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These two terms mean very different things.

By Jessica Migala
December 28, 2020
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Bisexuality is a sexual identity most people are at least a little familiar with. But what about the term bi-curious—is this a separate identity as well, or is it part of being bisexual? How do you know if you're bi-curious, anyway? Because the word can be confusing, we asked experts to weigh in and clear up some questions and misconceptions.

What is bi-curious?

Let's say you identify as a heterosexual woman, but you find yourself fantasizing about pursuing a sexual encounter with another woman. Maybe she's someone you know, someone you've met very briefly, or even someone you saw while watching porn. Either way, the term bi-curious would likely apply to you—whether you have a sexual encounter with that person or not.

Bi-curious generally means that a person wants to explore sexual activity with a person of a gender identity different than the gender they are usually attracted to, Marla Renee Stewart, sexologist, owner of sexuality education company Velvet Lips, and faculty member at Clayton State University in Georgia, tells Health. For example, a heterosexual woman might desire a sexual relationship with another woman, or a woman who identifies as a lesbian might find herself interested in having sex with a man. It could be a specific person, or the attraction might be to a different gender as a whole.

This attraction might stay in your mind and never turn into a real encounter. Or it might make you want to see what they're all about. "You might reflect on your childhood interactions and feelings and realize you didn't get to explore a facet of yourself due to [factors like] social restrictions, religion, [and more]," Stewart says. Ultimately, this "might mean that you are more open-minded than you previously thought, and you might be ready to step into your authenticity," she adds.

Does being bi-curious mean you're gay?

It might. If you're a heterosexual woman, maybe after some self-reflection and exploration you decide you have an identity as a lesbian. But you might also call yourself bisexual, heterosexual, or use another sexual identity that speaks more truly to who you are. That's for you to decide.

What's the difference between bi-curious and bisexual?

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) defines bisexuality as "someone who can be attracted to more than one gender." However, this LGBTQ+ advocacy group says that many adults also use the term bisexual in a broader way, to describe that they have the potential to be romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex or gender. The latter definition allows for more flexibility and fluidity.

What should I do if I think I'm bi-curious?

If you're bi-curious, you don't have to rush to figure it out. "The term bi-curious really is designed to help people identify a burgeoning or existing curiosity without really committing to any kind of identity around their sexuality. That's the distinction between being bi-curious and bisexual," Kate Balestrieri, PsyD, licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, PACT-couples therapist, and founder of the mental and sexual health practice Modern Intimacy, tells Health. "Bi-curious gives people permission to entertain their arousal and explore how it takes shape without making a commitment."

If you realize you're bi-curious, it can feel a little scary, acknowledges Balestrieri. "Your likes and arousal can change over time. People often feel like they have to come to some crystalized understanding of their sexuality and that's the pattern they have for the rest of their life," she says. But it's hardly uncommon for people to realize they're attracted to a different gender—and then decide if they want to pursue a sexual encounter or not.

When should I start exploring being bi-curious?

"You should only act if you have weighed the benefits and consequences and feel that you are ready to step into it," advises Stewart. "Really evaluating your actions and not going into something blindly is the best thing that you could do for yourself."

Those glimmers of attraction to more than one gender or people who are non-binary might represent something that will be more of a constant in your life, but you may or may not be ready to solidify your idea of your sexuality, explains Balestrieri. For more resources on navigating being bi-curious, Stewart recommends visiting bi.org.

A first step, however, might be to check out dating apps for people you might be interested in. If you feel shy or hesitant to point out your intention, it's okay to say that you're bi-curious, exploring, or just aren't sure yet. What's more, the pandemic is actually the perfect time to take things slow and get to know someone virtually, taking off the pressure to move forward before you're really ready. You might also know that you're ready now; there's no timeline.

It's also worth saying that you may be worried about other people's opinions if bi-curious exploration becomes part of your sexual identity. "You get to define who you are attracted to and love, and no one else's opinion needs to influence your sexuality. That's easier said than done, though," says Balestrieri. She suggests reaching out to others who are sex positive who will support you through this process of investigation. When you're ready, take the steps forward in a pace that feels right. "Spend the time thinking about what's emotionally, physically, and sexually safe for you," she says.

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