Bisexuality may be having a moment. According to certain studies, less than half of today's teens say they're straight, and a third identify as bi. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s getting easier to actually be bisexual. For many women, stigma, stereotypes, and occasionally inaccurate media representation can make coming out as bi (or even just admitting it to yourself) difficult to navigate.
If you’re not a celebrity, if you have a serious boyfriend, or if you’re a fully grown adult who people assume ought to have this kind of thing figured out by now, the thought of embracing bisexual feelings can be scary. It’s hard to know where to start, how to start, and what (if anything) it all means. A study published in Prevention Science found that people who identify as bi often face discrimination from both the heterosexual and gay and lesbian communities, and that resulting isolation puts them at a higher risk of anxiety and depression.
Arranging a threesome with a stranger on Tinder might seem like the only option—and that’s totally cool if you’re into it—but it’s not the only way to test things out. Being bisexual can be a little more complex than kissing a girl and liking it, and it’s never too late to explore who you are, what you want, and what to do about it.
Finally acknowledging and owning your authentic sexuality can be exciting, affirmative, and even transformative for anyone who spent their formative years feeling weird about being bi. “I thought I was the only person in the world that felt the way I did. I had been shamed for liking women by friends who didn't understand, and I knew I was the odd one out,” Genevieve LeJeune, founder of bisexual play party Skirt Club, told VICE. “I had kind of suppressed it for a long time, but once I began to meet other women like me, oh my God, the relief was immense. I wasn't the weirdo anymore.”
The idea of dating or just making out with another woman (or even just thinking about another girl) can feel new and weird and fun in the same way an awkward teen crush does, but it can also be intimidating when you’ve never done it before. “When we're young, pretty much everyone's sexual behavior is a lot of experimentation,” said Heather Corinna, founder of the grassroots sex and relationships education website Scarleteen.
Once your teenage and college years—the more socially-acceptable time for sexual exploration—are behind you, though, things can get a little more complicated, and possibly even more awkward. At first, LeJeune said flirting with other women “was impossible. You couldn't walk up to a girl in the bar and say, ‘Excuse me, are you bisexual? My name is Genevieve.’ That wasn't appropriate.”
LeJeune’s boyfriend at the time “was very open to me being bi and discovering my bisexuality,” she said, but he was ultimately far more interested in getting LeJeune to have a threesome with him and another woman than helping her explore her sexuality.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a threesome with a straight male partner and another woman, but as Corinna explained, “threesomes and bisexuality don't necessarily go together, especially threesomes with someone's boyfriend. More times than not, that's all straight people.”
LeJeune added, “I ended up doing that and then I started to not feel very comfortable with it.” She founded Skirt Club because she “wanted to meet women like me” without a male audience present.
The women who attend Skirt Club parties, LeJeune said, are “kind of the same. It's a late 20s, early 30s type. Maybe she's completely straight, but she wants to find out if she's got some tendencies, or maybe she identifies as straight, but every so often she makes out with women. But she thinks of herself as straight, so that's how she's identified herself.”
Occasional outliers include early-20s students from Generation Z who “don’t give a fuck about anything” or recently divorced moms with adult children who feel it’s finally their turn to experiment. “They're the most wild. That's really fun to watch,” LeJeune said.
I am an out, practicing bisexual woman, and when I attended Skirt Club’s most recent party in LA, I saw that LeJeune was right. I met women who were engaged and felt this was their final shot at sex with other women. I also met a freaky college-age trust funder, and someone who’d flown in from Las Vegas for the sole purpose of eating some first-time pussy.
“Most of my members are doing this discreetly,” LeJeune said. “A lot of them are using a pseudonym.” They’d paid the membership fee, bought lingerie, gotten fully waxed, and as soon as the lights in the downtown loft dimmed, women started going at each other with a wild abandon I hadn’t imagined. A woman leaned into kiss me and almost ripped my lower lip off.
Skirt Club probably wasn’t the party for me. I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of getting my vagina sloppily jabbed at by a straight girl who’d never had sex with another woman. I also don’t shave my body hair and couldn’t imagine that anyone in attendance would be buying what I’m selling. I spent the majority of the night alone.
I don’t think I’m more bisexual than anyone else, or that I’m even that great at sex, or that straight women shouldn’t fuck each other if they want to. I know what I like and don’t like, though, and I didn’t like feeling like the lone novelty queer.
As LeJeune pointed out, Skirt Club doesn’t claim to a space for explorations of identity politics or queerness. “Gender identity is not something we really get into. We've opened up a community for anyone that wants to explore having sex with a woman, and we haven't said you need to be bisexual. We haven't said that at all,” she said. “Everyone's allowed to have sex the way they want to have sex, with their own body. Kind of ridiculous to suggest otherwise.”
However, as Corinna pointed out, experimenting with a partner “like it's a theoretical experiment” can be alienating to the other person, who might feel their bisexuality is more than just a sexual preference. “Just because someone is realizing that they are or might be bisexual does not mean that they are immune from having internalized all of the tropes and myths about it,” Corinna said.
When bisexuality is brand new and exciting for someone, she added, “they might be inclined to go about it in a similar way as when they're younger. But they have the wisdom of a lot more life experience than they did before. And also, everybody is expected to, I don't know, be a little more considerate of each other.” Even if sex is just fun experimentation, “you do know that people are vulnerable in sex and sexuality, and you do know that when people are experimenting with each other's bodies, they're also experimenting with feelings,” Corinna added.
Before diving right into first-time sex with another woman, Corinna suggests taking a look at online communities like Autostraddle or Scarleteen, and digging into some sex-related books and resources at any library or bookstore. Read bi and queer authors, even if you’re only planning on a one-night hookup, or you’re not sure if you actually are bi. It’ll make you a better and more prepared sex partner, and you’re likely to have way more fun.
Corinna also recommends making some queer friends. “There's just so many pitfalls to walk into, and easy fumbles to make, if you don't have any kind of queer community to buddy up with you." Making friends and joining a community also makes it easier to meet other bi or queer people who might want to have sex and even stay friends afterward.
Get to know other bi women, maybe go on a few dates, and if you’re new, it’s OK to let people know. Ask your potential hookups what they like and what they’re into, and be straightforward about where your boundaries lie. Sexual encounters are always improved through honest communication about what exactly is going on and what’s about to happen.
Sex can just be sex, and expermenting with bisexuality doesn’t necessarily call for a total reassessment of identity. Coming out as bisexual or queer may not be safe for everyone, or they may not want to align themselves with mainstream LGBTQ movements. It’s OK to just be bi, whether or not that means you even have or enjoy sex with a partner that identifies with the same sex or gender.
“There are bi+ folks who view mainstream LGBT rights as being very whitewashed and without an agenda that addresses the material conditions of being poor and working class, or black and brown,” said Herukhuti Williams, an author, sex educator, and liberatory sociologist. “They love who they want to love, enter into relationships with people they choose. They experience their sexualities in all of its complexity and beauty but don't believe sexuality is the primary source of affinity that they have with other people.”
Still, as Corinna points out, finding community can be helpful and affirming for many bicurious or questioning people. “My community has been really meaningful to me,” Corinna added. “The [friendships] I have that are [not sexual] are a really important part of my life. And to some degree, [they're] my family.”
There’s no right or wrong way to be bisexual, and learning something new about the kind of sex you like can be scary. But conscious sexual exploration can also be fun and liberating. “I view bicuriosity as an awakening to the idea that a person doesn't have to accept the limitations imposed upon people through heterosexism and homonormativity,” Williams said. “People get to explore and examine the degree to which they are erotically, sensually, romantically, and/or sexually moved by multiple other genders.”
Accepting the spectrum of sexuality instead of limiting ourselves and others to narrow categories like gay, straight, and bi is liberating, he added. “The labels as nouns are less useful than as adjectives and adverbs that describe people, places, things, and actions [...] They allow for a recognition of the diverse and complicated ways we move in the world as human beings.”
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.