How to Tell If You’re Bisexual
Struggling to Understand Your Sexuality? Here’s What You Need to Know
Despite making progress in our understanding of human sexuality in recent decades, as well as major and important strides in changing laws and attitudes towards gay, lesbian and trans people, much work remains to be done.
One area of sexuality that we seem to only now be grappling with is bisexuality. Perhaps because of some holdover from our prior puritanical ways, when we liked to see things in stark black-and-white terms, the idea that someone could be attracted to a wide range of people still seems incomprehensible to many of us. We like binaries and labels, and struggle to come to terms with both ideas and sexualities that defy those norms.
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According to clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., bisexual men and women “may have a more challenging time coming out than those who identify as gay or lesbian.” Heteroseuxal people can take it for granted that the expectations of their close friends and family will align with their own sexual preferences, but gay men and women have never had that luxury. Because of that, “coming out” – revealing your sexual preferences to loved ones – has always been an important and anxiety-producing decision, even one fraught with the possibilities of emotional rejection and physical harm.
That’s part of what makes the findings of this PEW Research Center Study so surprising: fully three-quarters of gay and lesbian adults interviewed had revealed their sexual preferences to “all or most of the important people in their lives,” but fewer than 20% of self-identified bisexual adults had done the same.
One possible explanation for this difficulty is in our continuing refusal to regard sexuality as something fluid and changeable, rather than a rigid and predefined idea.
“I don’t believe people fall into rigid categories,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., licensed psychotherapist and author of Gay Relationships for Men and Women: How to Find Them, How to Improve Them, How to Make Them Last, with 40 years of experience counseling individuals and couples. “History, social taboos, experience and opportunity all play a part. The categories are just for our convenience in talking about it.”
In fact, in her decades of experience, Tessina has personally witnessed these categories collapse. “I have clients who began thinking they were straight, and had subsequent gay or lesbian relationships, and I’ve had clients who’ve gone the other direction,” she continues. “Some of my clients have gone back and forth. Other clients knew they were gay as young as six years old, and have never wavered from that.”
In other words, you shouldn’t expect to know right away (or even once and for all) whether you are gay, straight or bi, and you shouldn’t feel the constant pressure to put a label on yourself.
Klapow advises that you take your time and don’t feel like you need to rush toward some final conclusion about yourself.
“Recognizing and confirming bisexuality can be complex in part because individuals may need time to assure themselves that they are attracted to both same-sex and opposite-sex individuals,” he says. “Hesitation does not mean that someone is not bisexual, but giving enough time to explore attraction to both sexes is critical.”
He adds that “the key is to give oneself time, experiences interacting with same- and opposite-sex individuals, and permission to explore feelings of attraction.”
Both Tessina and Klapow encourage anyone struggling with their sexuality to consider seeking a qualified therapist or guidance counselor, with whom they can openly and safely share their concerns.
“Having close friends or a psychotherapist can be helpful in creating a safe space to verbalize the feelings and explore them more deeply,” said Klapow. Tessina also stressed the importance of emotional resilience: “Be prepared for some negative responses, from both gay and straight friends. Try telling someone you trust to have a good reaction before telling anyone else, and ask that person to be your support system.”
Above all, know that you can proceed at your own pace. The decision to share your sexual preferences with someone is deeply personal, and you should do so only when you’re comfortable with yourself and comfortable with that person.
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