Get Real! I’m Bisexual So Why Do I Feel Differently About Men and Women?


 This article is published in partnership with Scarleteen.org.

nathanielthegreat asks:

I’m
17, male, and have considered myself bisexual for 2 years now. I find
myself emotionally attracted to women and sexually attracted to men. I
like women in a certain way, I like to be in relationships with them. I
see myself having kids, many in fact. But I’m not feeling sexually
attracted to them, except for a few but can’t find myself to have sex
with them. As for men, I like them almost strictly sexually. Even if I
didn’t enjoy the sex, half the times I couldn’t get hard with men, I
prefer it and don’t feel scared to. But when I try to be with them
emotionally, I’m just not that into it. I don’t feel like I put any
limits on myself, for I have tried.

What does this mean? I won’t limit myself to one gender but I’d like
to feel for them equally in order to find the right person for me. What
do you think? Please help.

Heather Corinna replies:

I
don’t think it’s very realistic to expect most of us to feel the exact
same way, or "equally," about all men, all women or all people whose
gender is outside of that binary.

There are bisexual people in the world who find that they
have fairly equal levels of sexual and emotional attraction to people
of all genders, but I’d say it’s more common for any of us to find that
we have some differences in how we experience areas of feeling for
different genders and in different relationships. And how we feel, be
it identical or differing, really is not something that we can control
or forcibly change: we feel however we feel at any given time, based on
who we are at that time and what our experiences are and have been to
that point. It also may not be how we feel for the whole of our lives:
we all grow, after all, and every new experience, every additional
relationship, tends to shape us in some way if we let it.

I want to start by introducing you to the whole range of areas of
connection with others we consider when we’re talking about sexual
orientation or relationships. Larger group of variables, meet
Nathaniel; Nathaniel, meet a larger group of variables.

See, we don’t just have the two you mentioned, sexual and emotional.
We also talk about romantic, spiritual, affectional, and/or relational
attraction and connection. With that many variables, you can see how if
a person of ANY orientation made a list of the genders they have all of
those kinds attraction to, or who they have been in relationship with
so far in any of those areas, we’d be unlikely to come out perfectly
equal on all accounts. It’d be seriously unusual if all our
relationships — including those which are totally nonsexual — with
people of differing genders we had so far were or felt identical in all
those areas. Same goes with our expectations of different people or
genders all being the same in all areas.

I think that "so far" is important (which is why I said it twice).
We can only really base our ideas on how we have felt on what our
experiences have been to date, and at your age, those experiences have
been more limited than they probably will be five, ten, twenty or forty
years down the road. Again, how you feel now may not be how you always
feel, especially given the fluidity of sexuality. And the depth of our
interpersonal relationships also tends to get deeper as we grow and get
older, both per what you’re bringing to the table and what any of your
partners are.

You might also find the Klein Grid helpful. (I like this adaptation of the Klein Grid,
though because it accounts for people who have lived past their teen
years, it might not make that big of a difference for you.) When
addressing orientation, the Klein model takes our sexual attraction
into account, but also our sexual fantasies and sexual behavior; it
includes our emotional, social and community preferences as well as our
preferences about our own identity. It considers all of that based on
the past, the present and also our ideals or wishes. It’s something
that might be able to help you see the much-bigger picture when it
comes to orientation that I think might be missing in terms of how
you’re framing it now.

Don’t forget: even for a person who is only attracted to one sex or
gender, it’s highly unlikely they are going to have the same kinds of
or levels of attraction to every single person in that group, you know?

You’re young. I don’t say that to patronize, but to point out that
life experience does usually make a big difference. At 17, even if
you’re ahead of the curve compared to your peers, you’re still sussing
out who you are in a very big way, you’ve barely been sexual as a young
adult when it comes to both sexual development and relationships, and
your life and relationship experience has been limited by the short
number of years you have had to have it in and reflect on it
throughout. For myself, for instance, even though I knew I was
attracted to all genders before I was even in my teens, and dated men
and women alike as a teenager, it took me until I was near my thirties
to truly identify and then start to really work through some massive
emotional barriers I had with women.

In your teens, your social circles are also pretty limited unless
you travel a lot or live in a highly diverse area, and you probably
haven’t yet met a wide array of people who they might even consider for
sexual or romantic relationships. Who you have had relationships with
to date has probably had more to do with who you had any opportunity to
have them with now than it will later on in your life. And when we’re
queer, our dating pool is always much smaller than it is for those who
are young but straight. It may be that you just haven’t yet met women
or men in your life to whom you feel a very strong sexual and
emotional connection. Of course, finding people we feel strongly for
and connect deeply with on all levels, no matter what our orientation
is, is something that usually takes a while, because it’s that kind of
total connectivity just doesn’t happen every day. It’s rare stuff.

Relationships at your age probably haven’t been very long-term,
either. It’s not like we just walk into perfect relationships that have
everything we want all tied up with a bow; in which all aspects of them
are high-key and totally developed. Relationships are a creative
enterprise: they’re something we make together, not something we just
passively have or are given.

One other humongous thing to take into consideration is how common
it is for people, especially younger people and/or people who have been
raised with very heteronormative or gendernormative ideas or social
structures, to find that it is more difficult to envision or have deep
emotional relationships with those of the same sex or gender. If I had
a dollar for every queer young person who said, "I’m sexually attracted
to men/women but I just can’t see myself in a serious relationship with
them," who even just ten years later either had no such challenge of
imagination or was in a serious emotional/romantic and sexual
relationship with someone same-sex I’d be one wealthy dame.

A rare few of us manage to grow up without a ton of social
conditioning when it comes to who we should have romantic or deep
feelings about: nearly all cultures are overdosed with pervasive
messages that romance, lifelong emotional relationships of depth,
and/or families, are things that are about men being with women, not
men with men or women with women, or anyone at all with anyone at all
who doesn’t fit into any of those boxes. I’d say those norms are even
bigger and tougher to shake than norms that say who we should and
shouldn’t have sex with: just listen to how often people make same-sex
relationships all about sex and that’s pretty obvious. There are also a
lot of strong cultural messages that tell us that even our same-gender
or same-sex friendships and family relationships are less important
than those we have with people of a different sex or gender than us.

I can see some of that conditioning even in one of your own
statements. We can have families or kids with people of any gender,
after all: we don’t need opposite-sex relationships to do that. (And
all the female partners you have may not want to have kids, either:
being female doesn’t mean we want to become pregnant or parent. So,
seeing that a female partner is who one has a family with also makes a
lot of assumptions about women and what the wide range of women do and
don’t want.) I don’t point something like that out to make you feel
bad, just to show how internalized and pervasive these ideas can be, to
the point that we might not even realize we have them. All of us do
have some level of them. Even those of us who are queer can and often
do have internalized homophobia or biphobia. Unlearning all that
conditioning and getting to new ways of thinking, more inclusive ways
of thinking, is something that tends to take a lot of awareness, effort
and time. But throughout that process, those cultural ideas and
messages can have a pretty big influence on us. It may be that the way
you view men in terms of emotions, and the way you view women in regard
to sex, are both influenced by some of these ideas.

By all means, give all of this some thought, but also do what you
can not to sweat this idea that to have a satisfying relationship, now
or later, you have to feel the same way about all genders. You don’t.

Throughout your life — and straight people have this happen, too —
you’re likely going to find in your relationships that you have a wide
range of levels/areas of feeling and connection with each person you’re
with. With one partner, the sexual part of your relationship may lead a
bit more, or be more charged or strong. With another, it may be the
emotional (though we can’t really say any of this is all that separate:
sex has emotion in it too, even if it’s casual) aspects that lead or
are stronger.

Relationships where ALL aspects of a relationship are highly
charged, pose no challenges, where nothing ever needs to be
compromised, adapted or improved, where you feel perfectly met in all
areas? They’re about as common as unicorns or leprechauns.

When we’re in relationships, we don’t remain in them or leave them
the exact same person we were when we began them, and neither do our
partners. Instead, we all will tend to grow, change in various ways,
and as we grow, so does the relationship. In long-term relationships,
we can even find that an area of the relationship which started out as
the strongest at some point takes a back seat while another area
becomes the super-big deal. So, for example, in a relationship where
the sex is off the charts and has a physical attraction you feel very
strongly, but the emotional connection outside the sex doesn’t feel as
strong, over time, if you both invest in the relationship, that part
can develop and grow stronger. The same goes for a relationship that
starts off very strong emotionally or spiritually, but where the sexual
attraction doesn’t start off as strong. However, it’s usually the
emotional arena where the most growth happens, and which tends to be
more gradual as time goes on: sexual attraction tends to be pretty
instant, even if the sex we have with it isn’t aces right away.

I’m going to mention again that you’re 17, even though it’s probably
annoying because you know full well how old you are. You do not have to
have all of this figured out right now: that is a lot for anyone to
expect of themselves, unless you can see the future. You’re not likely
TO have all of this figured out by now, no matter what: the way we feel
at one age often is not the way we feel at another. Remember how many
people don’t even get any kind of handle on their orientation or come
out until their 20s, 30s, 40s or even later! You finding a lifelong
partner at your age is also not a likely proposition (and many people
find we have more than one important partner in the course of our lives
anyway, not just one person), so worrying overmuch about it now is
probably not a sound place to put your energy, and goodness knows, no
one needs extra stress just because. I’m not even sure how feeling
exactly the same about men and women would result in you finding one,
right lifelong partner in the first place.

My advice for right now would be to just lead with your heart and
your head, and pursue the relationships which feel best to you and your
partners, sexually, emotionally and otherwise. What I think matters
most about any kind of relationship is that anyone involved in it feels
benefitted by it, able to really be themselves, and is cared for,
accepted and respected. If in any relationship, all of that is going on
for you and who you’re with, it’s always a good thing, even if that
relationship is not one you’ll have for your whole life.

Give yourself space and time to grow, and permission not to
magically have everything figured out or miraculously feel the same
about every single person you’re with based on gender or any other
single criteria. Not only is it okay not to have your whole
interpersonal life figured out before you graduate from high school,
it’s neither likely nor necessary to be happy and to have happy,
healthy and mutually-beneficial relationships.

Here are a few more links to pack in your bag and take with you as you journey on:

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Follow Heather Corinna on twitter: @Scarleteen

  • foothillbilly

    I’m 52 years old and grateful that younger people have a chance to know their sexual selves at a younger age than I did. I would encourage Nathaniel to avoid taking sexuality labels too seriously, simply because the actual person is typically too individual to fit the label with any precision. As with many older "non-straight" people, my sexuality is really "Popeye" (I yam what I yam).

  • natalie-wilson

    Thanks for the thorough coverage of this topic. I am wondering though about your use of the term queer. Broadly the term often is used to mean “non-heterosexual” but politically and theoretically it means much more — I am speaking specifically to the argument that confining labels such as ‘gay’ ‘straigh’ ‘bi-sexual’ are themselves problematic. What about the argument that it might be better to use the term “sexual” for all humans and to away with the more box type labels?

  • experienced

    … for our 17 year old friend. <br><br>

    First, find a woman who, due to medical reasons, isn’t worried about getting pregnant anymore, and compare her sexual prowess, and ability to attain wild abandon, with that of your male partners, and I’ll bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It takes a lot longer for a woman to prime up her kegels, than it does for a man to strengthen his buns, and the Pill makes women both easily irritable and lacking lubrication (I know, I was on it for 20 years). The good news is that, if both a man and a woman stay physically fit throughout their lives, they might be as lucky as I am with my partner now … we’re breaking records set when I was 20! <br><br>

    It also helps to find someone who is a "perfect fit" … some body parts just don’t match as well as others, who can drive each other wild from any angle or position. I vehemently disagree with the commercials. Women don’t always want bigger. It’s like Goldilocks … there’s way too small, and way too big, and in the case of obese, trapping air is simply not fun for a woman. <br><br>

    I also suggest teaching your (next) serious female partner all about the existence of your prostate, and how she can very successfully stimulate it with her finger. She doesn’t need to be a gloved doctor, or a one-eyed wonder worm, to please you back there, and if she understands that your prostate is the physical analog of her g-spot, the two of you can learn how to optimize how to take both to new heights. In general, women are far less educated about their options in the bedroom, and often have to learn it all the hard way, via comments made by their partners (sadly often after the fact), and/or by serendipity. <br><br>

    I agree with Heather, in that your only being physically attracted to a few women is actually extremely normal hetero behavior. Consider yourself lucky to be a man. As a hetero woman, caught in today’s obese and/or under-exercised society, I find it extremely difficult to be attracted even the slightest to very many men, of any age. At least women still look acceptable naked, whether anorexic, or having gained a moderate amount of weight. Guys become gross looking almost instantly in both the flat buns, and the "can’t see what’s below anymore" directions. <br><br>

    I grew up in farm country, and frankly demand a little muscle tone, as well as someone who doesn’t smell and taste pre-diabetic (sicky sweet). Today the "pickins" are extremely slim for me, and that’s before they even open their mouths. This is good news for my man… it’s very difficult for someone else to have enough going for them to lure me away. Also, while on the Pill, my sense of smell was compromised. Once off it, smell became a major decision maker for me, both turning me off in an extreme way to some, but attracting me intensely to others. <br><br>

    Be lucky you can attain an intense physical thrill from men … I can’t blame you … I do, too :). But, if you’ve ever been turned on by at least one woman, I’m confident that someday the right woman will be able to send you just has far into another galaxy as a man can. <br><br>

    In contrast, I’ve never been turned on by even one woman. When the first female advances toward me were from "non-ideal" individuals, so I always wondered if my total lack of interest was just me being picky. But when a tall, thin, gorgeous MIT grad, with off-blonde hair down to the small of her back, running around naked for half of the weekend party, pinched my butt twice, I had to politely ask her to stop, and it wasn’t just because I was actively dating a guy she’d also dated. He wouldn’t have minded the threesome. But I felt absolutely nothing, and I’m sure today I’d get the exact same reaction. <br><br>

    Later in time, even while buzzed on rum and coke, and bubbling in a jacuzzi, sitting there while a very nicely breast-reduced good friend actively tried everything to get me going, I felt nothing. Her middle aged, scruffy red headed husband with a pot gut easily turned me on more, by doing nothing (they were both reasonably attractive, actively employed, smart, loved animals, and had great personalities). <br><br>

    I guess I’m lucky in that I never questioned my orientation, but I’ve had many friends all over the map in theirs, including two who actually changed their own gender, and can understand your confusion. Rest assured that time will definitely clarify and modify your current impressions.

  • heather-corinna

    Natalie, I hear you.  However, just like I don’t with the way someone tells me they identify their gender, when someone tells me what terms they use to identify their orientation, that’ll be the term I use.  This person told me how he identified at the onset.

     

    And I often use queer because I generally identify as queer.  I don’t know about using the term "sexual" because for young people particularly, I think it’d be tough for them to know I was talking about orientation when that’s what they’re asking about.  Plus, our sexuality and how we’re sexual is so much bigger than just what gender of people (if any) any of us are attracted to.

     

    All the same, we have a piece and a whole host of threads at Scarleteen which make clear to our users that they don’t have to label if they don’t want to, and that if they do, they get to choose to name their sexuality however feels best to them. :)

  • heather-corinna

    Just FYI, the users who ask these questions of me at Scarleteen don’t usually ever come over here to read where they’re reprinted.

     

    Just like to remind people of that so y’all don’t write a huge response to them for naught.

     

    I also really want to ask that anyone saying things like that a given gender doesn’t look "acceptable" at a certain age please bear in mind how that can impact those of said given gender or size reading something like that.  Not only do plenty of us find plenty of folks of any given gender attractive at many ages, sizes and levels of fitness, it’s just plain hurtful to call any group of people "gross looking."  I don’t get a say in how people comment to my pieces here, but I don’t think even if the OP WAS reading (and a comment like this makes me very glad he isn’t) here he’d benefit from the ageism, ableism, sizeism or lookism in this comment.