You Don’t Need A Sexual Identity to Enjoy Sex

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Consider these five patients I’ve seen in the last 60 days:

“I’m straight, but I enjoy gay fantasies, especially when I’m about to orgasm. So does that mean I’m bisexual?”

“I am so hot for this new guy in my building, but I’m confused. I dislike his politics and his attitudes about pets. I identify as sapio-sexual, so how could I be hot for someone I don’t respect?”

“I’m pretty sure I’m gay, but I don’t want to live the gay lifestyle. Does that mean I’m a different kind of gay?”

“My college-age daughter says that although she isn’t sexually interested in women, she supports oppressed sexual minorities, and therefore identifies as bisexual. Now a young woman has asked her to hook up, and she doesn’t know what to do.”

“I know I’m asexual, but lately I’ve had sexual feelings for two people in my office. What does that mean?”

There’s nothing wrong with any of these people, although their struggles are real. The problem is that they all feel trapped by a sexual identity that they’ve chosen or feel stuck with. They mostly feel obligated to stay with their sexual identity, even though they find it confining or not accurately describing the complexity of who they are.

For a lot of people these days, sexual identity seems to be more about identity than about sexuality. That is, people are adapting or defining their sexual identity based on what group they want to affiliate with, or what that identity tells them about themselves, rather than simply enjoying what they enjoy.

Of course, affiliation and self-narrative are both essential elements of identity—who am I? Who are my peers? What are my values, and what do I stand for?

Whether you want to shape your sexual behavior or philosophy based on a desire to feel validated or part of a group with an agenda, of course, is another matter.

Questions of identification are especially important to young people, whose appropriate mission in life is identity formation. These questions are also important to people in the political arena, who want to influence others’ attitudes or behavior.

Different people pursue the question of identity in different ways. These include choice of consumer goods like cars or fashion; preferences in music and art; how (and whether) they vote; and what news media they depend on.

And so people will say “I’m the kind of person who drinks Budweiser rather than some fancy imported beer.” This is quite different than saying “I prefer the taste of Budweiser.” The first is about the beer drinker. The second is about the beer.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with the recent proliferation of sexual identities, although sexual scientists don’t agree about their various meanings or even their legitimacy. Everyone’s entitled to describe themselves any way they like. If “pansexual” feels more accurate than “bisexual,” for example, a person should feel free to use it—even though the behaviors involved look the same.

Identity labels should describe us rather than limit us. They should fit us, rather than us fitting them. They should just be a convenient shorthand for our experience and self-perception. Otherwise, when people feel obligated to feel or behave in certain ways to be “loyal” to their identity, they’re undermining themselves.

People make choices all the time—you like your eggs scrambled, not fried. You like to kiss with your eyes open, not closed. You like to wear sandals with short black socks. Whatever.

When our choice of eggs, kissing, or footwear is more about who we are than what we like, we limit our choices and invest far too much emotion in those choices.

Breakfast becomes a struggle about what kind of person we are, which is exhausting. It limits who we can spend time with. It means a discussion of breakfast is a discussion about who we are. We’re more likely to get defensive, because the subject is us. Whether or not a discussion of breakfast is personal, we take it personally—because we’ve made it personal. That has nothing to do with breakfast.

Whether as a therapist or as a civilian, when I want to get to know someone, I don’t ask what groups they’re part of. I don’t ask what kind of a person they are. I ask people about their actual experiences. I get to know them as a unique individual, not as an identity or a member of a group.

Some people resent this. They have invested so much in their sexual identity—for example, “demisexual,” an unnecessary new substitute for the word “human”—that if you don’t make that the centerpiece of who they are, you can be accused of being demi-phobic, or ace-phobic (because in an amazing twist of logic, so-called asexuals claim demisexuals as being on their continuum).

If someone feels weird because of their unique sexuality, it can be quite comforting to find others whose sexuality seems similar. Sure, join whatever club those with similar feelings have formed. But you don’t suddenly acquire rights you didn’t have before. You don’t suddenly get to tell people what to think about you, and you don’t suddenly get to feel offended when people don’t much care about your new sexual identity.

If, for example, you’ve never had sexual feelings for anyone (nothing wrong with that), and one day you decide you’re “asexual,” you don’t suddenly get to judge people who accept you but don’t believe there’s such a sexual orientation as “asexual.”

You have the right to be believed about your lack of sexual feelings (if anyone much cares), but you don’t have the right to tell someone how they must reconfigure their world view to accommodate your new identity. And you certainly don’t get to be offended when someone says that they’re not interested in learning about what you call “asexuality.” They may consider you simply “Bailey,” not “Bailey the asexual.”
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So what is a bisexual? A pansexual? An asexual? A heterosexual? These things mean whatever someone says they mean. You have a right to your definition. And no one is obligated to agree with your definition. No one is obligated to identify their preferred pronouns just because you’ve decided that as a transgender, you need everyone to do that so you feel validated.

What is a soccer fan? A Lexus owner? No one has the right to say what a good soccer fan or good Lexus owner is. And no one has a right to decide that someone is a good enough bisexual or asexual or demi-sexual.

And that includes the person themselves. The question isn’t are you a good enough whatever-your-sexual-identity-is. The question is do your sexual choices fit with your non-sexual values, do they support your emerging humanity, do they make you feel glad to be alive.

At the end of the day you’re not your sexual identity any more than you’re the beer you drink, the baseball team you follow, or the shade of lipstick you wear. You’re you. That, of course, is much more complicated than being part of a well-defined team, whether they have uniforms or not.

So go and enjoy your sexuality. You don’t need to know what to call it. As a really famous character said in a really famous play four hundred years ago,

… that which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.

If your sexuality smells sweet, don’t worry about what to call it. And don’t get too concerned about what other people call it.

~ ~ ~
If you liked this, you’ll enjoy my post at www.MartyKlein.com/people-make-sex-more-complicated

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