They only fantasize about people of their own sex. But in my experience, this is relatively rare. Most people will fantasize about genders and sexual experiences that they would not actually physically enjoy in reality.
Then there are the people who identify as homoflexible. These people are almost always sexually attracted to people of their own sex, but there are certain situations in which they might be attracted to those of another sex/gender and there are certain types of activities they might be willing to engage in when this happens. For example, the gay male couple I mentioned above were occasionally interested in having a woman join them for a threesome.
For some of us, sexuality AND gender are flexible
There are those who identify as bisexual who lean toward one pole or the other and tend to confine their serious relationships to either homosexual or heterosexual but have shorter term liaisons or relationships with people falling toward the other pole.
In the middle are those of us who are closer to 50/50 in our orientations. We come close to equally preferring partners of our own sex and partners of another gender. Many of us find that it is the energy and connection that determines the large part of our attractions. Some of us find monogamy very difficult as a result, since we are not able to get our needs met physically when we're monogamous.
There are those whose gender orientation is fluid as well and this interacts with sexual orientation. Fluid gender orientation means that the person does not identify as strictly one gender all of the time. He may identify as male some of the time, female some of the time, feel like a mix of the two some of the time or identify as being without a gender.
There are people that identify as heteroflexible. They are primarily attracted to people of the opposite sex, but on occasion they may have a sexual interest or encounter with someone of the same sex. This is trendy particularly for women, since celebrities have made experimentation more popular. I have worked with women who would occasionally become sexually involved with other women but who would not have a full romantic relationship with another woman.
Finally there are people who identify as completely heterosexual who are only attracted to people of the opposite sex in fantasy and in reality. This is also rare. More often than not, people have much more flexibility in their fantasy lives even when they do not experiment physically.
Be brave and be out of the box!
So many factors play into our sexual arousal at any one time that rigidly defining sexuality and sexual orientation is not only difficult but potentially damaging. Rigid definitions lead to exclusion and isolation for people who don't fit the mold. They lead to people repressing sexual desires, being secretive, and not taking care of their own needs or the needs of others. Rigid definitions lead to the spread of disease, psychologically in the forms of depression and anxiety and physically in the form of sexually transmitted diseases.
One of my goals as a relationship coach is to facilitate a deep exploration of sexuality that encourages clients to be flexible in their thinking. Learning to talk about sexual health to new partners is a different experience for people who identify as bisexual. Dating protocols are also different. For example, when do you let someone know that you are bisexual? Is it cool to go to a gay or lesbian bar to meet people if you identify as bisexual?
I encourage people who identify as bisexual to become more visible, to talk more in public about their relationships and sexual lives. This is the only way we will gain the equality and acceptance we seek in the LGBTQ community and in the community at large. The more visible we are, the less stigma there there is.
Dr Lori Bisbey works with couples and polyamorous groups of all ages, genders, races and sexualities who want to create long lasting passionate relationships. Anyone can create the love and intimate relationships of their dreams. If you can see it and you are committed to growth, communication and getting out into the world; you can create it!