Sex, Dating & Relationships
Sex & Relationships

I'm a bi woman with a husband. How do I explore my identity?

Can I be married to a man and still fancy women?
By Alice Snape  on 
Woman holding the Bisexual Rainbow Flag with the blue sky in the background
Credit: Shutterstock / adrirodri.gar

"It was probably BDSM," my friend Laura* smirks. We’re at a school reunion, standing outside a bar in my hometown smoking a cigarette. Passing it back and forth in that intimate way we used to. I don’t smoke anymore, but the occasion seems to invite it. 

She was my best friend, in that all-consuming way that teenage girls can be. Now we’re looking back at what we used to do with each other — perhaps we were in a relationship, we just didn’t know we could be, no words to define how we felt.

During my twenties, I slipped on the uniform of heterosexuality easily. Hungrily kissing men on sticky dance floors and taking them back to mine for one-night stands. When I’d snog Laura, put my fingers in her knickers and run my hands over her arse, I thought I was performing for the men watching from the dark corners of the dingy nightclub we went to every weekend. I wanted to turn them on.

But there were no prying eyes when we got home. I’d tell her what to do and she’d comply with a submissive giggle. A kinky sort of power play. I now know — when we touched, kissed, explored — that it was sex. My '90s education meant I thought it was only sex when it was penis-in-vagina sex. I remember being given a book about "where babies come from." I didn’t understand the nuances of women’s sexuality. I wish I’d known then what I know now.

I love looking at women. I fancy women. I want to acknowledge Laura as one of the first great loves of my life, more than just an old schoolmate. But what can I do now that it’s 20 years later and I’m in a monogamous marriage with a man, outwardly heterosexual to those who look in? I decided to set on a journey — meeting experts and others on sexual re-awakenings along the way — to find out.

Am I bisexual? 

I started my quest as so many have before — online. Furiously typing questions like, "can I be bisexual if I’m married to a man?" "What even is bisexuality?" "I’m married to a man but I fancy women too, is this okay?" I briefly wonder how it might have been different for my 16-year-old self as I discover other sexually curious women hiding in corners on Reddit, Twitter, Instagram. There’s communities of women just like me. 

Women like 39-year-old Cassie Brooks, too. She's been happily married to a man for 15 years. When we start chatting, it feels like an outpouring. "I think about women often and have deep friendships and connections with the women in my life," she confesses. But Cassie grew up in a deeply religious family, although she’s since walked away from her Christian faith. 

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Her realisation — a sort of epiphany —  came when she was in a swimming pool with one of her mates. "She wrapped her arms around me from behind. It elicited warm, fuzzy feelings inside me," Cassie tells me. "It felt charged, magnetic. I turned in her arms and asked, ‘do you feel this?’ She nodded and giggled and splashed me with water." Cassie struggled with these feelings because she loves her husband. It felt like she was "cheating," even though they hadn’t kissed.

This sexual fluidity —  identifying as straight, then fancying someone of the same gender — has also shown up in research, too. When I contact sociologist and psychosexual psychotherapist Jordan Dixon(opens in a new tab) to help me unravel how I am feeling she points me towards a study by psychologist Lisa Diamond. ‘Female bisexuality from adolescence to adulthood’(opens in a new tab) was conducted on 79 women over the course of ten years. Two-thirds of the women changed the identity labels they’d claimed at the beginning, with a third changing multiple times. By the end, more women identified as bisexual or chose to have no label at all, rather than say they were straight. 

Another study(opens in a new tab) found that women are often influenced by romantic opportunities rather than being rigid in their attractions. "Women’s sexuality may be more flexible and adaptive than men’s," commented the study’s author Elizabeth Aura McClintock, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame. "Having flexible sexual attractions may grant greater importance to contextual and experiential factors when it comes to sexual identity." These findings were also reflected in the 2020 census in the UK(opens in a new tab), more women than men said they were bisexual  – 1.6 percent of women compared to 0.9 percent of men.

Embracing the bi side of me

"I’m not straight, I just love dick," when the character Arabella (Michaela Coel) uttered those words in BBC drama I May Destroy You(opens in a new tab), I’d never felt so understood. I roll them over in my mind as I fill in the application to Skirt Club(opens in a new tab) — a private network for straight and bisexual women who are sexually curious. When the form asks about my sexuality, I tick the box that says: mostly straight but more than incidentally homosexual. I don’t even know if that fits how I feel.

Skirt Club was founded by Genevieve LeJeune in 2014, mostly because she was looking for other women like her. "Bisexuality is this grey area," she tells me over Zoom, "a huge taboo attached to it. When I started using the label bisexual, people kept asking me the same questions: what's wrong? Why can’t you choose?"

"When I started using the label bisexual, people kept asking me the same questions: what's wrong? Why can’t you choose?"

I tell LeJeune how I’ve been feeling. I’m compelled to reveal my past with Laura and that I’m with a man but I think about women. That I’ve never really said out loud that I think I’m bisexual. She invites me to one of Skirt Club’s signature parties at a secret location in London. "Women act differently without men," LeJeune says. 

And I can see that as soon as I step into this new world, wearing a silk dress and knee high boots. One of the hostesses attaches a key to my wrist. It shows that I’m new (usually around 70 percent of those attending are there for the first time) and unlocks the start of a journey. 

I sip on a glass of bubbles and settle in a corner to observe. A woman in a tight red dress gives me the eye. She also has a key dangling down her hand. Her fingertips graze my thigh. She’ll never date a man again, she tells me with vitriol. She’s clearly experienced too much hurt.

After an orientation speech stating the importance of consent, the bar area clears quickly and I wonder where everyone’s gone. I head upstairs to the bedrooms. There’s a smell of sex — sweet and sensuous — and a mass of writhing naked women that looks like some kind of Pre-Raphaelite painting come to life, reimagined in 2023 for a female gaze. 

Most of the women hadn't met until that moment. I think about all those myths that are rammed into us, that women need an emotional connection to climax. Maybe what they actually needed was to be in a room full of other women. I didn’t join in. I didn’t have to, to enjoy it. Just being there was enough. I felt seen, understood.

A coming out, of sorts

I realised how much I’ve internalised myths and stereotypes, inhaled them as facts that I need to let go. That key from Skirt Club has unlocked something. My friend tells me about a book that blew her mind and urges me to read it. Untrue by writer and social researcher Wednesday Martin unravels why nearly everything we believe about women and lust is false. In a chapter called "Women Who Love Sex Too Much," Martin introduces us to Dr. Meredith Chivers who did a study on women’s and men’s reactions to porn. Predictably, self-identifying straight men had the strongest reaction to guy-on-girl action. In contrast, women — even those who said they were straight — had physical responses to everything: a woman having sex with a woman, man-on-man action, and even bonobos getting down to it. 

Mostly, what I’ve discovered is that sexual identity is complex. "Some women may be attracted to other women, but they may not wish to act upon it," says Dixon, who implores anyone reading this to ask themselves: What would labelling mean to you? What do you want? Why? What would it mean for your partner to bear witness to that? "For those in hetero relationships, whether we decide to tell our partners or not, it can help to know that this doesn’t mean our decision is always fixed," she assures. 

Having experience doesn't define sexuality.

According to research by Pew Research Center(opens in a new tab) in the U.S., only 19 percent of bisexuals are "out." And although I’m writing this, I don’t think I feel the need to explicitly "come out" to anyone. According to therapist Chris Sheridan(opens in a new tab), the act of coming out can actually be disempowering to some. "It implies there's a secret or it's owed to heteronormative society," Sheridan explains. Instead, do it on your terms. "Some people choose not to come out, others opt for coming out to some people and not others. It’s up to you."

For Cassie, this looks like telling her husband how she feels. "To my relief, he said 'I know.' He asked me if I still loved him and I said yes." Their marriage is monogamous but Cassie knowing this about herself is enough for now — having experience doesn't define sexuality. "I 100 percent consider myself bisexual," she says. "It took me a little while to associate that as part of my identity because I didn’t have experience. But the definition is attraction to both genders — I definitely fit that."

As for me, I’m holding on to the advice from the therapists I spoke to: "Give yourself permission to fully fantasise about different genders during solo sex," Sherdian told me. And "personal intimacy with ourselves means creating a private zone," says Dixon, "it’s a space – physical, emotional, intellectual – that belongs only to us and we can play with whoever we like in our minds. Everyone can cultivate a secret erotic fantasy garden to play in."

And what I witnessed at Skirt Club, just conjuring it in my mind makes me wet. So does lesbian porn. So does having sex with my husband. So, too, does a plethora of other things. Holding this knowledge about my shapeshifting sexuality feels powerful. I can't be all parts of myself to everyone at all times. And those fragments of myself are also constantly in flux. This is a moment in time and right now I’m bisexual — regardless of my relationship status. I can’t wait to see what comes next… but I doubt I will ever say I’m straight again. 

*name has been changed

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