What it means to be "bicurious"

Gina Tonic
·6-min read

From Cosmopolitan

Sexuality exists on a spectrum and if one end holds people who consider themselves to be 100 per cent gay or lesbian, towards the opposite end you’ll find a space for those who identify as bicurious. But, many of us don't really know what bicurious means, and how it differs from heteroflexible or bisexual. It's also said to contribute to bisexual erasure. So here's what you need to know about bicuriosity.

What does bicurious mean?

Put simply (although the topic is actually quite nuanced and complex), bicuriosity refers to those who are interested in exploring their sexual identity with people of the same and other genders. Elyssa Rider, a sexual education and wellbeing specialist from Brook explains, “Bicurious is a term that means that someone is questioning their sexuality and where they fall on the spectrum. I think there can be a tendency for people to use this term when they have formerly identified at heterosexual but think they might be interested romantically or sexually in their own gender.”

Photo credit: FG Trade
Photo credit: FG Trade

Rider adds, “I also understand that some people identify with the term when they feel desire, but perhaps have not physically explored that yet.” The confusion over what bicurious can mean could easily be contributed to the lack of representation given to this sexuality. That said, one of the best scenes in Scott Pilgrim vs The World - a movie that has many incredible scenes - gives us a great insight into why the term is sometimes considered controversial in the queer community.

The scene plays out in the second half of the movie and focuses on Pilgrim’s realisation that he has been assuming all of Ramona Flowers’ “evil exes” are men. When forced to fight Roxie Richter, Flowers’ ex-girlfriend from college, it becomes clear that Flowers has been repeatedly and purposefully reinforcing that she has “seven evil exes” and not “seven evil ex boyfriends” for a reason. Still, Flowers flippantly dismisses the relationship as a “bicurious phase” and Richter - ready to attack - declares herself “bifurious”.

Why do some people dislike the term?

This scene is impeccable not only for getting every bisexual I know to put “bifurious” in their Tinder bio, but on a deeper level, representing the rage of many queer women who have been treated as a “phase” in an (otherwise straight) woman’s life rather than a valid relationship or viable long-term sexual partner. Cory Bush, a sex positive doula and queer sex educator, explains that this sentiment between queer and bicurious people is still a common one.

“A lot of queer people have been through the experience of being a bicurious person’s ‘experiment’ to help them explore their sexuality. There is nothing wrong with sexual exploration in itself, but when you are exploring your sexuality, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re navigating these feelings with real live people who have their own thoughts, feelings, desires, and boundaries.” Bush explains, “I don’t think the negative effect comes from bicuriosity itself, but rather when bicurious people forget to acknowledge and honour the humanity of the people who they are exploring with.”

This stigma that sees bicurious people as “using” other people to satisfy their questions surrounding sexuality, however, is one that many feel is attributed to those who identify as queer too. Emily, a 25-year-old bisexual, says she has no problem with the label bicurious or those that use it, but that “it becomes problematic when it’s used as a way to dismiss a bisexual person’s experience as experimentation alone or a phase they will grow out of.”

Photo credit: mikroman6
Photo credit: mikroman6

Pansexual Megan agrees, telling me, “I had been out as queer for about six months and explained to a colleague who knew me from a ‘straight-passing’ relationship that I had a crush on our female co-worker, and he asked if [I was] bicurious.” They continue, “I feel like cis straight people use the term bicurious to basically invalidate queer people who have recently come out, to suggest that it’s a phase.”

As well as affecting those more recently opening up about their identity like Megan suggests, Rider adds that she believes women and femme-presenting folk are more likely to suffer from the unsavoury stigmas that the term bicurious adds to the bisexual identity. “People can be dismissive, or suggest that someone is exploring their sexuality for attention.” She describes, “This is a jibe particularly levelled at women, whose sexuality is often viewed through the male gaze.”

Libby, a 27-year-old bisexual, similarly feels that the term is “patriarchal” and dated. “Bicurious is a term that is used to diminish a woman's sexuality, because men can't understand that a woman can have feelings for other women, which has nothing to do with the male gaze.” She adds, “It's not just men either, other women have projected their similar reductive opinions towards bisexuality onto me.”

It's not just straight people who can be bicurious

Photo credit: FG Trade
Photo credit: FG Trade

While the assumption with bicuriosity is that those subscribing to this label are straight people wishing to test out their queer desires, this is not always the case. Tilda, a 20-year-old bicurious lesbian, finds the term helpful in explaining her point of view. “It’s been really important for me to primarily identify as a lesbian, yet utilise the bicurious label when I’m still figuring my sexuality out.” She considers, “It helps me retain my core identity as a dyke, which is so significant to who I am - but a dyke who occasionally wants to try men!”

Just as it is unhelpful to bisexual people to assume all bisexual people are the same as bicurious people, so too is it invalidating to infer that all those using the bicurious descriptor are straight individuals looking to experiment with queerness. As Tilda says, bicurious can be used as a label for anyone with a monosexual (those attracted to only one gender) identity looking to explore outside of the gender they are typically attracted to.

As Bush put it, the problem with bicuriosity isn’t the people who want to explore their sexuality - especially in a society where heteronormativity and compulsory heterosexuality is so dominant - but the stereotypes associated with wanting to do. Experimenting with your identity is not a negative, but the toxic tropes around doing so can be.

Rider adds, “you can have any sexual identity and it would be valid no matter whether you ever explored it romantically or sexually or not. It is also important to remember that it is okay if you explore your sexuality and change your mind about how you identify.” She finishes, “Sexuality is fluid, and it's perfectly natural to change your opinion about something as you gain more knowledge and experience in other areas of your life, so why not this?”

For anyone wanting more advice or support, visit Stonewall's website or call the free information service on 0800 0502020. If you're looking to join LGBTQ+ groups in your area, you can search here.

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