People continue to lump sexual, romantic, and even platonic feelings together under “sexual” orientation, when the reality is that each of the three is an independent variable. Most males, in particular, have no problem separating sex from romance. For example, when a straight male says, “I’m not gay. I just like male oral sex,” what he means is that he is heteroromantic (straight in the romantic sense). In short, romantic orientation is what people usually mean by “sexual” orientation.
I believe that about 70% of the male population is biSEXUAL, heteroromantic, and homoplatonic (sharing homosocial bonds with guys, as straight males love to do). It is this innate biSEXuality in them that causes straight-identified males to fear anything gay. Furthermore, about 13.5% of the population is either exclusively or overwhelmingly homoromantic (gay in the romantic sense).
The remainder may be biromantic AND bisexual.
I believe that most males bring their romantic feelings for females when they interact sexually with them and bring their platonic feelings for males when they have sex with males. The sex transforms these feelings (whether romantic or platonic) into stronger bonds between males and their sexual partners (whether males or females). This, in turn, has evolutionary benefits. Studies clearly are needed on this, but they won’t be made until researchers start dissecting sexual, romantic, and platonic orientation as three independent variables.
Reading through the many advice columns on the Internet, I am disappointed that the so-called “experts” continue to talk about “heterosexuals,” “bisexuals,” and “homosexuals” when referring to the romantic feelings of these populations, and then dismiss the sexual feelings of their male readers as meaningless (or as “not meaning you’re gay or bi”) simply because it is sex, not romance, that the readers confess to being curious about.
A typical reader comment would go something like, “I’m a straight guy not interested in other guys. But I like sucking a man’s penis. Am I gay?” The “expert” would then say something like, “Just because you enjoy gay sexual activity doesn’t mean you’re gay, or even bi. It is your emotional feelings that determine your sexual orientation. If you only like girls, then you’re probably heterosexual.”
The problem with this exchange (so typical on the Internet and even scholarly journals) is that the terms remain vague. Things such as “like girls” would presumably mean in a romantic sense. But this is not made clear, and the purely sexual feelings/activities are dismissed as “not the real thing.” Unfortunately, this approach belittles sex and raises romance as the REAL determinant of “sexual” orientation. For males, however, sex ALONE is just as important as romance, and terms are simply lacking to allow them to make sense (to tear apart, if you will) these different elements of their lives, much less to name and even identify along different tiers of “orientation”-in this case sexual vs. romantic. vs. platonic orientation.
The label bisexual is rejected by straight-identified people-and males, in particular-because they think that it means rejecting the opposite sex romantically. But one can be straight in the romantic sense AND bisexual in the purely sexual sense (at least males can, who easily divorce sex from romance). In other words, people can identify in more than one way if presented with new analytical concepts and mutitiered orientation scales, such as the three-circle graph that reconceptualizes the Kinsey scale.
America was way ahead in the 19th century, when males had the freedom (and were even encouraged) to form really intense friendships with other males. These friendships were called romantic-friendships because they involved males holding hands, kissing on the lips, cuddling together, and talking about intimate matters. (Females practiced these romantic-friendships as well, with other females.) Then, “homosexuality” was discovered in the late-19th century-just as industrial capitalism really took off. Suddenly, males were rebuked as “homosexuals” for being physically tender with other males and were encouraged to be competitive and to distrust one another (this being needed in the more fiercely capitalistic world that was emerging). The ridiculousness of this is that today, most males are thought to be biologically programmed to be macho, to distrust one another, and to be “straight.” But looking at the social order of 19th century America (and Europe), one sees that romantic-friendships were quite natural. Sure, they lacked the sexual element, but everything else (from holding hands to sleeping together) was there.
I believe that America (and western Europe) can move back to this model, but this will require a radical shift in group consciousness. For starters, it will mean questioning the dominant paradigm of “sexual” orientation, of people being either “straight” or “gay,” of sex and romance/friendship being the same thing (instead of independent variables that often come together), of males being biologically programmed to distrust one another and be “straight” (instead of socially conditioned for that), and so on.
The conservatives are right! Labels do matter, and how one identifies early in life (as far as “sexual” orientation) influences how one sees oneself in adulthood (as straight, gay, bi, etc.). This self-image, in turn, influences what one allows oneself to fantasize about, what one allows oneself to do (and not do), one’s choice of friends, etc. Let’s hope that researchers, activists, and others start providing people with more options (through research and activism) as far as “sexual” orientation and how people are allowed and even encouraged to identify.