The Lifestyle has a Bi(g) Problem

Barbara Kruger_2
Barbara Kruger ‘Untitled’ 1981

HIM: The other day, on a hunch, I conducted a little study. I did a random search for 50 couples on a swingers’ website, and counted how many people identified themselves as any kind of bisexual. Among the women, forty-three claimed to be sexually attracted to both males and females. Among the men, just two chose to identify themselves that way. In fact, many of the men went to surprising lengths in their written profiles to proclaim that they were 100% straight, as if it was a personal achievement worth bragging about. Now, all of this will surprise no one who has spent any time in the lifestyle, but it is a subject worth looking at a little more closely. Why is it that bisexuality is so broadly embraced among women, but among men…not so much?

HER: I don’t think I’m alone in saying my first sexual experiments were with a same-sex childhood friend. I remember when I was five or six, we used to play ‘house’ in the basement. She was the husband and I was the wife. She would lie on top of me, squirm around, and kiss me. I knew it was probably bad, but it felt really good. The same friend would show me girl-on-girl pictures from her dad’s Hustler magazines, and some of those images are still burned into my brain because they were so arousing.

HIM: Those early experiences are not restricted to females. I know that when I was no older than six I was caught by some neighborhood adult kissing the bare bottom of another boy behind the building where we lived. I was mortally afraid this woman would tell my mom, as she threatened to do, but I never heard anything about it. That scene was chiseled into my childhood memory, but as I grew older it never really turned into a full blown same-sex attraction.

HER: “Full blown” – that’s punny! As most experts agree, and as our early experiences seem to suggest, sexual preference isn’t an either/or proposition where everyone has to be either 100% straight or 100% gay. It’s more like a continuum, with people falling somewhere between the two extremes. For instance, I’d say I’m probably 70% straight. I like girls, but playing with a woman is not nearly as satisfying as playing with a man. But it’s easy for me to say that, because we girls get to kiss and lick and rub and call it sex. There doesn’t even have to be penetration, so it’s ‘safe’. For men, I think basic anatomy is part of the problem. To put it crudely, I think it’s the fear of sodomy. Women can say they’re bi without worrying it will lead to anal. However, if a man says he’s bi, he immediately has to ask himself if he’s ready to take it up the ass. Of course, there are lots of other less invasive ways to have sexual contact between men, but I think that’s where most guys’ minds immediately go. That can be pretty scary for someone who’s just 20% ‘gay’ on the continuum.

HIM: So what you’re saying is that, if we take fear out of the equation, everyone has the potential to be bi, then. Even if someone is 98% attracted to the opposite sex, there’s still that 2% attraction to the same sex. I guess that makes sense, since even the straightest guy loves to look at and fondle at least one cock: his own. Is that because, by fluke, he happens to be in possession of the only attractive penis in the world, or because male genitals are fun and his own happen to be the only set he is allowed to play with?

HER: No, I’m not saying everyone is bisexual. Lots are completely straight. But I think more people could embrace their same-sex attraction if it wasn’t so stigmatized. We grow up stimulating ourselves, and we spend a lot of time evaluating how our sexual bits stack up against others of the same gender, so it’s easy to imagine the not-so-drastic leap to wanting to touch those bits…if for no other reason than to see how they compare to our own. If we can allow ourselves the freedom to explore that curiosity and attraction, there’s a great deal of pleasure to be had. But most people can’t get past the labels and fears.

Anyway, I can definitely tell you that I find the idea of two men playing together very hot. In fact, gay and male bi porn is the only kind that really turns me on.

HIM: And your enthusiasm has gone a long way toward making me feel free to consider contact with another guy: permission is always a big turn-on for me. I think bisexual women have had society’s implicit permission for years. This isn’t going to be authoritative, but I’d say somewhere in the 1980’s I became aware that female bisexuality was starting to become a sort of sexual ideal in our culture. It’s worth saying that this was a voyeuristic, performative ideal mediated by male attention, however.

Although porn led the way, female bisexuality eventually made its way into popular culture. To my mind, that breakthrough was signaled in 1998 on an episode of the show Friends. Facing the loss of their apartment to Joey and Chandler, Rachel and Monica agree to kiss for a minute if the men would allow them to stay. The kiss wasn’t shown, but the fact that it was treated as valuable currency was the first pop culture validation of the appeal of same sex attraction between women that I was aware of. For their part, Joey and Chandler race to their rooms (ostensibly to masturbate), proclaiming that they considered the trade totally worth it. Interestingly, it took another five years before two women could be shown kissing in prime time, when Madonna locked lips with Britney Spears during the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.

Britney Spears, left, and Madonna kiss during the opening performance of the MTV Video Music Awards at New York’s Radio City Music Hall Thursday, Aug. 28, 2003. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

HER: So, wait, are you saying women today are free to say they’re bi because Rachel and Monica (or Madonna and Britney) kissed on tv? There’s a lot more to it than that. I think women have always been allowed to be more affectionate with each other than men, at least in western culture. In my parents’ generation, mothers would hug their sons and daughters equally. Fathers would hug their daughters but rarely their sons. So even at the level of family affection, contact between the sexes was fine, contact between females was fine, but contact between males was a little awkward.

HIM: Tell me about it. When I was six my dad stopped hugging me at bedtime and would actually shake my hand!

HER: I have to say, I never cease to be amazed by your weird upbringing. Anyway, now we’re on a swingers’ dating site (the same one where you did your study) and you don’t list yourself as bi, but you did put into our profile that you’re open to it. What’s up with that?

HIM: Well, there are a few things going on. First of all, I’ve always had that undercurrent of same-sex attraction from when I was six years old. To put it your way, I would say that I’m 85% straight, which I guess also means that I’m 15% ‘gay’. Secondly, when we got together, you let me know very clearly that you were turned on by the idea of seeing two men together. Not just a little, but a lot: you communicated that it’s not only allowed, but desired. Your desire, in turn, activated the pleaser in me, who would do almost anything to make you happy. Thirdly, my own insistence on getting the most out of life (sexually and otherwise) has made me feel like it’s stupid to put boundaries around my pursuit of pleasure. Your sexual history has been undeniably enhanced by your experiences with women. To think that it is only a one way street, that it couldn’t work between men, makes no sense at all. In every area of my life, I never want to feel that I was trapped by the conventions of my time, my choices limited by unreasoning prejudice. Still, even though we mention it in the body of the profile, I didn’t want to necessarily label myself that way. I guess I’m still sensitive to the stigma. I don’t want other couples to dismiss us simply because the man is scared off by my label. But I suppose I could at least identify myself as ‘bi-curious’.

HER: Yes. Let’s change it now! The appeal of this lifestyle is removing boundaries and doing whatever feels good, regardless of the label. If letting the other guy touch your cock (or touching his) feels good, why shy away from that? I want us to have unrestricted, fluid enjoyment all around, and if the homophobes pass us over, that’s a bonus.

HIM: Allow me to make a bold prediction: in 20-30 years, basically everyone will be bisexual. When social historians look back at our time, they’ll think it was quaintly puzzling that men were so afraid to touch each other, and shake their heads condescendingly. I don’t want to be pitied by future generations. So although I wouldn’t exactly say I’m driven by lust to connect sexually with another man, I am definitely going to explore the possibilities.

HER: Awesome. That just made me a little wet.


  1. Tom Murphy says:

    I think this is a great article, it reveals the stigma of male bisexualality,, when there should be no stigma of any sexualality among consenting adults

  2. bbuck says:

    “in 20-30 years, basically everyone will be bisexual.” I’d put it at 100 years. That’s a very big step in a very repressed world.

  3. Damien says:

    I’m not sure I agree we are heading towards an ‘everyone will be bi’ future, it would be nice, but I think human sexuality is too complex for that. However, as a minimum I would love to see the stigma of sexual orientation drop away, so people could just be attracted to those they are attracted to and we’d lose the pecking orders of approved orientations. Oh, and if men would stop feeling the need for the ‘Hell no, 110% straight!’ comments in their profiles that would be awesome too.

    Personally, I (a male) am mostly straight, but with limited bent towards a weird flavour of pansexual. I have no interest in sexual encounters with masculine men. I’ve tried, and it does nothing for me, might as well be washing dishes. However I am occasionally attracted to the juxtaposition of feminine traits with an edge. Gay women, feminine presenting trans folk, some feminine gay men, can all do something for me.

    Ultimately I think what that boils down to is that I’m attracted to an specific set of feminine traits (facial features, body language, hair, etc) and if an individual posses them, I’m attracted to them not their genitals.

  4. Him and Her says:

    Thanks so much for sharing, Damien – your smart observations are the kind of thing we write for.

    Of course, the prediction is worth nothing. It’s mainly a rhetorical device. However, it wasn’t made thoughtlessly. Female bisexual desire went from nowhere to ubiquitous in the span of about 20-30 years. Many other changes have caught on in a single generation, from important things (the acceptance of openly homosexual people) to the merely pleasant (men feeling comfortable hugging one another) to the relatively trivial (the grooming of body hair). We were actually talking about this last night: will male bisexuality catch on faster because females paved the way, or slower because of the limited history of physical affection between men. We’ll see.

    In the end, I believe female bisexuality caught on because of the fundamental truth that feminine energy (not to mention body parts) are fun, and only social stigma held other women back from enjoying them. The same must be true of men. Your comment actually captures that reality in an impressively subtle way. No man is fully masculine, no woman fully feminine. The things that attract us are unique and constantly shifting. Looking for those traits that turn us on from only one half of the population seems like (*lame metaphor alert*) trying to build a delicious salad from only one half of the salad bar.


  5. Damien says:

    I think we are probably arguing for the same thing. The only caveats I would issue are that language matters, there are more than two genders, and attraction does not conform to labels ( I hope that the retrograde sex focused policies we’re seeing (Russia, ISIS, Mississippi, NC) are a momentary blips in a march towards more open acceptance, and that ultimately human sexuality will reveal itself to be the tapestry of many colours that it is, not just the few stripes we currently have labels for – and that it has a place for everyone – whether that be hyper straight, agender, or something currently without a label.

    Regardless, thanks for putting the words out there. Enjoying the blog immensely.

  6. Him and Her says:

    Thanks for the kind words! We actually couldn’t agree more: all sorts of problems, from the sexual to the administrative, disappear if gender and preference identification gets dropped completely.

  7. David Smith says:

    All of the “no labels” crowd are extremely biphobic, and have a lot of internalized biphobia/homophobia and will do or say anything to avoid actually coming out as bisexual. No not everyone is bisexual. The majority of people are heterosexual, and even men who are gay who have had sex with women or been married to women are not bisexual as they’re not sexually attracted to the opposite sex/gender at all. It’s also like this for lesbians who have had sex with men or who were at one time married to men.

    Bisexuality among men has been known about and accepted since long before the 50s and late 60s with Stonewall and the start of LGB rights in the United States.

  8. David Smith says:

    Also, if everyone really were bisexual there would be no need for fighting for LBG rights, and a lot of foolish people would not see sex with the same sex/gender as being a “taboo”.

    Calling bisexuality a “lifestyle” is something people who are homophobic and biphobic do.

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