I was standing in the shower, thinking about Bella's thoughts on being bi-curious that I had read the night before. My mind started going in a different direction and it struck me.
Isn't it curious that we define our ability to love using words borrowed from sexuality?
Case in point: bisexual. Someone who is attracted to both men and women would normally say they are bisexual. But "bisexual" has the word "sex" in it. Why does being bisexual should mean you're game to love both men and women? Shouldn't it just mean you're willing to have sex with both of them? After all, that's what the dictionary says:
sexually attracted to both men and women.
But if you meet someone and they tell you they are bisexual, it's not clear what meaning you should gather from that information. You need to ask more questions to clarify. Do they mean they can have emotional relationships with both men and women, or just that they are interested in sex with both?
We tend to try to fit the world into a mold where there are two sexes, men and women, and two types of relationships, different gender and same gender. But the truth is, there are so many ways that people can pair up and so many ways that they perceive themselves and their relationships. I've always said that there are as many ways you can have a relationship as there are people.
The bottom line is it makes no sense that we use a word with the sub-word "sex" in it to talk about the gender we can emotionally become attached to.
Note that it's not just a problem with the word "bisexual". There is the same issue with "heterosexual" and "homosexual". Those are words that describe someone's sexual attraction to other people, not the gender boundaries of who they are capable of loving.
What's going on here is an assumption that a love relationship is always accompanied by a sexual relationship. Or if you go by the dictionary definition given above, that a romantic relationship is automatically implied by a sexual attraction. It is as though both love and sex are always present in any relationship and indissociable.
But the fact is that we know better! Sexuality does not always go hand in hand with love.
Plenty of people have sex without being in love. We have plenty of words to describe those encounters: friends with benefits, one-night stands, hook-ups, what have you. I would even argue that sex without love is one of the oldest, if not most ingrained, human pursuits.
There are also people who love someone but don't have sex with them. It's sometimes because of age or incompatibility or just plain indifference, but there is also the very common case of regular couples having sexual issues.
And then there are people who are involved in open relationships of various kinds. Maybe they have multiple sexual partners but love only one person. Or maybe they are polyamorous, and so have emotional and sexual relationships with multiple people.
This is by no means all-inclusive, but in this context, describing someone's gender preference solely by their sexual leanings seems rather inadequate. Or just incomplete.
For example, one person could be considered heterosexual because they only love people of the opposite sex, but bisexual because they like to have sex with both men and women. An example of this that is fairly common, as Bella's post attests, could be a woman who is only interested in romantic relationships with men, but likes to have sex with women. In such a case, which label should be applied? Is she hetero or bi?
I feel that the word "bi-curious" doesn't help. It does inherently describes someone who is hetero about love and bi about sex. However some people use it to mean they like to have same-gender sex once in a while, and others use it to mean they are curious to experience same-gender sex but haven't tried it yet. And of course, even though it's common, a bi-curious person is only one possible situation. Are we supposed to invent a new word for every possible combinations one can feel regarding love and sex?
"Feel" is the right word here because it usually comes down to how you personally feel about it. One person might say they are bisexual, yet another in the same situation would say they are heterosexual. Clearly, this isn't a good way to describe who you are, and maybe that's why so many people have a hard time defining what they are.
The problem is that we are oversimplifying. We try to cram two concepts into one that have no business being together. It's like being a vegetarian and a sports fan. You can be both, and there is no single word that describes both concepts at the same time.
So in terms of love and sex, what we need is two words to describe someone fully. We need one word that describes their sexual preference, and another to describe their love—romantic, emotional—preference.
If for sex we have "heterosexual", "homosexual" and "bisexual", it seems that there should be another set of words we can use to describe how we lean in terms of love. I was talking about it with Cate and she suggested using the –emotive suffix. I think that could work. A person could be "hetero-emotive", "homo-emotive" or "bi-emotive".
So then, in the situation described above that is common among women, you could say they are hetero-emotive and bisexual. And if you just said that you're "hetero", then we could assume that your emotional and sexual leanings are both the same. And then we could once and for all agree that being "curious" strictly means that you haven't tried it yet.
Clear, concise, and complete.
As for me, I am hetero-emotive and bisexually curious. What about you?