Sexual experiences with both men and women can be a normal part of growing up. But some people continue to feel they cannot limit themselves to one sex – they need heterosexual and homosexual relationships.
Bisexuals are people who are equally attracted sexually to men and women. This completely balanced sexual preference actually applies to relatively few people. But there are many who, although they are predominantly attracted to one sex, do recognize an attraction to the other.
At the time of sexual awakening, around puberty and during adolescence, strong bonds are often formed between young people of the same sex – crushes, emotional friendships, strongly romantic feelings. In some cases these feelings are expressed in a physical way.
In single-sex environments, such as boarding schools, this is not uncommon.
Philip went to a public school, and he remembers that sexual liaisons were considered pretty normal. ‘It was a bit of fun, I suppose. I thought it was a little like being a prisoner of war – there weren’t any girls so you had to make do with what you could get. I don’t feel ashamed of what happened – but now that I have the choice I don’t think I’d ever relate sexually to another man.’
Before long, as in Philip’s case, the adolescent usually accepts the view of society that, for the heterosexual, or, rather, non-homosexual, these sexual or quasi-sexual contacts are inappropriate. Physical affection between young friends of the same sex diminishes as they form more acceptable heterosexual relationships. For the majority, these new relationships are more satisfactory, and they dismiss what went before as an unimportant part of growing up. Indeed, there is no evidence to support some people’s opinion that experience of homosexuality during the teens has any impact whatsoever on future orientation.
Some people, of course, around three to four percent, do not consign their homosexual feelings to the past. They are homosexual and will remain so for life.
Others become to all intents and purposes heterosexual after adolescence, but they never forget the powerful sexual feelings they have for members of their own sex.
The true bisexual
Most people’s idea of a practising bisexual is of someone who sets up with a homosexual and heterosexual partner at the same time. This is called troilism and in fact it is very rare.
A bisexual who is genuinely equally attracted to both sexes is still most likely to be in a single, close relationship with one partner – either homosexual or heterosexual. He or she may, however, seek sexual gratification with a member of the other sex.
This is the situation for Alan, who is married with children. ‘Sex with my wife is normal, OK – just as you would expect for people married as long as we have been. But for the past 18 months I’ve been involved with a man I met in a pub near where I work. It’s straight sex, no emotions. Sex is sex, isn’t it? It feels good, it’s a release. I don’t see why it’s just supposed to be men and women together. Another woman would be trouble. She’d want to muscle in on my marriage, that’s for sure.’
Also common is the sequential bisexual. ‘Faithful’ to one sex at a time, he or she may finish a long-term relationship with a woman, to be followed by a similar relationship with a man.
Needing both sexes
Practising bisexuals often have a number of explanations for why they need partners of both sexes. But these reasons divide broadly into two main areas, which, of course, are interrelated – sexual and emotional.
Len sees the split as essentially emotional. ‘It’s fair to say that I am attracted to men and women equally, but there is a different quality to the relationship. There is a kind of protective element in the male/female relationship which is nice. With men it’s more equal; we’re just mates.’
Elizabeth’s preference for bisexuality, on the other hand, is frankly sexual. ‘When the chemistry is there between me and a man it’s great. And if he’s skilful it’s wonderful. But with some men you’ve had it after ten minutes. It’s all over once they’ve had their fun. Or else you get the mechanical stud dividing sex up into foreplay, “doing it”, and afterplay – no sensuality, fluidity or spontaneity. With a woman, the entire process is about “making love”. You don’t have to think about an erection or having enough energy. You have a good idea how each other’s body works, so you are more likely to simply give each other pleasure.’
Living as a bisexual
Recognizing your bisexual nature is one thing, acting upon it is quite another. Even nowadays, openly living as a bisexual is fraught with obstacles and difficulties. If a relationship does not ‘just happen’, to set out to form a new attachment to someone of your own sex usually means venturing into the gay world – and if you are a bisexual who is socially heterosexual, that can be alarming or even distasteful.
Where bisexuals are involved with either entirely heterosexual or homosexual partners there is also the problem of the people they are closely involved with being out of sympathy with their sexual orientation. Sarah, a bisexual who has a long-standing relationship with another woman, finds this a problem:
‘She doesn’t understand why I want to have anything to do with men at all. But I do like men and I lust after them from time to time. And I tell her that if she loves me, then she has to accept that side of me too.’
Bisexuals who choose to continue relationships with both sexes often compartmentalize their natures, getting different things from their homosexual and heterosexual partners. They need to do this rather than look for one person who offers it all. Some people can operate like this happily and successfully.