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On Being a Straight Spouse – The Problem with Sexual Fluidity

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I am not a sexual therapist or an expert on human sexuality.  I’m a straight spouse.  I’ve lived with the many challenges of being married to a partner who concealed his true sexual orientation.  Since going public with my story I’ve met countless other straight spouses and heard their stories.  One of the most complicated and vexing aspects about being in a mixed orientation marriage is sexual fluidity.

Plenty of people are bisexual, pansexual or any number of variations of sexually fluid.   They are attracted to partners of both genders and in some cases all gender identifications.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with existing in the space between gay and straight.  Some well-meaning therapists will actually promote the idea that all human beings are sexually fluid and that everyone is bisexual.  That might seem like a healthy attitude towards human sexuality until you consider a closeted person trapped in a mixed orientation marriage.  Not only does this prolong the suffering of both spouses, it makes it more difficult for the gay spouse to live an authentic life.  Telling someone they are sexually fluid when they are really gay could amount to abuse depending on the circumstances.  Just imagine a therapist actively and aggressively influencing a gay person to believe they are truly straight.  Why is it OK to promote the idea of sexual fluidity over other sexual orientations?

Straight spouses often have the concept of sexual fluidity thrown back in our faces.

Well I guess you turned your husband gay.  (Fluidity implies that sexuality can be changed)

If you really loved each other you could work this out, sex is just sex. (Everyone is sexually fluid, you can force yourself to be more accepting)

If you supported her better she would have never turned to women. (Since sexuality is fluid, then an outside force could influence it.)

If you don’t accept your husband is bisexual then you’re projecting your own sexual insecurities on to him.  Open your mind and accept that you’re bisexual yourself.

Today I saw yet another headline that just caused me to roll my eyes.  There’s no such thing as completely straight.  A few months ago I saw another headline which declared “Straight people don’t exist.”

If you read closely nearly all of these articles cite the exact same study.  What appears at first as multiple articles all arriving at the same conclusion.  It’s really just one study repeated in any number of websites and publications.  A lone scientific study is not enough to form a consensus.   If you don’t believe me just google anything about the optimal diet for humans and you’ll see an avalanche of contradictory and competing information.  The leap from a peer-reviewed scientific journal to a pop culture blog is based on click bait more than scientific advancement.  The studies that will garner the most salacious or outrageous headlines will get promoted all over cyber space.  An in-depth investigation about impotence rates in elderly men with dementia is far less likely to end up on Broadly, Cosmopolitan or Jezebel.  A study declaring “Straight people don’t exist.” will get plastered all over the internet.

When I have dared argue against these ludicrous proclamations I’ve been labeled uptight, close-minded or even a bigot or homophobe.

There is one huge glaring flaw with the idea that everyone is bisexual.   Imagine saying the following to a gay person.

Of course you’re straight, everyone is straight.  You have to stop being so close-minded.

The only reason you don’t want to admit that you’re straight is due to a fear of your own sexuality.

It’s uptight attitudes like yours that are oppressing others.  If you are gay then you’re just a tiny minority of people on the far ends of the spectrum.   Nearly everyone is straight, stop being such a bigot.

It’s science, why would you argue against science?  If the science says all women are straight then all women are straight.

Now take those same statements and replace the word straight with bisexual.  Similar remarks were made to me when I dared to disagree with the idea that “Everyone is bisexual.”  The people who made those statements were trying so hard to stand up for bisexuals that they didn’t realize they were completely negating gay people.

No one likes an outsider telling them who they are or how they should identify.  LGBT folks often hear harsh statements regarding their sexuality.  Such as:

How do you know you don’t like men if you’ve never had one before?

I could turn you straight, you could be my project.

The right woman could change you.  She’d get you off those boys for good.

There’s not such thing as bisexual, you’re just gay and trying to figure it out.

How could a person be bisexual?  I just don’t get that.  You’re just straight and want attention.

So where do these bold claims regarding universal bisexuality come from?   One of the ways researchers test sexual arousal is to place sensors on a person’s genitals as they view various pornographic material.  Arousal is then based on the amount of blood flow to the area along with bodily secretions.  The problem with this type of research is that women respond to everything – pornography with men, pornography with women and even images of one nonhuman primate mating on camera.  This has led some researchers to conclude that all women are bisexual.  Other researchers decided that testing women for sexual arousal in the same way that is used to test men is simply unreliable.   To quote “The Problem with Sexual Arousal Studies” by Alice Dreger.

The vagina is not the homologue to the penis. The penis’s homologue is the clitoris. The vagina comes from different embryological tissue altogether, so why should we expect it to behave in a way that is comparable to the penis? The reason the clitoris gets an erection when a woman is sexually excited, the reason most women don’t reach orgasm via their vaginas, is because the clitoris is the organ that corresponds to the penis.

Another method of testing sexual arousal is measuring pupil dilation.  The test is similar, researchers show images and then test the amount of dilation in a person’s pupil.  Simply being aroused by an image doesn’t mean the subject wants to have sex with whatever they’re watching.  Some women inexplicably enjoy watching gay male porn, whereas some straight men enjoy lesbian porn.  Does that mean they are only attracted to gay people of the opposite sex?  I kind of doubt it.

One of the biggest glaring flaws with this type of research is that we don’t live in a cultural vacuum.  Sexualized images are used heavily in the media and advertising to sell everything from shampoo to snack foods.  Nearly all of that sexualized imagery is of women – disembodied legs, breasts, lips, buttocks and silhouettes.  Even though men appear in advertising far more than women do, when women make an appearance they are often young and sexualized.  We have conditioned ourselves to just accept women as sexual objects.  A woman might get turned on by a photo of a naked woman simply because she’s been conditioned to sexualize all naked women.

Sexual orientation is much more than just sexual attraction or sex.  Most human beings can have sex with just about anyone, including people they are repulsed by if the price is right or if their life depended upon it.  In cultures where homosexuality is severely stigmatized many men and women find themselves in miserable scenarios.  They might go through the motions with their spouses while secretly longing to live a very different existence.

The othe shortcoming with any study about human sexuality is that most people do not participate in such studies.  Since volunteers are self-selecting they are far more likely sexually adventurous or have exhibitionist traits.  Not everyone is going to want strangers placing sensors on their genitals or measuring their secretions.  Many adults wouldn’t even want to watch pornography in front of strangers much less have their bodies prodded and probed as they do so.

Even the pioneer of human sexual research, Alfred Kinsey, ran into this problem.  Kinsey couldn’t get the typical housewife or businessman to agree to be a part of his research.  Most of the people who volunteered for Kinsey’s study were sex workers, men recruited in gay bars or prisoners.  As Alan Branch points out in “Alfred Kinsey: A Brief Summary and Critique

A closer look at Kinsey’s research reveals many problems with his findings. The most glaring problem with his data is the source of his sample. While the sample for Sexual Behavior in the Human Male numbered over 5,000, a disproportionate number came from prison inmates, many of whom were sex offenders.  The Kinsey team interviewed some African Americans, but their data was not included in the tabulations. Furthermore, Kinsey over-sampled people recruited via homosexual-friendly organizations or magazines. College students also represented a disproportionate number of his sample. Jones and Yarhouse rightly critique these problems with Kinsey’s sample and say: “This is obviously not the type of methodology a person would implement if he or she were trying to get a representative outlook on the sexual behavior of the general population.”In many ways, Kinsey’s sample assured he found what he was hoping to find:  statistical confirmation of sexually adventurous behavior.

Now this is not negating Kinsey’s groundbreaking work.  It’s simply pointing out that his results might be skewed towards the more sexually adventurous among us.  Promoting the idea that EVERYONE is bisexual also subtly implies that orientation is a choice. If we truly were attracted to both sexes then we could switch back and forth at will.  Again most gay people would disagree with this assessment.

Another aspect regarding the promotion of the idea that “everyone is bisexual” is that it plays into the fears and paranoia of anti-LGBT hate mongers.  When researchers declare EVERYONE is a little bit gay, it feeds into conspiracy theories and hysteria about a factious gay agenda.  Anti-LGBT crusaders will pick up on the same articles and declare it proves the LGBT community wants to convert everyone to a gay lifestyle.  Click bait headlines tend to elicit histrionic responses.

We should celebrate the many variations of human sexuality that exist on the spectrum between consenting adults.  Sexual orientation is far more than secretions, dilated pupils and flawed blood flow monitors.  When do experts tell others how they should identify anyway?  I thought that was the exact opposite of embracing the many different variants of healthy sexual expression.  The next time someone posts a 200 – 300 word declaration denouncing your sexual orientation you can rest assured that if you were straight or gay before you read it, you’re still very much straight or gay afterward.

If you’re a straight spouse and you’re dealing with what you believe is a gay partner who is still clinging to the idea of sexual fluidity you have my sympathies.  Your spouse might very well be bisexual or sexually fluid. They might also be trapped in denial and terrified to truly allow themselves to fully embrace the fact that they’re gay.  It’s never easy.  Hang in there.  If you feel like your therapist is not listening to you or only focusing on your partner find a new one.  If you think they are pushing an agenda and not actually dealing with your reality find a new doctor.  Ultimately what it comes down to is your own authenticity.   Whatever path you and your partner decide upon should be based in mutual trust and honesty.

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