Q: My partner and I have been dating for six years, and we’re in love. We’ve helped each other through hard times, we’ve supported each other through our successes, and we cohabitate happily! Problem is... I’m in my early 20s and bisexual. We started dating in high school, and he was my first real boyfriend. This is a relationship that brings me a lot of joy, but I think I would be remiss if I didn’t get the chance, as a young person, to explore sex with others, especially other women and gender diverse people. How could we go about making this happen in a way that preserves the trust and health of the relationship? Is that even possible?
A: First of all, heck yes, congrats on such a great relationship! Secondly, I feel you. As someone who is also in a relationship of six years, also bi, and who also has limited experience exploring dating not-just-cis-straight-men, not only am I in a similar situation as you, I happen to know of — just off the top of my head — three friends of mine who are also in a similar situation. It’s incredibly common for young bi people to be in a relationship that, from the outside, seems like it consists of two straight cis people. And in those partnerships, often the person who is bi, if they don’t have experience with exploring other genders, feels chafed. It’s super, super common. I know this not because of just you and three friends of mine, but because of all the Google results that come up when you search “bi in a straight relationship missing out.” The number of Reddit threads on this will surely let you know you’re not alone.
To answer the actual question: There are many, many, many ways to go about exploring your sexuality and what (and who) turns you on. Some of them are extreme and some of them are mild, and I feel I must warn you that none of them are very likely to give you everything. It’s not that I think you’re doomed by any means. In fact, I think you have perhaps the opposite problem: too many good, horny options at your fingertips. I do, however, think it’s at least a little unlikely that you’ll find a way to eat your cake and have it too. That’s not to say that I think your choices are either to blow up your entire life to kiss a woman or never touch a boob outside of your own in your life. I’m just saying that almost none of us gets to encounter the full breadth and heft of our desires. And that is a sad, sh*tty fact of life, but it’s also OK!
No matter whom you date, how many people you sleep with, or what you try, you’ll likely not get to try every single fantasy you have. I don’t just mean you won’t get to have a threesome while camping or some other oversimplified checklist. I mean that your erotic experiences in life will likely never match up to what’s in your mind and heart. They may exceed your imagination at times, they may underperform. But usually real life sex and dating is just a whole lot different (not worse!) than desire. I know you know this on a logical level, I just want to remind you that it has very little to do with the gender of the person you’re hot and horny for, and much more to do with the fact that you only get to live one life and you can’t do it all.
For example, you’re already “missing out” on getting to date other men while with your boyfriend because you two have agreed to be monogamous. (I understand you’re also not dating women; I’m just using this as an example.) I don’t want to pretend there isn’t a difference between attractions to different people, and obviously gender does play a role in that, but I want to remind you that you don’t have to have been with a woman for it to prove that you’re bi. You are also absolutely allowed to want to have sex or kisses or cuddles with any number of people of any gender while you’re in a relationship, but because of monogamy you choose not to. My point is this: If monogamy is working for you and you love the relationship you’re in, you aren’t missing out on some extra level of Being Bisexual just because you haven’t hooked up with someone of another gender.
You’re perfectly welcome to come to the conclusion that you and your partner’s current situation works well for now, that you know you’re bisexual and none of that is changed by being with a man (duh, because being attracted to men is part of your bisexuality), and that should the chance come up later to be with someone of another gender that isn’t cheating, you’d take it. That’s fine! You can do all of that and still be sad from time to time that you haven’t been with a woman sexually or romantically yet. You can be afraid it will never happen. You can worry about what it means if it never happens. (It doesn’t mean anything about your bi-ness!) You can explore your sexuality through reading hot WLW stories; you can delve into it through fantasy, through writing, through porn. You can decide that where you are now is fine.
But you can also be dissatisfied. You’re more than welcome to decide that it’s worth it to risk some damage to your current relationship in order to try something new. I generally warn people against this when it isn’t about sexuality — many people write to me about being with their first love and wanting more “experience” — because frankly, most people seem to go off exploring and come to the realization that it’s not any different than their life before. That at the end of the day, they are still themselves. But sexuality is a very complex beast. Believe you me, I get the urge to try something new, and I get the grief of feeling like you’re limited to one life with one person. I get that it feels like dating one person means you only get to be one person, but I promise you that’s not the case.
I urge you to think about what you assume hooking up with or dating a woman (or any new partner) might give you. What do you want it to give you? What do you think will be different about it? Why do you want to try to hook up with a woman or gender diverse person and would it be different if you were thinking of changing your relationship only to hook up with men? Not to oversimplify complex feelings, but people are people and attraction is attraction. Yes, I’m sure there are many people of all different genders who would turn you on and excite you, people you’d fall in love with for an evening and for a lifetime. But if you go out there only to find exactly what you have right now, you may feel like you lost something for no good reason.
Only you can know how imperative it is for you to explore your sexuality with another, new person. There is absolute validity in saying “I’ve outgrown this relationship” or “I can no longer feel full practicing monogamy.” That’s OK! Even if you leave this relationship and end up in a different monogamous relationship in a few years, that doesn’t mean you were wrong to leave at all!
If you do decide that you must have sex and fall in love with new people other than your partner, you obviously must talk to them first and see how they feel. I think it’s often hard to be confronted with the idea that your partner wants out of monogamy, regardless of the gender of people they’re interested in exploring or of the “why” behind it. I also think that it’s difficult for a relationship to go from being monogamous to open. Hard doesn’t mean impossible, but it means looooootttttssss of excruciating conversations. Painful conversations where you break each other’s hearts and hurt each other’s feelings and love each other so much and come back together and work and work and talk and talk. It’s so much work. And it might just be worth it. (If you go this route, I recommend a lot of research on nonmonogamy, a lot of rules, a lot of boundaries, and possibly even couples therapy as a safe space to have hard conversations.) There’s a chance that this is too much for your partner, that they’re interested in nonmonogamy. You might need to risk this relationship to try new things, to feel like you fully lived. That doesn’t make you evil or greedy or selfish. But you also may find that you can be fully loved and bi and sexy and alive even while dating a straight guy.
It’s A Pleasure appears here every Thursday. If you have a sex, dating, or relationship question, email Sophia at BustleSexAdvice@gmail.com or fill out this form.