Heather Corinna replies:
I'm a 17 year old male currently involved in a relationship of four months. I'm a virgin, and I am also "questioning" about my sexuality, but my girlfriend is unaware. There was a time when I would consider myself bisexual, because I am attracted, physically, to males but not emotionally, but I'm still not entirely sure that I am bisexual. My girlfriend is much more experienced than I am when it comes to sex, but she has never gone "all the way" and she wants to do this for the first time with me. I want to really bad as well, and we plan to soon, but I can't shake the feeling that I will be doing something wrong if I have sex with her and I'm still not fully comfortable or aware of my sexual orientation, or that I want to be in this relationship forever. I would however like to lose my virginity for the first time with her. Would it be wrong if I am still considering myself questioning and we still went all the way?
If it's wrong for people to engage in sex with someone without knowing and disclosing all of who they are, might be or become, or will be, in any respect, including sexually, for all of their lives, then every single person on earth who has ever engaged in sex has been doing wrong.
We could say similar about if people do or don't know if they want to be in a relationship where they're engaging in sex forever or not, especially if we account for how very often our feelings about people or relationships change over time (read: pretty much always).
In other words, no, I don't think you're doing wrong by someone or yourself to engage in sex with them without knowing your orientation for sure -- now or ever -- or knowing if you want to try and be with them in a given kind of relationship for the whole of your life. Because if that's doing wrong, I just don't see how the vast, vast majority of people, if not all people, could possibly do right.
It sounds to me, though, like the way you're feeling is something for you to talk with her about before continuing to be sexual with her because you're clearly feeling conflicted and worried about it.
Certainly, if she doesn't feel comfortable engaging in sex with you because you're bisexual, possibly bisexual or questioning, or because you can't say you know you want to try and be with her until the end of time, then engaging in sex together probably isn't a great idea, because you can't give her those things or meet those expectations. (Like I said, chances are good very few people earnestly would be able to either, but still.) In other words, if either or both of those things were sexual dealbreakers for her you don't know about -- though I'd think that if you two are planning to have sex, you've both already talked about any dealbreakers -- you should know about them and each make your choices accordingly.
It sounds to me like for you, yourself, engaging in whatever kinds of sex "all the way" means for either of you with these concerns unaddressed and undiscussed wouldn't be a great idea. They're obviously things you're seriously concerned about, and it's hard to feel good about sex if we're feeling afraid or stressed or like we're tricking someone (even if we're not); if there's some big elephant in the room we're grappling with and withholding. To boot, sex always tends to feel better -- physically and emotionally -- if and when we feel accepted by our partners, and it's a lot harder for things to feel right with us if we're not, aren't sure we are, or are hiding things out of a fear of nonacceptance.
To me, this really isn't a consent issue. In other words, I don't think you have to tell your girlfriend you're questioning or may be bisexual, or that you don't know if you want to be with her forever, for sex between you to be consensual. I don't think things like this are sound criteria for consent because none of us can ever know everything there is to know about ourselves or our feelings, or fairly be asked to know all of that by someone else.
At the same time, it sounds like it might have to do with consent for you. If you feel like either or both of these things would mean your partner is agreeing to something different than she thinks she is, then consent might be at play here, so putting this stuff out there to double-check with her if she still feels right about sex with you would be a good idea for that reason, too.
Because you're feeling concerned about this, because it seems like you've got some big stuff you're keeping to yourself that is putting a possible wedge in between you, because you're obviously not sure how she might feel about either of these things, and because you make clear you don't feel sure it's right for you not to disclose these things first, it's very clear to me that they're things to talk about with her before you continue being sexual with her, or taking new sexual steps one or both of you consider to be biggies.
I also think that sex or no sex, getting this stuff out of the locked door of your head and heart and out into the open with someone who is obviously important to you is going to leave you feeling a lot better, even if the outcome isn't ideal or what you want.
If you want some helps in having this conversation, I can make some suggestions.
1. You can tell her that you're questioning your orientation, and/or think you might be bisexual. You can tell her what that has meant for you, and what it means to you as of right now. You can make clear to her that you are attracted to her (I'm assuming you are, as you clearly express a sexual interest in her), but that you have been and also might still feel attraction to men (or other women, too, for that matter). You can talk together about both of your feelings about that, and how, if at all, that might factor into your relationship and each of your sexual decisions. You can let her ask any questions she has about this, and answer her honestly as best you can. You can also ask if she's up for talking about her orientation. Heck, for all you know, she's been or is questioning herself.
2. Sometimes people assume that those of us who are bisexual, pansexual or otherwise queer don't want or can't be happy with sexually exclusive relationships with a person of one gender; that we must want or even need open or polyamorous relationships, or partners of any gender we're attracted to to feel satisfied. That's a pretty silly thing to think, mind, when there's no sexual orientation -- including heterosexuality -- that means someone is ONLY or can only be attracted to just one person, ever, but some people still think it. And that's not true for some bisexual or pansexual people, true for others, true for some sometimes, or in some relationships, but not at other times or in other relationships. And what model of relationship someone wants when it comes to exclusivity, and how many partners at a time they want, isn't typically about orientation or about a given sexual orientation in the first place: after all, some straight, gay or lesbian people don't want monogamous relationships or sexual exclusivity, too.
Talking about what model of relationship we want is an important thing to talk about in relationships or many sexual interactions no matter what our orientation is, including if it is or isn't a question mark. So, this is something sound to talk about no matter what, but given the assumptions so many people tend to make about bisexual folks in this regard, this is probably going to come up as part of your disclosing that regardless. That given, you may as well bring it up, especially since it's a good thing to talk about anyway.
3. On that note, a next conversation to have (talking about all of these things at once would probably be a little much for anyone) can be about what you each want and need when it comes to commitment to this relationship as it stands now and engaging in any given kind of sex together. You can each talk about how you're feeling about this relationship now, and each say what you both think you need in terms of each other's feelings and commitments to feel right about engaging in intercourse or whatever else together. This way, you can each find out where you both stand and can both -- not just you, but her too! -- decide if you can both meet or honor whatever those wants, needs or expectations are. For instance, does she need for you to know or think you want to be with her as a girlfriend forever to feel right about sex with you or not? Does she even feel that way about you? And what do you need in this respect: what kinds of feelings or ideas about this relationship do you feel like you might need her to have, if any, for sex with her to feel right for you?
If you need some extra tools or food for thought to help one or both of you out in even figuring out what you want and need from each other around sex, I'd suggest reading through, and then maybe talking about, the following links:
It might be, by the way, that these conversations mean that even if you two are going to have a given kind of sex, you take longer to get there than either of you thought you might. If so, that's okay. Just like with plans for anything, our plans with sex can change. Sex we don't feel good about isn't usually sex that feels good, and taking the time we need to be sure any sexual activity, ever, is the right thing for us and any partners is something we all get to do. Better to slow things down and take our time than to rush in and have one or both of you feel like crud.
The extra bonus of conversations like these, and really talking through a sexual decision-making process together is that that's some real intimacy all by itself. In other words, like sex can be, this is another way of potentially getting really close, opening up to each other, being vulnerable and really connecting. For all the potentially good things sex can offer you, these kinds of conversations about it can offer you a lot of those things, too.
Obviously, any of these disclosures might well mean that you or she comes to a conclusion that having sex together isn't the right thing for one or both of you, right now or period. Obviously, since this is clearly something you want, if that's what happens, it's going to be a bummer. If that happens because she reacts badly to your disclosure about your sexual orientation or identity, that'll be another level of bummer on top of that. Both not getting what we want sexually and not getting acceptance from someone who matters to us at the same time can be a pretty rough blow. Fear of one or both of those things is probably at least part of why you haven't talked about this with her yet.
No need to avoid being real: not everyone accepts bisexuality, accepts homosexuality, accepts queerness on the whole. Some people are unaccepting, but not total jerks about it. Some people are unaccepting and really awful about it. On top of that, I'd love to be able to promise you that people we respect, like or love will always treat a disclosure that while we like them, or something about them, we also can like someone else or something about someone else that person doesn't share or have well. But you know, whether we're talking about being attracted or potentially attracted to people of a different gender, or of a body type, haircolor or age; sometimes if we talk about having an ex, or someone we loved before or had sex with before, some folks just have a very hard time with someone whose interest they want having interests that aren't or weren't about them or don't include them. Some people feel threatened and insecure around things like that.
If you have strong feelings about this person and have felt safe being sexual with her so far, in whatever ways you have, I'm guessing it's because you think she's pretty awesome and that you two have had good things going on between you so far.
I can't tell you whether or not she's someone safe to come out to: I'd say your best bet with that is just consulting and valuing your own head, heart and gut feelings.
If you think she might not be accepting of you, or might react badly, I'd actually suggest you certainly reconsider still being sexual with her, and maybe being intimate with her at all. Relationships where we have to hide who we are for things to be okay tend to be dead-ends at best, and can go outrageously badly at worst. You, like any of us, deserve a partner who likes and loves you for you, and your orientation, whatever it may be or become, is part of you. You, like any of us, are also way more likely to have great -- not just good, not so-so, and not bad -- intimate relationships and sexual interactions with people you feel comfortable being yourself with, who you can be yourself with. And not everyone any of us likes, loves or is attracted to is going to be that kind of person for us: often, we -- any of us, no matter our orientation -- have to shop around a bit to really find those people. Not everyone we date is going to turn out to be a keeper; not every relationship is going to turn out to be a good fit.
If you're really not sure how these disclosures would go yet, it also might mean you need to slow all of this down to spend more time feeling that out and getting to know her. Four months isn't a very long time to know someone, so if any of this sounds totally terrifying to talk with her about, but at the same time, you really want to stay in this relationship and see where it goes, then I'd just take more time, slowing things down sexually in the process. We can want to be sexual with someone very badly, and RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND -- but still choose to take more time if we're not sure that's really right for us or them. In fact, our ability to do that when it's needed is a pretty big part of anyone really being ready to be sexual with other people.
If you're going to do that, just take some more time first, you can probably also get more of a sense of her ideas about orientation and bisexuality by talking about it in more general, less personal ways. We won't always feel comfortable coming out to everyone -- and that can feel even more precarious sometimes when we're coming out as just not knowing where we stand -- and it's okay to take time to figure out if someone is a person we're safe coming out to or not. Our safety matters. No one owes anyone these kinds of disclosures about our thoughts or feelings that aren't actions: choosing not to share questioning or an orientation when it's not part of something like breaking an agreement to only be with that person sexually isn't required of her, you or anyone else.
This isn't customs, after all: we don't have to report everything we do or might have in our bag in order to be allowed in (even if some people act like it should be like that). Neither she nor you are obligated to tell each other about anyone and everyone you have ever had sexual interest in or might have that interest in in the future. Neither of you probably has the crystal ball you'd need to do that even if you wanted to.
Lastly, you brought that one area of uncertainty for you in this sexual decision is feeling uncomfortable with some parts of your own sexuality. Comfort with, acceptance of, and knowledge of our sexuality is, for all of us, a lifelong process. Being totally comfortable with every part of it all the time is really rare for anyone, especially for young people when all of this is still so new and something you're just starting to explore. So, people can absolutely choose to engage in sex without being totally comfy with something like orientation, and have it still be okay, even better than okay, for them. Sometimes engaging in sex in a good situation for us can be something that helps us become more comfortable.
But, people can also find that some discomfort, certain levels of it, or discomfort with given things makes sex with someone else, or in a certain situation, not at all okay for them. Where you fall with this, and what you think is likely for you is something you're the expert on having a sense of, not me. So, I'd just think about that, too. If you think the discomfort you have won't be a problem in being sexual with your girlfriend, or might even be made a bit better for you, okay. If you think it will be uncomfortable for you or bad news with this discomfort, or even that sex with her (or anyone) could be a lot better for you, more comfortable for you, if you get more comfortable first, then I'd suggest taking more time for yourself first, time to figure out what you need to get more comfortable, time to start feeling more comfortable.
Again, we can really (and even reallyreallysoveryreally) want to have sex, but we also usually really want it to be a good experience, one that's right for us and others: it's rare we want sex we think will be utter crap for us or others, especially emotionally. Sometimes we've got to nix a certain sexual opportunity at a given time, even if and when we want it, because we know that at that time, or in that situation, it's really not what we want or are likely to feel good about. "Sex" isn't a thing to have that is always awesome just in the having, just like dinner is a thing that can be something heavenly, something totally forgettable, or something that gives us food poisoning.
The good news is, if and when we find we need to say no to a sexual opportunity, or put one on hold until later, if we feel afraid saying no or later means we will never, ever have the opportunity to have sex again, we're pretty much always wrong. The good stuff keeps.
You sound like someone pretty thoughtful to me, who is actually pretty self-aware already, and who it sounds like can have a good deal of faith in his own decisions. I know this is a lot to sort through and think about, and some of it might feel scary or be challenging, but I suspect you're going to handle this like a pro.
I'm going to leave you with a couple more links for yourself around your orientation and identity questions that I hope will help you out, whatever you decide to do with your girlfriend and whatever happens with that. I'd also be happy to talk with you one-on-one over at our boards about any of this if you like, or give you some extra help and support if you need it before or after talking with your girlfriend.