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Heteroflexibility and bicuriosity

Heteroflexibility and bicuriosity

Thanks so much to Paisley Gilmour for including me in this recent Cosmo article about being heteroflexible: an awesome interview with sex educator and podcaster Hannah Witton about why and how she uses this word. Cheers also to Paisley for including a plug for my new book with Jules ScheeleSexuality: A Graphic Guide – which unpacks the understandings of sexuality which make space for heteroflexibility and bicuriosity, as well as those that don’t.

Here’s what I had to say when Paisley interviewed me about these terms…

My question is always what labels like ‘heteroflexible’ or ‘bicurious’ open up and close down – both for us personally – and for the wider world. My sense is that any label can be very helpful if it helps us to name our experience in a way that feels like a good fit and/or find community. But any label can also be risky if we hold onto it too tightly when perhaps it doesn’t fit us so well any more. Labels are also problematic if they risk excluding others or making their experience seem less valid.

What does heteroflexibility open up?

So what does heteroflexible open up and close down? It opens up the idea that sexuality can be flexible and fluid – which is far more accurate for most people than the wider cultural sense that it is something we’re born with which is fixed for life. It also opens up the sense that hetero people can experience attractions to other genders without that necessarily meaning they have to now class themselves as gay or bisexual. The word homoflexible does a similar thing for people for whom ‘gay’ is an important identity, but they do experience some attractions to genders other than the ‘same gender’. 

What does heteroflexibility close down?

However, the risk with both heteroflexible and homoflexible is bisexual erasure. We still live in a culture that is highly skeptical and demonising of bisexuality. Bi people are represented as greedy, suspicious, dangerous and threatening, or dismissed as not real, immature, going through a phase, etc. So it could be that people prefer to adopt words like heteroflexible or homoflexible because saying that they are bisexual feels too risky. The danger is that that supports the cultural assumption that everyone is ‘really’ more-or-less gay or straight, and there isn’t really any bisexuality (even though most studies find that actually most people are somewhere between the extremes of gay and straight in their attractions). 

Missing other aspects of sexuality

Finally, any sexuality term that defines people in terms of their gender of attraction can risk missing all the other components that make up our sexuality (like the other aspects of people that we find attractive, the roles we enjoy taking sexually, the kinds of sex we enjoy and don’t, the communities we feel affiliated with, etc.) This zine goes into all of that in detail.

Bicuriosity

I’d say pretty similar things for the word ‘bicurious’. It very helpfully opens up the sense that it’s okay to be curious and questioning around our sexuality, which is something that wider culture denies: expecting everyone to be certain about having a fixed sexuality. However, it can also be seen as suggesting it wouldn’t really be okay to be fully bisexual. We might ask why we have the word ‘bicurious’ when we don’t have ‘heterocurious’.

Should I use these terms?

For anyone considering these terms I’d suggest asking what they open up and close down for you. I’d encourage you to embrace them if they feel like a good fit, if they help you find communities of like-minded people, or if they help you to make sense of yourself.

But try to hold the terms lightly so that you can let them go if things change for you, or if you find a word which is an even better fit. And make sure that, in using these terms for yourself, you don’t try to put them on anybody else, or exclude or erase anyone else’s experience in the ways you use them.


Meg-John Barker is the author of a number of popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including Queer: A Graphic History, How To Understand Your Gender, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and IF You Want To), Rewriting the Rules, The Psychology of Sex, and The Secrets of Enduring Love. They have also written a number of books for scholars and counsellors on these topics, drawing on their own research and therapeutic practice.

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