How to Know If You Are Bisexual: A Guide for Coming Out to Yourself
Am I Bi?
It’s not uncommon to question your sexuality at some point in your life, especially during adolescence and early adulthood. With all the discussion of the LGBT+ community going on in the media today, you might not be sure if certain feelings you are experiencing are real or not, or how to define your feelings—especially if you sometimes find yourself attracted to people who identify as something other than male or female.
How can you really be sure if what you are feeling is real? You may have noticed that you feel attraction toward men, women, and possibly to people who identify outside the gender binary, but you aren’t quite sure if your attraction is strong enough to qualify you for the “bisexual” label. How can you really be sure if you are bisexual? The short answer is that only you can determine what label best describes your sexual orientation. If you identify as bisexual, then you are bisexual. However, if you are reading this article, you probably want a more in-depth explanation to help you to answer this very personal question.
What Is Bisexuality?
What does it mean to be bisexual?
There have been many different proposed definitions. Bisexuality is commonly defined as attraction to people of both genders, but this definition doesn’t quite cover the broad range of attraction that bisexual individuals may experience, as it is quite possible for people who identify as bisexual to be attracted to people who identify outside of the male/female binary or to be attracted to different genders in different ways. Below, I share my own definition.
Do I have to be equally attracted to men and women to be bisexual?
Not necessarily. The common definition of bisexuality doesn’t account for different levels or types of attraction that bisexual people may experience toward different types of people. In other words, the meaning of the word "attraction" itself varies from person to person. It is also common for people who are unsure of their sexual orientation to wonder if they can actually be bisexual if they are not equally attracted to both men and women.
What if I usually like men, but I'm also attracted to one specific woman?
Many people wonder if they are bi if they are usually attracted to men, but find themselves interested in one particular woman or vice versa. A sudden interest in someone outside of your normal “type” can be a confusing experience.
A commonly agreed upon best definition for bisexuality in the bi community comes from prominent bisexual activist Robyn Ochs, who describes her sexual orientation thus:
“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge in myself the potential to be attracted, romantically and/or sexually, to people of more than one sex, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
It is very possible to identify as bisexual, even if your attraction to different genders differs in some way.
Am I bisexual or pansexual? What's the difference?
Many bisexuals describe themselves as being attracted to different characteristics in different genders or individuals, as opposed to people who identify as “pansexual,” who experience attraction patterns similar to bisexuals, but tend to describe themselves as being attracted to people regardless of gender. People who identify as pansexual rather than bisexual are generally accepted and included in the overall bi+ community.
Are there different kinds of bisexuality?
Researchers have proposed several different “types” of bisexual individuals, based on the different ways in which bisexual identified individuals experience attraction. Some bisexual people may be more attracted to one gender or another, or be attracted to different sexes in different ways. The sex and sexuality researchers Martin Weinberg, Colin Williams, and Douglas Pryor identified three different types of bisexuality in their book Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality. Below, I add two more.
Five “Types” of Bisexuality
- “Heterosexual-leaning” – Bi individuals who consistently experience greater physical and emotional attraction toward people of the other sex.
- “Homosexual-leaning” – Bi individuals who consistently experience greater physical and emotional attraction toward people of the same sex.
- "Varied type" – Bi individuals who consistently experience greater emotional attraction toward one gender and greater physical attraction toward the other sex. Experiencing this type of bisexuality can be particularly confusing, since society generally expects a person’s emotional and physical attraction to match.
- "50/50" – While it is a myth that all bi people experience equal attraction to men and women, there are some bi-identified individuals who do experience a nearly even 50/50 split between their attraction to men and women.
- "Outside the binary" – Many bi people may find that a potential partner’s gender expression is unimportant, and more interested in a person for their personality. These people are more likely to be physically and/or emotionally attracted to people who identify outside of the gender binary, in addition to men and women. These people may also identify as "pansexual." Pansexuality is a similar orientation to bisexuality. Some people may identify more strongly with one label or the other, or use both interchangeably.
Attempts to identify specific types of bisexuality may not be entirely useful, as there are as many different ways to experience bisexuality as there are people who identify as bi. We are all unique, despite having some shared experiences and similar patterns of attraction. The only thing we really all have in common is being attracted to people of multiple genders.
The Kinsey Scale
No discussion of bisexuality would be complete without mentioning Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s research and what is known as the “Kinsey Scale.” Dr. Kinsey was a leading sexuality researcher who was heavily involved in research regarding sexual behavior and attraction in men and women. The Kinsey Scale, also known as the “Heterosexual–Homosexual Rating Scale,” is a tool he developed based on his observations of human sexuality. Kinsey found that most people are not exclusively heterosexual or homosexual, but rather, fall somewhere in between on a spectrum. The Kinsey Scale was first published in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948.
The scale identifies individuals as fitting into the following categories, based on their sexual behaviors:
Where Do You Fit on the Sexual Spectrum?
Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
Equally heterosexual and homosexual
Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
No socio-sexual contacts or reactions
There is some debate as to which “scores” on the Kinsey scale qualify as bisexuality. Some people insist that only 2s, 3s, and 4s are bisexual, whereas others consider everyone who falls between 1-5 to be bisexual. The Kinsey scale is only meant to be used a general guideline for categorizing sexual orientation.
How can I find out what my Kinsey score is? Is there a test?
There isn’t an official test you can take to determine your Kinsey score, though several websites do offer their own versions of a Kinsey scale test. Where you fall on the Kinsey scale is determined by your own interpretation of your attractions and sexual behavior. Only you can decide how you feel comfortable identifying.
Kinsey's Scale of Sexual Responses to Indicate Degrees of Sexual Orientation
So Am I Bisexual or Not?
If you feel attraction toward people of your own and other genders, you can wear the bisexual label with pride! However, if you feel a different label better reflects your sexual orientation, that is okay too. The purpose of using different labels to identify your sexual orientation to others is simply to make it easier to tell people a little bit about who you are. Only you can determine what label, if any, best applies to you.
Coming Out as Bisexual
Many LGBT+ individuals, including bisexuals, feel a great sense of freedom upon coming out. Proudly wearing the bisexual label can help you to find a sense of community within the bi+ community. There is still the problem of bi-erasure and biphobia even within the LGBT+ community as a whole, but the benefits of being true to yourself may outweigh any negative experiences you may encounter after accepting yourself for who you are.
How do you identify?
Frequently Asked Questions About Bisexuality
What if I'm attracted to men, women, AND people who don't identify as either male or female?
"Pansexuality" is when your sexual preference isn't limited by biological sex, gender, or gender identity. Pansexuality acknowledges that there are more than two genders.
What if I don't feel attracted to EITHER men OR women?
An "asexual" person is someone who might not experience intense feelings of sexual attraction. So while a bisexual person might be attracted to various genders, an asexual person might not feel especially sexually attracted to anyone.
I’m scared to tell my family I’m bi.
When you come out to someone, you are taking a trusting step towards them. You are saying, "I trust you, so I'm going to be honest and vulnerable with you: This is who I am." But if you don't feel this trust, if you aren't comfortable coming out to your family, you don't have to tell them right now. It is okay to wait until you are comfortable enough to tell them, or even to never come out to them. If you are under 18 and/or still living with your family, you may want to wait until you are more independent before coming out. Some teens and young adults do get kicked out of their parent's homes when they come out as LGBT+, especially those raised in more conservative families/communities. The only person you really need to come out to is yourself.
How can I tell my family I'm bisexual?
When and if you do decide to come out, it might be helpful for you to think about what you want to say ahead of time. You don't have to memorize a speech, but it might help to have a general idea of how you want to say it. Be prepared for awkwardness, emotion, confusion, and lots of questions. Reassure them that you are the same person they've always known only now you're being more open and honest with them about that part of your life.
What if they say it’s just a phase? What if they disregard what I'm saying?
If you are afraid that they will say it is "just a phase," you may want to have some written materials on hand to help them understand that it is not just a phase but an actual sexual identity. Bisexual activist Robyn Ochs has written books and articles about bisexuality, so she may be a good place to start if you need research materials to show your family.
Could bisexuality be a phase in someone's life?
This is a common misconception. However, most bisexual people remain attracted to multiple genders throughout their lives, even when they're in long-term monogamous relationships.
Are bisexual people more sexual?
Sexual orientation is about attraction, not behavior. It's about who a person is attracted to, not how they act (or don't act) on that attraction. Bisexual people can be just as faithful and monogamous as people of any other sexual orientation.
Can I change my mind about my sexuality?
Although bisexuality is not a phase, some people may find that their feelings shift throughout their lives. For example, a bi woman may think that she is more attracted to men but, years later, may find herself more attracted to women. Although your overall orientation tends to remain the same, it is normal for feelings to fluctuate or shift over time.
What if I'm confused about my sexuality?
It is very common to feel confused about your sexual orientation, especially if you grew up in a family that didn't accept LGBT+ people. When you're still young, and especially if you haven't yet experienced much sexually, it is completely "normal" to have lots of questions. My best advice to you is give yourself time to know yourself before you decide what and who you are. Your don't need to put a label on your sexuality right now. Just live your life. Eventually, you may figure out what label best describes you.
This book takes a scholarly look at bisexuality and people who identify as bisexual through intensive interviews and research into the lives of many bisexual individuals. This book may be a little dry to some readers, but it does offer an academic look at sexual orientation that you don't see very often. I highly recommend it for anyone who is looking for more information about sexual identity, especially if you identify as bi or suspect that you might be. It is also a great resource to start with if you are doing any serious academic research about sexuality.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
How do I know if I am bisexual?
If you find yourself attracted to people of your gender and another gender, then you can identify as bisexual. Remember, you can still be bisexual even if you are a bit more attracted to one gender or if your attraction to different genders is different. For example, you might be a woman who is more romantically attracted to men, but more sexually attracted to women (in this case, you could consider yourself either bisexual or be more specific and identify as heteroromantic and homosexual). You can identify in whatever way you are comfortable identifying.Helpful 210
What should I do if I want to tell my friends and parents right away that I'm bisexual, but I'm scared that I may be wrong?
If you feel that your parents and friends will be accepting of you, you should tell them when you feel comfortable. However, don't tell them if you are still unsure about your sexual orientation.
If you come out as bisexual and later realize that a different label better describes your sexual orientation, it is okay to begin to use a different identity label. If you do someday find that a different label better fits you, you may have to come out to the people in your life again.Helpful 168
I just came out to my family as Bi, and their reaction was terrible. What should I do?
Since you have already come out to them, you can't go back into the closet. The best thing you can do is to try to educate them about LGBT+ issues. Try to explain to them that you are still the same person that you have always been, regardless of your sexual orientation. If they are making your feel unsafe, try to find a support system outside of your family in case you need someone else to turn to.
If your family is making you feel unsafe because of your sexuality, and if you still live with your parents or rely on family for financial support, you will want to make sure you can support yourself if you are over 18, just in case they turn their back on you. It is unfortunate, but many young adults find themselves homeless after coming out to homophobic family members, especially those who were raised in very conservative environments.
If your family won't come around, and if you feel unsafe, it is okay to distance yourself from toxic family members. If you are an adult and are living on your own, you may want to take a step back and let your family process your revelation about your bisexuality. Give them some time to come to terms with it. Once you have given them enough space, try to start a mature dialogue with them regarding your sexual orientation once more. You may want to prepare some talking points and research to show them that bisexuality is not just a phase, and that LGBT+ are just like everyone else.Helpful 115
I’m scared to tell my family I’m bi. I’m sure they will think it’s a phase. What do I do?
If you aren't comfortable coming out to your family yet, you don't need to feel like you must tell them right now. It is okay to wait until you are comfortable enough to tell them, or even to never come out to them.
When and if you do decide to come out to them, it could help to prepare what you want to say ahead of time. If you are afraid that they will say it is just a phase, you may want to have materials written by older bisexual activists ready to show them that it is not a phase, but an actual sexual identity. Bisexual activist Robyn Ochs has written books and articles about bisexuality, so she may be a good place to start if you need research materials to show your family.
If you are under 18 and still living with your family, you may want to wait until you are more independent before coming out to them. It is unfortunate, but some teens and young adults do get kicked out of their parent's homes when they come out as LGBT+, especially those raised in more conservative families/communities.Helpful 75
How old should you be to come out?
You can come out at any age, but if you are still living with your parents, you may want to wait to come out to them until you can live on your own if you think they may not be unsupportive. Some people figure out their orientation at a young age, while other people might not figure it out until middle age or even older. It all depends on the individual.Helpful 65
© 2017 Jennifer Wilber