There’s a often-quoted slur that people are ‘either gay, straight or lying’.
But what happens if you’re bisexual? Omnisexual? Pansexual? Queer? Aromantic? Skoliosexual?
A host of other terms have come along to describe the fact that 43% of people aged 18 to 24 define themselves as neither gay nor straight.
Why is there still so much stigma?
Sammy was in college when she finally felt able to tell people that she had feelings for both men and women.
A decade ago, she came out as bisexual. Since then, she’s seen greater acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, with the introduction of equal marriage.
‘While far less people have moral objections than a decade ago, I get negative reactions these days for other reasons, such as seeking attention or being sexually greedy,’ she says.
‘What makes me saddest is that I sometimes get negative reactions from gays and lesbians who question my identity. It makes it hard to find community when both hetero and homosexual groups tend to “other” you.’
This idea of ‘other’ goes against a 2016 study that said that no one is really 100% straight.
In the study, by Cornell University, participants were shown different types of pornography as the dilation of their pupils – an indicator of sexual arousal – was measured.
Regardless of their stated sexual preference, every participant’s eyes dilated to some degree regardless of the gender of the people in the scenes they were watching. This means, according to the authors, that everyone is at least somewhere on the spectrum of bisexuality.
The difficulty comes with official data lagging behind.
The Office Of National Statistics’ most recent report still says 93.2% of people identify as heterosexual, (decreasing from 93.7% in 2015 and 93.4% in 2016).
It reported 1.3% identifying as gay/lesbian, 0.7% bisexual, 0.6% as another sexuality and 4.1% who do not know or refuse to disclose their sexuality.
Why is there such a discrepancy in the numbers?
‘Coming out is different for bi people than it is for gay people in several ways,’ The American Institute of Bisexuality says.
‘Most importantly, the coming out process never really ends for bisexual people. Typically, bi people must come out to each and every person they date.
‘Unfortunately, biphobic reactions are far too common and almost every bisexual person has horror stories to share about dating or courting a straight, gay, or lesbian person for whom bisexuality was a deal-breaker.
‘That additional risk of romantic rejection, rejection because of one’s sexual orientation, is not a hurdle faced by straight and gay people.’
In the US, the Pew Research Center found 12% of bisexual men have come out, compared to 77% of gay men, which implies that there is still stigma attached.
That said, there’s a whole new range of terms to describe sexuality beyond the standard LGBTQ+ acronym – asexual (not being sexually attracted to anyone), pansexual (not seeing gender), demisexual (attraction only when there’s a strong emotional connection), skoliosexual (sexual attraction to non-binary identified individuals) and many more.
After a long campaign, teachers have been told they can teach openly about LGBTQ+ issues, which could lead to more acceptance that feelings for all genders are completely fine.
Does this mean repressing or hiding your sexuality, even from yourself, might be a thing of the past?
Allowing teachers chance to learn about LGBTQ+ issues
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‘The lessons mean kids will now be taught that their peers might have two mummies or daddies, that people have different bodies, that trans people have nothing in common with Buffalo Bill and that gender stereotypes are bad.
Read the full article about how LGBT lessons are just as important for teachers as students
Lucy Rycroft-Smith, author of The Equal Classroom: Life-Changing Thinking About Gender, identifies as pansexual – meaning she doesn’t see or care about the gender of the person she falls in love with.
‘The next generation seem to be more relaxed, fluid and knowledgeable about these issues, which gives me enormous hope,’ she says.
‘But schools and parents have a huge part to play in this; if we continue to push the idea that sexuality and sex are the same thing, that LGBTQ+ issues are “deviant”, “shameful” or “dirty” then we are undoing all this good work.’
We’re also moving far beyond the domination of religion in the UK, where LGBTQ+ people are traditionally less openly accepted. In the last census in 2011, 25% of people said they had no religion and this has left people to explore their own feelings without as much consideration of faith.
‘There remain many sexual orientations and gender identities that people still don’t understand, or are not even aware of yet,’ Life, sex and relationship counsellor Lianne Young says.
‘In the world of sex and relationships, this diversity is far more accepted and open than it has ever been and it’s going down the path where sex is definitely more about recreation than reproduction.
‘There should be no reason or justification for “hiding in the closet” or being afraid to speak about your sexuality or gender identity.
‘In fact more people are experimenting with sex and sexuality these days than ever before making it a lot more healthy for individuals to get to understand and accept themselves.’
It’s also becoming much easier to meet both men and women.
Previously, exploring feelings for members of the same sex meant going to a gay or lesbian bar, where most would assume you were gay or lesbian.
Dating apps and social media mean you can be open about how you identify from the beginning and can meet other bisexual people, building a greater support network.
‘I found it highly liberating to change the settings from male/female,’ Stephen, who came out as bisexual at the age of 19, says.
‘It allowed me the option to open up the idea of dating men while not exclusively eliminating dating women.
‘I’ve often found same sex male dating apps such as Grindr very sexually aggressive, with lots of very explicit [messages] and more purely for sexual gratification.
‘With a dating scene centred around more inclusive apps such as Tinder and Bumble, it allowed me to explore those feelings at my own leisure.
‘Encounters in gay bars are tricky for me. They are often very loud, very busy and you can put yourself at risk.
‘Gay and bisexual culture has come a long way from secret codes with pocket handkerchiefs but there’s still an element of trust and safety that is easier through dating apps.
Molly, who is now 21 but who came out at 13, agrees that the internet is helping to change how LGBTQ+ people make connections, particularly bisexual people who struggled between fitting into gay and straight communities.
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She says: ‘I spent a lot of my teenage years justifying my own identity and was surrounded by myths such as “bi people are just greedy”, “you’re actually gay/straight”, and the classic “you’re just confused”.
‘I feel these negative attitudes are still very prevalent, but also matched with much more understanding and acceptance of the identity, partly thanks to bi representation in media, celebrity coming out stories, and the emergence of online LGBTQ+ communities that were not as easy to find eight years ago.’
The internet is already an intrinsic part of our lives but increasingly more so, it allows people who previously would have hidden these feelings to explore and understand all the elements of their sexuality.
As well as a greater understanding of sexuality, we’ve seen a greater understanding of gender identity in recent years. We now understand more about people who identify as non-binary, transsexual or gender fluid.
‘A “bisexual utopia” of sorts sounds wonderful, but I would never want to take autonomy away from monosexual LGBTQ+ folk in the same way I had as a teenager,’ Molly says.
The big question then is whether it is more people who are exploring bisexuality or whether it is more people who are developing those feelings.
‘The growing proportion of people identifying as bisexuals is mainly due to society being more accepting and understanding which in turn makes them feel more comfortable to come out,’ relationship coach and neurologist Bobbi Banks says.
‘Although I do not believe everyone will be bisexual in the future, I do believe it will become just as accepted as heterosexuality is.’
Lucy Rycroft-Smith adds: ‘Research suggests sexuality may be on a scale, and are not always consistent over time – therefore it is unlikely that ‘everyone’ will be anything in the future.
‘Defining sexuality in terms of binary or non-binary gender further adds complexity – if we move towards a less binary view of gender, perhaps attraction profiles may change too.’
The Future Of Everything
This piece is part of Metro.co.uk’s series The Future Of Everything.
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