I'm Zachary Zane, a sex writer and ethical manwhore (a fancy way of saying I sleep with a lot of people, and I'm very, very open about it). Over the years, I've had my fair share of sexual experiences, dating and sleeping with hundreds of people of all genders and orientations. In doing so, I've learned a thing or two about navigating issues in the bedroom (and a bunch of other places, TBH). I'm here to answer your most pressing sex questions with thorough, actionable advice that isn't just "communicate with your partner," because you know that already. Ask me anything—literally, anything—and I will gladly Sexplain It.
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Dear Sexplain It,
I am questioning my sexuality in my 50s. I had my first gay experience late in my late 20s in the late 1990s before "bi-curious," being sexual or gender "fluid," or words like "brojobs" and "bromance" became a thing. I just assumed that that made me "gay" and tried for many years to become a part of the gay community. I've even had same-sex relationships, but they always felt off when it came to having an emotional connection. The sex was good, but I never felt emotionally invested like I did when I dated women.
I just assumed I was picking the wrong guys, but after several horrible relationships with men and seeing how things have changed in the LGBTQ community, I am starting to wonder if I am "bisexual" or "fluid." Now I’m thinking I should try to find a woman who can be cool with my past encounters and relationships. I am a healthy professional in all other aspects, but it's starting to really keep me up at night, wondering and questioning my mental health. I can't talk to any of my gay friends about it because they will just dismiss it wholesale. Am I nuts? Are there any women out there that would be ok with it? Or is this a mid-life crisis?
— Fluid Fiftysomething
Dear Fluid Fiftysomething,
You are not nuts! And to your first point, sexuality can indeed be fluid; our attractions can wax and wane over time. But to be honest, it doesn't sound like your attractions have shifted as you aged. It seems like you've always had sexual and romantic interests in women, but repressed them in order to fit neatly into the only category that made sense at the time.
It makes sense. You grew up in an era with minimal male bisexual visibility. And as you mention, terms like “bicurious” and “fluid” weren’t a thing. Sexuality was thought of as being much more dichotomous back then; you were either straight or gay. FYI, I can’t tell you how many bisexual friends I have who mistakenly identified as gay for years because they had sex with a man in their 20s, enjoyed it, and figured, “Well, this definitely is something straight men enjoy, so I must be gay.” Bisexuality wasn’t (seen as) an option!
Now bisexuality is indeed an option and a fabulous option at that! And there are many ways to be bi, including what you describe: being sexually attracted to men and women, but craving emotional relationships with women exclusively. That's because sexual and romantic attractions are two distinct entities. So from the sounds of it, you’re bi-sexual (notice the hyphen) and hetero-romantic. I share this to illustrate that you’re not alone, and there are clear words to describe your sexuality.
“Having the language to describe what we're feeling and experiencing is really helpful. Not only does it give us some certainty, but it also helps us remember that what we're feeling, thinking, and experiencing is normal," said Jake Ernst, MSW, Clinical Director at Straight Up Health, when I showed him your question. Labels can also make you feel part of a group; this is exactly why I proudly claim the bisexual label. It also helps makes me feel part of the larger bisexual community. And bisexuality, specifically, allows for fluidity in my attractions (meaning that I don’t have to be 50/50 to be bisexual. It just means I’m sexually and/or romantically attracted to folks of different genders to varying degrees.)
That said, I don’t think you need to focus on labels at the moment. From the sounds of it, picking a label isn't offering you any comfort—at least at this point. Rather, it’s stressing you out. “If labels are not what you need, give yourself permission to live on your own terms and explore whatever you do need,” Ernst said.
Instead of dwelling on labels, let’s focus on what you’re seeking in a relationship, which you’ve already (partially) done: You want to date a woman who’s cool with your past encounters. Fabulous! Let’s do that!
I know you’re worried that women won’t want to be with you because of your history with men, but let me tell ya something, you are wrong! Well, all right, many women are turned off and don’t want to date a man who’s had sex with or dates men. These women fear that you're secretly gay, going to leave them for a man, or believe ridiculous notions about masculinity (like that you're not a "real man" if you suck dick). Luckily, there are also hoards of women that are willing to date and are even turned on by bisexual (or fluid or non-label) guys. Often, these are bi women! And they're the women you want to date! To find them, I‘d recommend using FEELD, an app, that in my experience, has a ton of bi folks on there (and folks who want to date bi folks).
I know all of this can feel overwhelming, and many of your gay friends might dismiss your newfound sexual identity. (Not to shit on boomers, but older gay men tend to be the least likely to believe in male bisexuality. The younger fluid kids know where it’s at!) Nevertheless, you have a sense of what you want, so you can go out, explore, and find what you’re seeking from a romantic partner. The rest, frankly, doesn’t matter.