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Bisexual, Bi-Curious & Everything In Between: How to Make Sense of Your Identity


So you’re attracted to guys AND girls. Not only is the world labeling you as confused, but you’re slightly confused about what to call yourself, too. There are so many labels in the LGBTQ+ community that you can’t even begin to list them. While a label definitely shouldn’t define you, figuring out your sexuality on a personal level is super difficult.

Let’s start with the two labels you’ve most likely heard of: bisexual and bi-curious. Both sound basically the same, but with slightly different connotations. Not sure which one fits you better? Here are some questions that you should be asking yourself.

1. Which label fits my personal experience?

The two labels have different meanings to different people. However, Dr. Sharon Horne, a professor of counseling psychology at University of Massachusetts-Boston and a researcher of both LGBTQ+ and college student mental health concerns, defines them for us as distinctly unique. “Bisexuality is an orientation that captures the propensity to be attracted to more than one sex, although it’s rarely distributed evenly,” she says. “In other words, if someone is bisexual and attracted to both men and women, it’s rarely split 50-50.”

So if you identify as bisexual, you might be attracted to both genders, but there’s a likelihood that you might be attracted to one more than the other. It’s important to remember this is subject to change at any given time and isn’t totally set in stone. “Bi-curiosity is a term used to describe a propensity for attraction to other sexes that differ from their primary attraction without identifying as bisexual,” she says. “It usually suggests limited sexual experience with the sex that they are curious about.” Basically, bi-curiosity means you have a tendency to like people from both sexes, but you either prefer this term over "bisexual" or you don’t have much experience with someone of the same sex.

These are both things to consider when trying to decide which label fits you best. If you’ve kissed a girl (and liked it) then you might consider identifying as bisexual. However, if you’ve just fantasized about girls, then bi-curious might be the label for you.

2. Which label do I feel most comfortable taking on?

Just because you have never experienced anything physical with another woman (or female-bodied person), doesn’t mean you automatically have to identify as bi-curious. Similarly, just because you’re hooking up with a girl, doesn’t mean you have to identify as bisexual. These definitions are not by any means set in stone, and like most labels, can actually be very limiting in terms of defining your sexual experience.

Aly*, a junior at St. John’s University, says that she’s identified as bisexual since she was 15, even though she had never even kissed a girl. “Bi-curious just didn’t fit what I was feeling,” she says. “It wasn’t a matter of me being curious about girls, I knew I liked them. It was just a matter of finding a girl I wanted to be with and who wanted to be with me.”

While the two terms have different meanings, it’s ultimately up to you to figure out which one fits you the best. They aren’t mutually exclusive, but they can play a big part in how you present yourself to others.

3. Do I have to stick with this label for the rest of my life?

The most simple answer is no. Just as you’re not the same person that you were five years ago, your sexuality can change, too. Sexuality falls on a spectrum, which means you can be super attracted to men at one point in your life, then super attracted to women at another. “Identifying in college can be beneficial and can have drawbacks,” Dr. Horne says. “Some of the benefits include finding community with others that may share [your] sexual orientation, and a sense of pride about self-awareness and expressing that sexual identity.”

But Dr. Horne also warns that the “bi” label isn’t always respected in the LGBTQ+ community. “It could open [you] up to discrimination and stigma that [you] may not be prepared to counter if [you don’t] have enough social support, and it could narrow [your] social circles depending on the environment,” she says.

With that being said, if you are attracted to women at some point in your life, but end up marrying a man, for instance, you are still totally entitled to label yourself as bisexual or bi-curious. You don’t stop being attracted to other men once you get married, so why would you stop being attracted to other women? Once you have had these experiences and you are still attracted to these people, your identity doesn’t disappear once you commit yourself to someone of one sex or the other.

There is so much stigma both in the LGBTQ+ community and among straight people that you have to be either super gay or super straight, but people grow and change, as does their sexual orientation, and it's nothing to be ashamed of!

4. Do I want to experiment?

Dr. Horne encourages you, no matter what you identify as or what your experience is, to experiment however you like. If you try to suppress how you feel, you might have some unfortunate consequences to deal with emotionally. “We know from research that hiding one’s sexual identity when one has a firm self-awareness can have very negative effects on physical and mental health, but this is different from a woman exploring sexual identity without being certain of her sexual attraction,” she says. “In comparison to men, women often take more time before they adopt sexual identity labels, and women also have more shifts, or fluidity, in their identities over time.” So remember that this is your time to explore and find yourself!

When some people hear the term “bi,” they automatically assume that the girl can’t make up her mind or she just doesn’t want to label herself. But Dr. Horne advises that you shouldn’t feel pressured to label yourself at all.

“What’s the rush? It’s your identity, no one else gets to decide it, and it’s not set in stone for all time,” she says. “If it feels like the right identity for you, then by all means claim it, and there is a lot of support for that congruence between self-representation and one’s internal sense of attraction, and at the same time the 20s are a time of fluidity and exploration. There’s nothing wrong with saying that you aren’t sure of your identity at this time but you find yourself sometimes attracted to x, y or z!”

There is so much power in being able to own your identity and be comfortable in knowing who you are. There is no wrong or right way to tell people who you are, as long as you’re not invalidating anyone else’s experience. 

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