There’s never been a doubt in my mind about my straightness — that is, until I found myself in bed with a woman last month.
The experience was spontaneous and sensational, but adding a lady to my sexual repertoire forced me to reconsider the way I conceive of my own sexuality.
I am a heterosexual-identifying woman, but I fit into what bisexuality activist Robyn Ochs would call “middle sexuality.” When Ochs visited Penn on Tuesday as a guest of the Penn Women’s Center, she spoke of the link between bisexuality and feminism, describing her own bisexual experimentation as a vehicle for self-discovery.
And suddenly, I felt a lot less confused about myself.
Within the LGB bundle, the B is often pushed to the margins or misunderstood as a stepping stone between “real” straightness and “real” gayness. But the space in between — middle sexuality — is very legitimate, and it encompasses our otherwise uncategorized sexual desires.
Ochs pointed to our tendency to look at sexuality through a strict binary: you’re either gay or you’re straight. But rather than viewing sexuality as an orientation, our desires are better understood on a spectrum of sexual preference.
Alfred Kinsey was among the first to reconceptualize this idea of sexual preference. The Kinsey scale for sexuality works like this: sexual preferences receive a score of zero through six, where zero reflects exclusively heterosexual desire and six means exclusively homosexual desire. Numbers one through five are the “in between” — sexual preferences that involve both men and women.
Remarkably, Kinsey’s research found the majority of us are somewhere in the middle.
College junior Warren Jones serves as such an example. Jones pins himself squarely at a five on the Kinsey scale but is very open about his occasional interest in women. When I first met him, he identified as bisexual, noting that he was “scared to put [himself] into a box” concerning his sexuality.
Now, Jones self-labels himself as homosexual but says ticking a box for “gay” misses the full story of his sexuality.
“With guys, it’s very much understood that you’re either one or the other,” he said. “You can’t be a dude who hooks up with other dudes and call yourself anything other than gay — but if you’re gay, then hooking up with women becomes a problem. Male sexuality isn’t seen as very fluid.”
Still, Jones thinks “everybody should experiment [sexually] at some point in their lives. It can be so liberating.”
While the penalties for experimentation may be higher for men, we all risk rebelling against the rules of prescribed homosexuality or heterosexuality when we step outside of those categorizations. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.
Admittedly, I felt less than inhibited about my bisexual experience — after all, I’m in my third year of the sexuality studies major and I am The Screwtinizer. But this wasn’t just uncharted territory for me — it was territory that wasn’t even on my map.
Upon reflection, I was surprised this hadn’t happened sooner — why doesn’t experimentation cross our minds?
We live in a binary culture: we like to place people neatly into boxes, labeling things as either man or woman, Democrat or Republican, gay or straight. But of course, the world isn’t so neatly divided, and neither is sexuality.
Categorizing ourselves as straight, gay or whatever labels we choose is helpful in forming our identity but shouldn’t be treated as a fixed orientation so much as a preference. Does hooking up with a woman make me homosexual? No. But does being heterosexual preclude me from the possibility of doing it again? Again, no. As Jones put it: “Your bisexual experience? It’s like a little gold star on your hetero-vanilla folder.”
Now, I’d place myself at around a two on the Kinsey scale. I might even call myself “heteroflexible.”
Testing the boundaries of my own sexuality was both liberating and exciting. And if there’s any time in our lives suited to step outside of our sexual categorizations, it’s within the freedom of our college years.
Don’t let the labels box you in. In my experience, being flexible has multiple perks.
Arielle Pardes is a College junior from San Diego, Calif. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her @pardesoteric. “The Screwtinizer” appears every Wednesday.