If I only want to have sex with women, but not date them, am I bisexual?

abril
asks:
I'm a straight woman (at least I think so), and I’m generally more into guys, but I find women sexually attractive. Being in relationships with women doesn’t really appeal to me, but having sex with them does. What does that mean? Am I bisexual or is it just something like a fetish?
Mo Ranyart replies:

I can't definitively say whether you're bisexual or not, because your own sexual orientation is something only you can know for sure. But I can throw out some thoughts and ideas that might make it easier for you to come to more of an understanding about yourself and your orientation.

A great first thing to keep in mind is that calling yourself bisexual (or any other term for a sexual orientation) at any time doesn't mean that's how you have to identify for the rest of your life, or even for the rest of the day, if your feelings change.

We're asked variations of this question fairly often; bisexuality in particular is an orientation that many people seem to be curious but unsure about. When I talk to other people who are questioning whether or not they're bisexual, I find that many of them think they only "count" as bisexual if they're attracted to men and women only, in equal amounts and in exactly the same way, consistently over time with no variation. While this is a common idea, it simply isn't true or reflective of the lived experiences of most bisexual people. I'm sure people exist whose attraction does fall into some kind of seemingly exact 50/50 split between men and women, but if only those people counted as bisexual, there would be far fewer of us in the world than there are!

A way of thinking about bisexuality that more accurately depicts the range of experiences and feelings that bisexual people have is to define it as feeling attraction both towards people of your own or a similar gender and of other or different gender(s).

This allows for a more natural range of variation in who someone could be attracted to and when and how they feel that attraction. A defintion like that also makes room for nonbinary people -- not just people who identify as men or women -- plenty of whom are also bisexual, and who are also people who bisexual people are attracted to.

Here are some ways someone who's bisexual might describe how they experience attraction:

  • "I have mostly dated men, but tend to fantasize about women more than men."
  • "I'm attracted to women and nonbinary people more than men, in general, but on the rare occasion when I am attracted to a man, the attraction tends to be really intense."
  • "I've never dated someone who has the same gender as me, but I think about it often and I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy it if I had the chance."
  • "When I was a teenager, I was only attracted to women. In my 20s, I started noticing men as well; now I date men most of the time although I'm still interested in women."
  • "I feel like I can be attracted to people of any gender."

These are just a few examples, of course, but hopefully they can give you a sense of just how many experiences of attraction and interest can fall under the greater bisexual umbrella.

If your story is something like "I'm more interested in dating men than women, and I'm not sure if I'd date a woman or not, but I'd love to have sexual experiences with women," that's absolutely a valid form of bisexuality. If you want to call yourself bisexual right now, you certainly can, although if that isn't what you're most comfortable with, that's just fine as well. I hope that if you do feel like bisexuality fits your feelings and experiences, you won't let worries about the "right" way to be bisexual (hint: there isn't one!) keep you from claiming that identity.

When it comes to the fact that you feel sexual interest towards women but aren't sure about being in romantic relationships with them, I can't say exactly why you feel this way, but I can offer some thoughts.

Some people do have different sexual and romantic orientations, and find there are genders they may be interested in having a romantic relationship with but not a sexual one, or vice-versa. Based on what you've said here, you could choose to describe your current attraction patterns as bisexual and heteroromantic, if that feels right to you. Not everyone finds that making this distinction between romantic and sexual attraction is helpful or applicable to their own experiences; whether that's the case for you or not, it may be that you aren't seeing women as romantic partners simply because that's not where your interests lie right now. To be clear, there isn't anything wrong with being sexually attracted to someone you don't want a romantic relationship with, and your feelings don't mean you are fetishizing women just by being attracted to them. You aren't hurting or dehumanizing other women by having sexual feelings for them.

It is also the case, sometimes, that young women who feel attraction to other women struggle to see them as potential romantic partners, or to even feel that they're allowed to want women as romantic partners, at least in part due to outside factors and not due to some inherent nature of their own attraction.

It's a sad fact that there are a lot of people with the homophobic or biphobic view that relationships between women don't "count," or are otherwise less valid than relationships women might have with them. There's a lot of pornography involving women having sex with each other that's intended for a male audience, and it's easy to find jokes about sex between women being solely for the benefit of men in a lot of popular media and in plenty of friend groups, as well. It can be easy to internalize messages that present sex or relationships between women as something that are more of a commodity for other people to enjoy than a valid type of love or relationship for women to experience with each other.

In addition, if someone doesn't personally know any women who date or love other women in ways that aren't just sexual, or hasn't seen examples of these relationships in media or their wider communities (which is, sadly, very common), it might be difficult for them to even picture what a romantic relationship with another woman could be like, or if it could even be possible at all. It's common for young women to only be able to picture having romantic or other kinds of emotionally intimate or committed relationships with men, and that's not too surprising given those are often the only kinds of those relationships  a lot of young women grow up being shown.

If you don't know any queer women, haven't seen many (if any) examples of this in your life or in media you enjoy, and have heard a lot about how women being together is mostly valuable as fantasy fodder for men, I can see how it would be easier for you to be able to picture sex with another woman than it would be to imagine yourself in a relationship with one. So, you might just want to think about that some and see how that sits with you.

To sum it all up: I can't tell you exactly what it means that you're experiencing the sorts of attraction you are, but I can say that what you're experiencing isn't unusual or wrong, and it certainly doesn't disqualify you from being bisexual, if that's an orientation that feels like it fits you.

I'm going to leave you with a few links that explore some of these issues in more detail, and I think reading and thinking about them may be helpful, but it's always going to be okay if your answer to "what's your sexual orientation?" is "it's complicated," or "I'm still figuring it out," or if it feels solid for a while and changes over time. Like any other part of our identities, sexual orientation can be a pretty complicated topic, and in the end any of these descriptor words like "bisexual" exist to help us out and make our lives easier.

Here are those links: