When Does Defining Your Sexuality Matter?

I think it’s fair to describe myself as a pretty sexual person. Before I met my current partner, Jason, and got married, I identified my sexuality as bisexual because I thought it was the only “don’t really care” category of human sexuality. But since then I’ve learned a lot more about myself, gender and sex. If I were to define my sexuality today, I would identify as pansexual or omnisexual.

I say “if” because this thought recently occurred to me: Does defining my sexuality matter anymore?

I’m in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship. No desire or intention to split up any time soon. No desire or intention to open our relationship. We’re not especially interested in group sex. I’m not, nor am I interested in, cheating. So if I’m only sleeping with the same person every time, is there a need to define my sexuality?

My first impulse was no, it doesn’t matter. Jason doesn’t care. It won’t change our relationship or sex life. But I thought about it some more and eventually changed my mind. Life is so fluid … what if I were to find myself single tomorrow? What if Jason told me he was transgender or genderqueer and it did suddenly become very important to our relationship what my sexual identity was? But even more importantly, I felt that if I didn’t, I’d be missing out on knowing a big chunk of myself.

Of course as I write this, my inner non-conformist is screaming at me, why define my sexuality in any way in the first place? Isn’t that just labeling myself? And don’t labels just close off other possibilities? When it comes to love and sex, why would I want to close myself off?

I’m VERY interested in hearing what others have to say on this subject. How do you define your sexuality? Why choose that particular definition to describe it? I’m not at all implying orientation is a choice, but there are MANY words to define and describe it, so why pick one over another? Are labels of sexual orientations healthy and/or necessary?

About Manda:
Manda is, in no special order, an artist, mama, writer, activist and history geek.


  1. freewomyn says:

    Manda, I can definitely relate to this, although for very different reasons. My partner is a transguy. I’m a lesbian. I would never describe myself as bisexual, because to me, bisexual means that you prefer both genders. I don’t. I prefer women. However, being a lesbian to me does not foreclose the possibility of falling in love with a man – but I don’t think I could ever be with a bio dude.

    When I describe myself as a lesbian, does that negate my partner’s gender identity? When I talk about my husband, does that negate my sexual orientation? I don’t think it does, but these are the questions that I struggle with in terms of picking a label.

  2. I can definitely relate to a lot of your points Manda and I actually think that one’s sexual orientation sometimes is a choice.

    If I had to, I’d define my sexuality as heterosexual because I am mostly attracted to men. But I’ve been known to stray gay here and there because of women I have met that made me want to be with them as individuals.

    I don’t think sexual labels are relevant anymore-or I hope they won’t be in the future. I think of being GAY or a LESBIAN as more of a political identity than anything else- a label you have to put on yourself to advance the group’s agenda.

    Sexually, most humans are queer, whether they’ll admit it or not. Eventually we’ll all be able to jump in and out of bed with who we want, when we want- and as long as we’re all safe and smart, it really won’t matter.

  3. I agree with Sobdee X for the most part. I have never used a label to identify my sexuality. I do not like limitations. Whenever the discussion of sexuality comes up, I bring up how sexuality is fluid and how I do not believe is purely heterosexual or homosexual understanding. Sexuality is always shifting. So rather than defining myself, I would rather disrupt the need to categorize people based on their sexual identity. However, a term I do identify with is queer. This may sound odd to people who know me because I am primarily attracted to men, but it is a useful term for those that do not believe they associate with heteronormative constructs. It is also an open ended term that really just means non-normative. As far as labels ago, I think it is as inclusive as possible.
    One problem I do find with not labeling oneself is that people will make assumptions about your sexuality. Majority of people like to have others figured out. Labels are tools to have others categorized in one’s head. Fluidity or lack of label does disrupt how one contextualizes others. If you do not want people jumping to conclusions about you then labels may be beneficial.

  4. There is a difference between defining and rigidly defining. In a heteronormative world, not labeling means being put into the hetero as a default. It can and often does involve erasure and silence. I spent so many years not having the words to express what I felt and what I wanted. Years later, when I read medieval descriptions of same sex love as the “mute sin” I indentified so strongly with that feeling of not even having a way to say how I was different. And that is a lonely feeling. Because how can you find others somewhat like you without even a starting point? And that notion doesn’t just apply to queer sexuality, it applies to so many other things as well. I was so seperate, so different from the people I grew up around that I did not even think of myself as human. “Me” and “humans” were groups that I never saw as overlapping. Does knowing words like queer, aspergers, post traumatic stress disorder, molested, bisexual, atheist, kinky, polyamorus, disabled,genderqueer, etc. really change the core of what happened to me before I knew them? No, but it does change our inability to find each other, to connect, to share coping mechanisms, to protect each other, to organize for civil rights, to find people to love us. And that is vitally important. Because we can’t all do it alone and we can’t work through concepts when we can’t even speak them. Can labels be applied rigidly to try and force people at the margins to conform to them? Yes, but I do not think that warrants a blanket condemnation. I think that labels do have power, but I do not think this is always negative. I remember being seventeen and sitting in the corner of the library and sobbing when I read Bi Any Other Name because it made me feel like I was not alone. What if the people who wrote that book had decided that labels were worthless or that any sort of group identity was negative? Where does that leave kids like me but without connection and without the tools to fight? Where does that leave us but hidden even from each other? Labels can be hard for the trans guy who has called himself ‘lesbian’ for so long, but they can be lifesaving for the trans guy who finds transition services because other trans people have set up lists of places that are safe for them. Do we need labels? Yes, I think so, but I think we need far less gate keeping and far more flexibility in regards to them.

  5. anonymous says:

    I’ve never used a label to identify my sexuality. I never thought to do that. I am heterosexual and have never thought anything different. I don’t think it’s wrong for people to say how they feel or express how they feel. But, I can see where putting a label can be hard or unnecessary. Choosing your own sexuality is a choice and eventually times will catch up with today’s world and what’s really happening in society. There is nothing wrong with it, but not everything is used to these changes, especially in older generations. I think college is where most people become aware of lesbians and gays, because more people are open in college and don’t judge. Whereas in high school and in middle school kids are more likely to bully, etc.

  6. Hmm, good question. I identify as asexual because I don’t feel a desire or need for a relationship with either sex, nor do I particularly harp on sex. It isn’t a choice what orientation you are, but choosing how to label that orientation is where it gets tricky. I chose asexual because, yes, I do see men that I think are attractive, but I have no desire to approach them. Similarly, there are women who are attractive, but I have no desire to approach them for romance. Most people laugh at me and say it’s a phase, and maybe it is, but I’m identifying as asexual right now because it describes me in this point of my life. I think it is healthy and natural to identify with a certain group, but that’s if you want to. I held off identifying with the asexual label because, I wasn’t sure if I was, and I didn’t know if there actually was a community for it. Of course there was a community, but I didn’t know of it back when I was seventeen or eighteen and wondering why I was still single. Everyone else was hooking up and I wanted to also, though I didn’t know how to approach boys and I found that even if I found someone cute, I had no desire to approach them. I began to want a relationship just so I could have something to tie me to my friends. Last year, when I was nineteen, I noticed that I solely checked out guys so my friend wouldn’t feel alone in his new found pride. It was then that I started seriously questioning why I wanted a relationship, a boy, when I had no desire to approach or initiate these things. I also had no strong desire to lose my virginity and I still don’t, sex just does little for me. So, I chose to identify as asexual this year, going on twenty-one. It suits me now and gives me a sense of belonging, because without this label, I don’t identify with any of the major sexual groups. Others identify as pansexual because they love others for their identity and self, regardless of religion or gender or ethnicity. It is all a matter of comfort and how much one needs a label to complete them. :)

  7. Currently I just kind of say gender doesn’t matter to me..but people in my life don’t know that’s how
    I feel..I think they assume I’m straight. I’ll let them assume what ever.

    But I don’t really have a label…mainly because I’m not sure what it would be…Hahaha

    I say/think, “Forget labels. I am who I am. I like who I like.”

    Well…like I said earlier.. No one really knows..except for people online…haha

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