Asking for a Friend is a weekly Sex and Relationships column hosted by Arts and Culture writer Dana Sparks and fueled by your curiosities. Click here to anonymously submit questions regarding sex, relationships and sex education.
Question: “I’m a bisexual cis-woman in a loving, straight-presenting relationship with a cis-heterosexual man. How can I explore my bisexuality while still being faithful to my partner and our relationship?” - Sexplorer
As left impressed upon me by your question, I’m assuming when you look at your experience as a bisexual cis-woman being in a relationship with a cis-het man, you are left missing queer experiences or connections.
I want to say that’s okay. In fact, I would like to scream it off mountain tops. Your efforts to explore your sexuality faithfully within a relationship tells me that you respect the feelings of who you’re with and you are also listening to whatever feelings you might be having internally.
I am also a queer woman who has experienced many straight-presenting relationships and I always felt guilty for my fear of missing out (on queer life), especially when actively experiencing a good relationship with a cis-het man that I wanted to maintain.
Luckily for us, there are a lot of ways that you can explore your bisexuality while in a straight-presenting relationship — and I’ve already done some trial-and-error trying to figure this out. First, you should ask yourself what exploring your bisexuality looks like; what is your bisexuality when you separate it from the complications of real life and what-ifs?
Use your imagination here:
Give yourself the mental and emotional space to create scenes without all the strings and what-ifs first. Imagine relationships and sexual experiences that you are craving. Thinking about all the possible ways that your sexuality can manifest in your life is the beginning of exploring it.
Allow yourself to simplify the situation you’re currently in so that you might be able to gain some clarity.
From there, I would ask, “What is it that you think you’re missing? Is it sexual? Is it emotional?”
The answers to those questions might indicate you are craving a connection to another non-heterosexual person or perhaps an expansion of the type of sex that you are experiencing with your current partner — or both.
Personally, it’s become very important to me that I have queer friends, partner(s) and aspects of my community that I can relate to, celebrate with and be educated by. Do you have that? In this example, I’m offering the idea that sexuality is yet another aspect of our identities that yearns for representation. Similarly, our experiences of race, religion and ability as other aspects of ourselves would flourish through understanding and feelings of community.
The emotional fulfillment offered by strictly platonic relationships and intimacy is often easily forgotten under the splendor of romance. The concept of relating, celebrating and educating will hopefully serve you in simply making queer friendships if you and your partner are not interested in being in an open or polyamorous relationship. “Open” meaning having more than just each other as sexual partners and “polyamorous” meaning having more than one romantic relationship.
Once you understand your desires and feel that that you can explain what you want to your boyfriend, you should talk to him about how he can support the explorations of your sexuality. I would also keep in mind that you might have to help him understand — you said he’s straight, so he likely does not have the personal experience of yearning for a queer relationship or feeling as if he is choosing between one thing or another.
This is not meant to scare you, but you should also recognize the fact that he may not ever understand or he may not want to be a part of your sex-plorations. Should this come up, you should take some time separately to think about your connection with him and how you will further articulate understanding for one another if possible.
If you are seeking romance or sexual experiences that feel affirming as a bisexual woman, know that you are pushing the bounds of your straight-presenting relationship and perhaps your boyfriend’s sexuality too. It’s going to take time and deep care of the relationship that you are already in if you want to keep it.
Radical changes to the relationship probably shouldn’t come quickly — especially if you choose to open your relationship, something that, if done right with the right person, can be absolutely rewarding.
To slow it down, learn about your options and how to communicate with one another, I’m recommending you do some reading: “The Ethical Slut” by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy for an open relationship or “More Than Two” by Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux on polyamorous and non-monogamous relationships. At certain points, these books may seem awkwardly written or redundant, but they are both collections of many personal experiences and research that directly benefited my experience as a queer woman in your situation.
On top of reading, I would recommend talking to others who might be in the mentioned relationship styles.
Exploring your sexuality is an exploration of the self and the way that you connect to the people around you. It should be exciting — it will be scary — but most importantly, it’s an adventure.
Outfit yourself to the best of your knowledge, take it easy and have fun.