Gay or straight enough

Sex on Tuesday

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When I first started logging on to Pornhub during my tender tween years — yes, I had a Pornhub account as a previously Catholic, 11-year-old female — I sought out lesbian content. To me, penises were nauseating. More importantly, my method of masturbation had always been clitoral: As a young girl, even I could tell that the violent penis-in-vagina sex on Pornhub never gave much thought to a woman’s clitoris, but lesbian porn did.

I instinctively felt drawn to lesbian pornography because I knew that I loved women. Moreover, I thought all day about kissing women and touching women.

Now that I have more or less sexually matured, it turns out that I’m straight, contrary to what my sexual habits as a young teen might have indicated. For a long time, I looked back on my preteen fantasies about making love to women with a big question mark. Am I actually just a closeted bisexual who’s refusing to come to terms with her sexual identity?

The answer is no. You should believe me when I say that I love men and that I definitely benefit from a heteronormative culture.

Like most straight college-aged women, I can admit that I’ve kissed other women for male attention at a party before. I’m not proud of it, but it would be inaccurate to say that I didn’t enjoy some part of it, to pretend that that kiss didn’t excite me down there (even if it was just a little bit). Girl-on-girl action at parties was like the gateway drug that introduced me to what it might feel like if I made love to a woman.

In college, I fell in love with kissing and touching women because I didn’t care about what face I was making or if I remembered to shave my nipples. For me, sex with women was all about a shared knowledge of our bodies. I am still clumsy and shy when I reach for a woman’s clitoris, but no woman has ever made me feel embarrassed or judged in spite of my inexperience. Without words, a woman’s mere presence somehow eliminates the pressure that I often feel with men to look or sound or feel a certain way.

Given my love for sex with women, I’ve thought a lot about why I’m unable to identify with queerness. Part of it may have something to do with my inability to feel the same type of love for women that I do for men. Part of it is an unwillingness to sever my ties with straightness. But trying to put the correct label on my preferences is ultimately not a worthwhile activity for me.

I realized that I had to stop labeling my own sexuality if I no longer wanted to feel insecure about my sexual preferences. Regardless of what we identify with, the reality is that our sexual preferences exist on a much richer spectrum than this.

Since labels never accurately described my own sexuality, I worked to challenge my wider obsession with socially constructed sexual labels. For me, sexual labels are often arbitrary, although I acknowledge that others place a larger degree of importance on identifiers, such as “straight,” “gay” and other labels. To be clear, just because these sexual labels do not accurately predict what turns me on, it doesn’t mean that they are not valid identifiers for others.

My excessive loyalty to clear demarcations between sexual labels is the reason why I used to think that homosexual sex only occurs between homosexual, bisexual or otherwise queer people. But it turns out that a lot of normie straight people like me have more gay sex than we would like to think — this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re “closeted.” Even straight men consent to homosexual sex acts, although our culture likes to hide this fact.

Some people organize their lives around this same-sex desire, view it as culturally significant to them and participate in the rich subcultures of queer life. Others are willing to engage with their same-sex desire but go on determined to have opposite-sex life partners. Still, others don’t view something as haphazard as “sex” to be important in their sex lives at all. None of these cases should be seen as strange.

I think it’s more important to ask why some people are more inclined to identify with queerness than others rather than investigating whether we are born authentically gay or straight. When we think about answering the first question, we challenge the way that sexual labels can sometimes close off doors or dictate what can and cannot turn us on. This is an important task because homosexual desire is part of the human condition. Why should we kid ourselves about the reasons we consensually have gay sex?

My experience sharing my body with women tells me that it’s OK that I don’t consider my same-sex desires to be a big part of my identity in the same way that others do. At the end of the day, labels are more for yourself than for anyone else: Regardless of what kind of sex you have, you are the best person to decide which label fits you best.

Laura Nguyen writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected]