Orientation vs Behavior vs Identity: Labeling Bisexuals

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In light of the March 20 article in the New York Times, “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists,” I feel compelled to address the topic of orientation vs behavior vs identity and labeling bisexuals.

Bisexuals, especially, can identify with the differences associated with these different concepts, but they often get muddy for others whether straight,  gay or lesbian.

And for people trying to figure out what label best describes them, this is an important distinction to understand.

Orientation

As we understand sexual orientation today, this concept refers to the way one’s physiological attraction manifests – are you more attracted, on a physical level, to same gendered bodies, other gendered bodies, or any gendered bodies?

Orientation can be scientifically assessed in a number of ways, and the New York Times article referenced two in particular:measuring either 1) genital arousal or 2) pupil dilation in a subject while he or she watches various types of pornography.

Orientation refers just to what your body finds hot, regardless of what your mind says or your heart feels.

Behavior

Behavior is the action we actually take.

People engage in behaviors for various reasons; sometimes based on what they think they should do, based on how they feel about something, or maybe done mindlessly without much consideration for what their behaviors might signify.

So, regardless of one’s sexual orientation, one might make a decision to engage in sexual activity or relationship with someone who doesn’t fit that orientation for some reason.

For instance, many gay men have married women for the purpose of having children.

Identity

Your identity is the label you choose to describe yourself.

This may be in alignment with your sexual orientation, your behavior, or your political stance. It may be an authentic description of yourself or it may be a socially convenient or safe definition.

We all have the right to define ourselves in whatever way makes sense for us at any given time, without having to feel like we must justify that identity, regardless of whether or not it seems to fit us based on someone else’s perception of our sexual orientation, our behavior, or some other criteria, such as our appearance.

Widespread Confusion about Identity

The author of the New York Times article, himself a self-identified gay man, exposes his own ignorance on this topic when he asks the bisexual men he’s interviewing if they are “more attracted to men or women” and made an assumption about their answer based on their behavior.

Sometimes bisexuals are accused of being straight or gay when they are involved in monogamous relationships with a single person. But behavior does not change one’s identity.

If a straight man commits to one woman, he doesn’t magically cease feeling attraction for other women, he simply chooses (ideally) not to act on that attraction. It doesn’t mean he’s no longer heterosexual, just because he is now only having sex with a single partner.

If a straight man occasionally has sex with another man on the down-low, he may still choose to publicly identify as straight for a variety of reasons, even though his behavior suggests his orientation may be bisexual or even gay.

The Spectrum of Bisexuality

There is also a wide range of what constitutes bisexuality. Anyone who is familiar with the Kinsey scale knows that sexual orientation is a spectrum. Only those who score at either extreme end of this spectrum can claim complete mono-sexuality (meaning they’re ONLY attracted to one gender, with absolutely NO attraction or even curiosity about the other gender).

Everyone else falls somewhere in between. This can be interpreted to mean that anyone who is not at the extreme poles of this scale is bisexual to some degree. So bisexuality occurs on a spectrum itself and can include:

  • anyone who only engages in sex or relationship with one gender but occasionally fantasizes about the other gender;

  • girl-crushes and bromances;

  • bisexuals who cannot imagine being monogamous or monosexual at all and maintain relationships with members of both genders;

  • people who refuse to be limited by gender at all in regards to who they are attracted to or fall in love with;

  • and many other permutations.

Defining Yourself

The important thing, I think, is not to get hung up on defining others or letting others define you.

Focus on yourself, your desires, fantasies, attractions, politics, etc, and figure out what label, if any, best describes your most authentic self, and THEN decide if you feel safe enough in your particular environment and circumstances to openly claim that identity.

Remember, too, that how we identify can change over time and can sometimes be quite fluid from day to day, moment to moment. And our sexual identity is actually much more complex than this.

In a future article, I’ll discuss the Klein Grid and other aspects to consider to refine your personal identity. It’s all valid if it’s true for you.

 

About Inara de Luna

Inara de Luna is a bisexual, polyamorous, kinky pagan who is also a Relationship Coach and a Sexuality Educator. She is a Gender, Sexuality & Relationship Diversity Specialist, with training and experience as a Marriage & Family Therapist. Inara is a sex positive activist, a published author, and a national presenter. She prefers to support those whose identities fall outside the mainstream norms. For more information, you can find her online at www.Sex-Positive-Coach.com or on FacebookK/a>.

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