Remember those wonderful teenage years? Attending high school, sitting in class, learning about society and having your teacher explain what a ‘pansexual’ is? Or the day non-binary orientations got discussed and for the first time you heard about ‘polysexuality’. How about the ‘asexual’ guest speakers that shared their personal experiences with you and your peers? All to prepare you for post-modern civilization with a cultivated, open mind. Or wait, perhaps not?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. A friend described herself as pansexual recently and silently assumed I knew what that involved. I discovered that even though there is a broad understanding on what it entails to be hetero-, homo- or even bisexual, people are often clueless about the less discussed sexual orientations, or have never even heard of them.
I dove straight into the intricate, fascinating world of bi-, pan-, omni-, poly-, demi- and asexuality. Not only researching the definitions, but meeting and talking to people who identify as being part of a non-traditional sexual orientations. Curious? Here we go.
‘’BISEXUALITY is romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behavior toward both males and females’’
MALE, 27, LOS ANGELES, CA
‘Bisexuality is pretty simple. Strictly speaking, it means sexual attraction to both men and women. I think there are many variations of what this label means to the people that identify with it, in terms of preference and lifestyle. On the Kinsey scale of sexuality, I would probably fall somewhere around a four: meaning that my sexuality seems to have a slight preference for men. But this numerical quantification isn’t finite. When I’m not seeing anyone, I go through phases where I find myself more attracted to boys or more attracted to girls. And I’ve enjoyed wonderful relationships with both genders.
I think bisexuality is largely misunderstood. It hasn’t enjoyed as much exposure over the recent years as the gay and lesbian communities. I think bisexuals themselves are responsible for this lack of exposure because there is less pressure for them to come out to their family or friends. As a result, they are less visible and certain misconceptions arise. In the past, gay circles have dismissed bisexuality as this transient intermediate phase in adolescence where someone who is really gay first identifies as a bisexual before making the conversion to militant homosexual. In straight circles, the label ‘bisexual’ can be dismissed as a posturing heterosexual who claims this identity to better appeal to counter-cultural and ‘alternative’ groups.
My sexuality doesn’t really define me. I like to think my character traits are a combination of my genetics and the remnants of influential people I’ve met over the years. I don’t believe that sexual identity influences them. It does, however, powerfully inform my convictions and perspective of the world. As with any ‘unconventional’ sexuality, realizing your identity is still a significant obstacle in the course of your growth and it forces you to question institutionalized conventions and have sympathy for other disenfranchised groups.
As far as I know, my sexuality affects my day-to-day life in the same way sexuality affects the day-to-day life of any homosexual or heterosexual. I imagine over-indulgent love stories with all the beautiful people I pass on the street, but never have the courage to approach. And like anyone else, I date, fuck and love whoever I want and spend the rest of the time trying to figure it all out.’
‘’POLYSEXUALITY is romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behavior toward multiple genders and/or sexes’’
Polysexuality is not to be confused with ‘polyamorous’. They have nothing to do with each other. It’s the difference between who you love and how you love (polyamorous means multiple romantic or sexual relationships at the same time). I interviewed a polysexual female who said: ‘I might be polysexual, but I can still be monogamous.’ Unlike bisexuals, polysexuals aren’t solely interested in males and females. They are attracted to multiple distinct genders, but not all.
CIS-MALE, 25, NYC, NY, USA
‘I’m attracted to femininity. This can include cis/trans women, non-binary, fluid, a-gender, etc., but most cis-men and many trans men are too masculine for me. An Adam Levine or Danny Devito type doesn’t interest me. Most of my experience has been with cross-dressers or guys experimenting with gender play. Society absolutely doesn’t comprehend my sexuality. Not enough people understand bisexual yet. So anything within the bi-umbrella (pan, polysexual, omni, etc.) is completely lost on them. I’ve only come out since October, so I’m still figuring this out. It’s just one part of who I am. One piece that I need to make me whole. If there is another polysexual out there that is struggling and needs help, I recommend searching bi-groups for a support structure. They are the most understanding.’
MALE, 25, LOS ANGELES, CA, USA
‘I’m equally attracted to several kinds of people. Mostly to genetic, transgender and intersex women, and the occasional guy. It’s all about being open-minded.
Polysexuality is a relatively new label and from what I can tell, not many people know about it yet. Discussing it with others, I’ve found that while some comprehend and accept it, some simply don’t and write you off as being “confused.” But trust me, it took a lot of deliberate thought to get to where I [am] adopting this label as my own. For years I had struggled to find a label that fit my constantly evolving sexuality, but all of them felt too limiting. When I found out about polysexuality, something about it just clicked.
To most people I come off as a typical straight guy. And unless I’m asked specifically about it, I’ll usually just go along with the straight label for the sake of simplicity. I’d say the label itself is not a central part of my life. I don’t plan on joining a “Polysexual Pride” group anytime soon, if they even exist.
Being a polysexual in the dating world is just as exciting, fun, difficult and fascinating as it is for anyone else. One of the main differences is where you meet each type of person. I’ve dated genetic women that I’ve met at a bar, café, grocery store, etc. Trans-women are not as easy to meet unless you go to a special night of the week at a gay bar or look at dating sites online.
In regards to sex life, I’m a big fan of the “anything goes” philosophy. The amount of ways that two people can share an intimate, physical connection is only limited by the imagination.
The generation that is currently coming of age is a very conscious one, and labels don’t mean as much to them as in generations past. It’s for this reason I think those who identify as poly- or pansexual will continue to grow in number. It’ll be trendy eventually.’
‘’PANSEXUALITY or OMNISEXUALITY, is sexual attraction, sexual desire, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people of any sex or gender identity’’
After speaking to several pansexuals, I figured out most of them feel they have reached another, higher level: No limitations or judgements. It’s a beautiful thing. One girl told me she ‘feels like pansexual is the highest one can become, to accept all humans as equal and to have the opportunity to love someone based on what makes them up (e.g., values, beliefs, hobbies, interest), and not based on how they dress, what their genitals look like or who they identify as.’
FEMALE, 23, MENASHA, WI, USA
‘I date people based on personality, not for a specific gender or their looks. I don’t think society comprehends my sexuality at all. Even people in the LGBT community don’t understand us. We are told that we don’t exist or that pansexual is just a fancy way of saying we’re bisexual.
I think me being pan opens my mind up more towards others: I know how I’m treated based on my sexuality so I go the extra step to be more open and understanding to others. My friends and family are supportive.
When it comes to dating, it’s harder. The majority of guys think I sleep around a lot and don’t trust me. Lesbians think I will get bored and either leave or cheat on them. A lot of people think I can’t stay committed in a relationship. I have never cheated. I have never left someone for anyone else. I fell hard for a girl last year. She wouldn’t try to make it work because she said she knew “I would get bored and leave.” She crushed me.
The only thing I can think to add is that people, especially in our own community, need to have an open mind. We exist. We are not sluts. We don’t think we’re better than anyone else. We are who we are. Hearts not parts.’
FEMALE, 23, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA
‘I do not base my preference on gender identity or gender expression. I base it on other qualities, such as one’s values, beliefs, hobbies, things we have in common. I believe gender is a very trivial concept and I also believe that one cannot choose who they fall in love with. I only came across the terms pan- and omnisexual recently. For seven years of my life I didn’t identify as anything and steered away from labels. Many people assumed I was heterosexual because I have been with the same male since I was 13. However, I have always viewed men and women, or any variation in between (e.g., transexual), as equally attractive.
I don’t feel like society comprehends sexuality in general. I was raised in a heteronormative family, where I assumed the role as heterosexual at a very young age. As a young female child, I wanted to have children one day. Therefore, without thinking, I took that role on. A lot of people are scared to let go and think outside the heterosexual box. When people stop labeling things maybe we can just be ourselves: People, who fall in and out of love with other people that meet our needs-romantically, sexually and otherwise.
I accidentally came across a “pansexual” video online and I was soon introduced to the concept that I have always-unknowingly-identified as. It was so nice to see there were so many people that don’t exclude anyone, just because their anatomy is that of a male or female or their gender expression is not typical. It is very calming to feel this way.
As for my sex life, I have been with the same partner since I was 13, so that has remained the same. My sexuality is only mine and it makes me a lot more confident to own my sexuality 100%. I can definitely say that it has transformed my sex life.’
‘’ASEXUALITY or NON-SEXUALITY is the lack of sexual attraction to anyone, or low or absent interest in sexual activity’’
Asexuality was by far the most complicated and fascinating sexuality to learn about. I had never met an asexual and had never realized what it implies to experience lack of sexual attraction. Romantic and sexual attraction typically go hand in hand or lead to one another. Asexuals are naturally forced to separate the two. Some fall in love and enter into a committed relationship without ever feeling sexually attracted to their partner. Others could be completely asexual until the moment they build a strong enough bond with someone (which is called DEMISEXUALITY). One girl described herself as a ‘homograyromantic asexual’, meaning that if she’d fall in love it would be with another female. Though at this point in time she isn’t sure if she is capable of experiencing romantic attraction at all, which makes that area ‘gray’.
Asexuality is misunderstood and seen by many as ‘just a phase’ someone goes through. ‘Just a phase? That’s like telling a gay person there is hope and that he will get better,’ reads a Facebook post on a community page. Asexuality is an orientation, it requires acceptance and coming out of the closet, surely not a ‘healing’ process.
MALE, 22, BREMEN, GERMANY
‘I’m a hetero-romantic asexual, which means I’m not sexually attracted, but I’m still able to have feelings of love. I’m feeling love a bit less intense than ‘usual’ people, but that’s not the norm for hetero-romantic asexuals. I know a lot of people who are asexual, but still have an intense feeling of love and some who are ‘a-romantic asexuals’.
I have talked to many people about my asexuality. Not only friends, but also students of my university. I was interested in their reaction. Half of them were tolerant, but told me that they aren’t able to fully comprehend it, which is totally fine. The other half were in complete disbelief about what I was telling them. They couldn’t imagine someone [who] doesn’t want to have sex. Even if the woman is very attractive. After some long talks a few skeptical friends accepted my ‘asexuality’ to exist, but generally I was considered weird or simply a liar.
For me personally, it’s more like going through life feeling different. I always knew something was wrong with my sexuality. My friends had sex all the time and told each other how addictive it was. Everything they described was completely the opposite of my experiences. I tried sex the first time on my 18th birthday and was so disappointed. I just felt nothing, by nothing I really mean completely nothing. That night I was a bit drunk and nervous. At first I thought [my drunkenness and nerves] might have been the issue, but I already sensed something else was off.
About seven months later I met my girlfriend. Of course, she wanted to have sex at some point and told me she had already been wondering why I hadn’t made a move. I opened up to her and told her sex wasn’t of interest to me so far. She didn’t believe me and a week later we finally had sex. It just felt so unbelievably boring to me, even though she had an orgasm. It was the only time in our six-month relationship we had sex. She luckily accepted that sex is even an uncomfortable thing for me.
After this relationship ended, I didn’t even kiss a girl for over two years. At 21, I had another relationship with a girl who was very sex-oriented, it ended after a half-year. It was the first time I somehow felt handicapped. I shared my story with a friend and she told me about asexuality. I started researching and found out I was completely experiencing the things described. I felt somewhat relieved that, from now on, there was a term I could reference to. Something that gives you the feeling you’re not alone.
It changed my character a little bit. Generally, I’m being friendlier to other people, because I feel relieved. I feel that I’m even better with girls after I tell them about my non-sexual orientation, because I’m not afraid they think that I just want to have sex with them. On the other hand it is a big disadvantage when it concerns relationships. You have to find someone who is either asexual or who can accept your asexuality and can live without having sex. So far I have just encountered girls who want to have sex and for myself I wish that I wasn’t asexual. Until now, at least I can deal with it.’
Every person I spoke with had problems feeling different, until the moment they realized there were others out there experiencing the same. They found comfort when recognizing the definition that suited them. Talking to these people revealed how very little I knew. There are as many sexual orientations as there are people on this planet. With conventional labels becoming less and less of interest, these non-traditional groups continue to grow and alter themselves.
Now you’re a little more prepared. Class dismissed.