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Curious About Bicurious
Ravyn Williams
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As a teenager who’s grown up in New York, I’m not easily shocked. If in the New York Times I read about a robbery a few blocks from my house, a billionaire giving money to my school, a teen from my neighborhood getting arrested, or a kid from my borough becoming famous, I wouldn’t be devastated or overexcited because we hear about such a variety of stuff so often.

So, while some people may have been taken aback by the results of a recent study published in the medical journal Pediatrics, I was not. According to the study, one in ten sexually active New York City teens reports having had sexual contact with a person of the same sex. But the study also found that a large proportion (38.9%) of these sexually active kids who’d had at least one same-sex partner identified themselves as heterosexual. (Of the other teens who’d had same-sex partners, 40.3% identified themselves as bisexual, 10% identified themselves as gay, and 10.8% identified themselves as unsure about their sexual orientation.)

OK With Gayside

The way I see it, New York City teenagers are more exposed to diversity than teens in small towns where everyone knows each other, and that is what makes us more open to diverse types of conduct. Elsewhere, being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or “bicurious” might cause one to get shunned or disowned, not only by family but also by peers. Even in New York, kids who aren’t straight still get bullied for their sexual preference.

But in general, I think New York City teens are more accepting of difference—and more willing to try out different identities themselves. In my own school, Bayside High School in Queens, there are a lot of same-sex relationships—so much so that our nickname is “Gayside.”

Bayside students accept this title and aren’t reluctant to use it themselves. That fact alone shows how accepted same-sex relationships have become. (Though girls with girls seem to be much more accepted than boys with boys; more on that later.) Our student body is pretty much keeping up with the findings of the study in Pediatrics, since a lot of my classmates refer to themselves as “bicurious.”

Though bicurious might mean slightly different things to different people, to me it is someone who, though primarily heterosexual, also has sexual relations with members of the same sex. They may either be scared to be branded as bisexual, or would never have a love relationship with someone of the same sex but don’t mind having sexual encounters with them.

Defining Terms

Though I suspected my peers would have similar views regarding the Pediatrics study, I wanted to be sure and to know some of their other thoughts on the bicurious phenomenon. So I spoke to several people of different sexual orientations between the ages of 16 and 19. Sure enough, they were no more surprised than I was to find out that one in ten sexually active New York City teens reports having had a same-sex partner.

image by YC-Art Dept

I asked how they saw the difference between being bisexual and bicurious. Ian, a heterosexual guy and a senior in my school, said, “When you are bisexual you have officially established that you like both sexes, but when you are bicurious you’re just experimenting.”

Another senior, a bisexual girl named Halima, proposed a similar answer. “Bisexual is when you openly have relations with boys and girls,” she said. “Bicurious is when you generally have relations with the opposite sex but want to experiment with the same sex.”

Testing the Waters

So, if you’re OK with experimenting, why identify yourself on a survey as heterosexual rather than bisexual? Jordan, a lesbian junior, thinks it has to do with comfort. “The bicurious people who deny being bisexual probably feel like they haven’t fully declared themselves as being attracted to the opposite sex. They are just testing the waters,” she offered.

Luis, a bisexual high school graduate, had a similar angle: “Maybe the bicurious people who deny being bisexual are embarrassed, ashamed, or don’t want their parents to find out. So instead of labeling themselves, they say that their attraction to the same sex is temporary.”

One thing everyone agreed on was that bicuriosity, while common in both males and females, is more accepted for females. “There is a double standard which allows females to have same-sex partners and for it to be ‘sexy.’ But males with same-sex partners are looked down upon,” explained Destiny, a senior girl who is heterosexual.

We talked about this double standard in the (currently all-female!) NYC newsroom, and my fellow writer Allison thought it might have to do with media. “You see women kiss each other on TV all the time,” she said. Another writer, Angie, agrees that we are conditioned to accept female-female sexual relations more readily: “The social standard makes me think if I’m a female, I can experiment.”

Another writer, Brittany, speculated that straight guys drive the double standard because they feel threatened. “When they see guys with guys, they tense up. They think, ‘Oh, they want to hit on me,’” she said. Yet everyone agreed that, rightly or wrongly, guys’ sexuality is seen as more fixed than that of girls. We were all familiar with the notion that some girls experiment with other girls because they’re annoyed with guys. But no one had heard of guys getting with guys because they’re sick of women.

Clearly, being bicurious means different things to different people, and there are few simple answers when it comes to sexuality. But I think it’s good that teens today seem to be getting less strict about how we categorize ourselves. It’s a positive development that gay, lesbian, bisexual, or bicurious teens in my school can feel comfortable figuring out their sexual preferences. If only it could be the same everywhere.

This story is part of the media/news literacy series, which is generously supported by the McCormick Foundation.

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(NYC-2010-12-11b)

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