My Sexuality Is Not Just About Sex

12/12/16

When I was fourteen, one of my online friends whom I’d met on a forum about books, made a point that I think about quite a lot even to this day. T., as I shall refer to him to protect his identity, was a couple of years younger than myself, and was just coming to terms with the fact that he’s gay. Being from a conservative white Christian family in Kentucky, his parents were homophobic and unaccepting of his sexuality. Unfortunately, as the internet moved on, and I left LiveJournal for Facebook, I lost contact with T. and I don’t actually know his surname so I can’t find him.

Anyway, what he said really struck a chord with me. He said (not his exact words): Why is it that when people think about straight couples, people imagine mostly “innocent” things such as cuddling, cooking together, raising children, going on holiday and so on, but when people imagine two gay men together, all they picture in their heads is (and these were his words, not mine) “constant butt-fucking”?

The point is, of course men in gay relationships have sex (unless they are, for example, homoromantic and asexual [gay and ace]), which I recently read about, just as straight people in straight relationships have sex. But why is it that when we imagine a straight couple, people mostly imagine non-sexual romantic activities, but when the same people imagine gay relationships, all they can think about is anal sex? Or in the case of lesbian relationships, oral and strap-on sex. Rather than imagining two men simply cuddling or two women simply raising a child, as you would with a straight couple?

LGBT identities have always been sexualised where heterosexual identities haven’t. It’s nothing new, but has been going on for millennia. The French philosopher Michel Foucault noted the shift in widespread attitudes and academia about gay sex as first being considered an act, to later being considered a personality. In Biblical times, “sodomy” was considered an act, but fast-forward hundreds of years to the late nineteenth century and the word “homosexual” was born. One no longer simply “committed” gay acts, one is homosexual/gay.

In recent times, thanks to the growing number of countries who are legalising equal marriage (I hesitate to call this “gay” marriage because that erases bi as well as non-binary and transgender identity), the cultural attitudes towards gay and lesbian people is shifting, and no longer are straight laypeople thinking that being gay is all about sex: no, being gay is now understood as being about love, too. Just as straight people aren’t thought about solely in terms of what they do in the bedroom (your imagination probably doesn’t jump to picturing P-in-V sex as it does with gay/lesbian couples and anal and oral), gay and lesbian couples are now being accepted as having loving, as well as sexual (but not only sexual, necessarily) relationships. And that is wonderful.

Needless to say, there is still a long way to go. Both in the “Western world” and internationally, gay and lesbian identities are still sexualised whilst straight identities are the “norm”. But this, I wish to argue, is a struggle that is only just beginning for us bisexual people.

I believe that “bisexual” is even more sexualised than “gay” and “lesbian” in the popular imagination. Both straight and gay/lesbian people alike are prone to imagining us as sex addicts (but please do read this by our wonderful editor, Talia, who points out the ridiculousness of diagnosing people as “sex addicts” in the first place); as promiscuous, and wanting to sleep with anyone in sight.

For the record, let it be said that, as a sex-positive intersectional feminist, I am not against people wanting more sex than the average person. Being sex-positive, I disagree with the idea that sex is dirty and must be unmentioned in public (within limits, of course, for example in front of children). Sex is not the enemy, as the Garbage song taught us. Some bisexual people like myself love sex. Some want less of it. We are not a monolith. But why is it that bisexuality in itself is so sexualised?

Why is it that, when I tell you I’m bisexual, the first thing you’re likely to imagine is me having constant sex and threesomes every day? Let me tell you: threesomes are seriously hard to organise, so I should be so lucky! I don’t have sex that often. Not because I don’t want to, but because it’s not the only thing in my life. Being bisexual does not mean I am a walking sex machine. As well as imagining bi people constantly having sex, how about imagining us falling in love too?

This is what I mean when I say that my sexuality is not just about sex. Or at least no more or less, necessarily, than straight and gay/lesbian people’s sexualities are.

One reason for this may be the fact that instead of referring to “heterosexuals” we mainly use the word “straight”, and more commonly than referring to “homosexuals” we refer to the words “gay” and “lesbian”, but most people still refer to us (and I do refer to it myself) as “bisexual”, so the word “sexual” is always there and thus non-bi people end up imagining us as sex machines.

Let me tell you about being bisexual/pansexual. I am not only interested in sex, but romance too. I fall in love just as straight and gay/lesbian people do, and I have sexual desires just as straight and gay/lesbian people do. The only difference is that I don’t mind about gender. Being bi is not just about sex. It’s also about love, romance, desire and much more.

When William Shakespeare (who is almost always straight-washed in the common imagination) wrote his love sonnets, he was referring to a younger man with whom he had fallen in love (and no, this didn’t suddenly make him gay: he loved his wife, too). The same goes for Lord Byron, who was also bi, but is always straight-washed. If Shakespeare was writing over four hundred years ago about his male beau, comparing him to a summer’s day, why in 2016 do we straight-wash this (in all those years of studying Shakespeare at school, college and university, we were never told that Shakespeare also loved and desired men) and also, just as importantly, why can’t you understand that I as a bisexual woman put equal importance on romance as well as sex?

So next time you imagine bi people in relationships, try to imagine us going shopping, having candlelit dinners and wedding anniversaries as well as having threesomes, okay?

Kimia Etemadi
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A British-Iranian Jewish woman living in Manchester, England, Kimia is a language enthusiast who can get around in 11 languages. A cancer survivor, OCD and anxiety sufferer, crazy cat lady, and vegetarian, Kimia has recently finished her second Master's degree.