I'm 15 and bisexual, but how do I know for sure?
Heather Corinna replies:Hey, I'm 15, just turned, and bisexual. I can help but wonder if this is because of my hormones or if I really do like girls and guys. I mean, I like kissing both sexes, but I haven't had intercourse yet, and I need to find some way of determining how I feel. I'm proud to say I'm bi, but I don't want to be saying it and lying.
Hey there, Hartley.
We DO know -- experientially and statistically speaking -- that young adults do tend to be less selective when it comes to their attractions and/or partners than older adults. Why is that? That's where we don't have such solid answers. By all means, you guys do have a lot more hormonal changes and fluctuations, so that can very well be part of it. But there are other likely reasons, too. For instance, young people are exploring who they are and who they want to become, and this big time of identity formation does tend to mean often being open to more possibilities and options, and wanting to see what they are. It also means teen relationships often tend to change more quickly, and last for less time. Plenty of teens feel freer than some older adults do in terms of orientation, especially as our culture progresses (it's about time!) and bisexuality and homosexuality slowly become more accepted: even just twenty years ago, in most places, most teens who wondered about bisexuality couldn't dream of talking about it or exploring it with partners because of very valid fears about others doing them real harm.
What we also know so far is that sexual orientation is fixed in many ways, and most sexuality researchers agree that much of orientation appears to be something we have with us from the earliest ages: it's possible we may even be born a given orientation. By all means, orientation is fluid in other regards: plenty of people will experience orientation shifts to some degree in their lives, and a lot of that has to do with who they are and who they love, not based on someone's sex or gender, but just based on who those loved people are. Overall, for most people, the teen years are not the time to be 100% in what sexual orientation you are: after all, how can you be when you're not 100% (though few people ever really are) in who you are as a whole and what you want for yourself? It's not just okay not to be sure at your age, it's totally normal, and no one is required to identify as any one orientation and stick with it for the whole of their lives. How you identify really isn't about other people, it's about you, and about finding out what's true for you.
Certainly, relationship experience does often tell us things about our sexual orientation, as does just paying attention to who we're emotionally and sexually drawn to. And really, those things tell us a lot more than sex with partners does, and certainly more than vaginal intercourse does. You might have -- as a majority of women do -- a dissatisfying first vaginal intercourse experience. That can be because the partner you chose just wasn't a good match for you, even just based on their personality and the relationship you have, it can be because of nerves, it can be because vaginal intercourse all by itself really just isn't The Great Sex for most women, and yep, it can also be because having any kind of sex with men just doesn't feel right. But we could say the same thing about first-time sex with a woman: there are a million reasons that might not be a great experience without it meaning that you aren't attracted to women overall.
Over time, you're going to be drawn to who you're drawn to, be attracted to who you're attracted to, and love who you love. You may choose to make some of those relationships sexual, and will probably have varied experiences. Some people do feel, when they have sex with one gender or another that they have come "home," and that sex with a given gender feels most natural. Some don't, or discover that feeling of "home" in partnered sex is more about personality than gender. Some people discover that they don't feel any ultimate differences with sex with men or women, beyond the differences that happen based on different personalities and different relationship dynamics. But all in all, expecting any kind of sex to "prove" sexual orientation isn't very realistic, nor does it make a lot of sense, since the differences between people are about a lot more than just whether they have a penis or a vulva, whether they're male or female. Too, we can have everything from great sex to lousy sex even with people we are strongly attracted to and love. What our experience of sex is is far bigger, at any given time, than if our partner is the "right" gender for us.
So, what I always suggest to people -- of any age -- who suspect or know that they're bisexual, but are worried about how to identify in terms of telling the truth is this: we're not psychic, and we can't see the future. We can't speak for the selves we'll be ten, twenty of forty years from now. The only self we know is who we are right now, and that's the person to speak for. If something changes for you later on, that's okay: not only do people GET to change we SHOULD change -- we call that personal growth, and it's what we should all aim for. No one should expect us to be the person we were once, only the person who we are right now.
If identifying as bisexual is what feels true to you right now, identifying that way is a positive for you (and it feels positive or true enough that you're also okay with dealing with the discrimination we all will realistically sometimes have to deal with when we're not IDing as straight), then by all means, identify that way. You don't need to prove it, to yourself or anyone else: time and life experience will do that, without you having to force anything or seek out means of "proof." Again, over time, you'll start to see the patterns in who catches your eye, who you like and love, who you have relationships with that feels like the best fit for you.
As well, understand that most orientation studies show that very few people are 100% heterosexual or 100% homosexual: most of us fall somewhere in between. What being bisexual even is varies very widely, and it doesn't have to mean -- nor does it mean for most -- you need to try and date 50/50 when it comes to men and women. It just means you have the capacity to be attracted to people of different genders, and that who you date is about who you want to date, and who you connect with. Your teens are about starting on a lifelong process of being your own person and discovering who you are, not because you have to prove anything, or show that you were right or wrong in who you thought you were, but because that's life, sugar. That process can certainly leave us feeling insecure or doubtful at times -- or wish we could just know once and for all who the heck we were, darnit! -- on every level, but that'd sure take a lot of the joy and adventure out of living.
Who are you and how do you know if that's right? Go by your guts, and make that be about who you are right NOW. Sorry, but I'm afraid as with a lot when you're young, so it is with orientation: you probably aren't going to have solid answers for a while, much as you might want them. It's okay not to have those solid answers (and if you really are stuck, "questioning" is a totally accepted and valid term for not being sure about orientation), because no one really needs them. We just need to -- ideally -- be able to love who we love, and identify at any time in the ways that feel most true and best for us. If you're doing that -- whatever that identity is -- you're not lying.
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• Heather Corinna • Scarleteen Founder, Editor & Advice-Slingin' Sister • Author, S.E.X.