My Sexual Orientation Is?

Am I the only person you have heard of that does not know what orientation he is?   I have never been aroused by either sex that most people talk about.   Nor have I gotten an erection by being aroused only by stimulation.  I am wondering if it even matters if I never have partner(s) to be with.   As an amateur artist and photographer, all I know for sure is that I can appreciate both the male and female body and that I am a bit of an exhibitionist.   I have joined bi and gay sites to try to figure it all out.  How does one discover their orientation?

You are definitely NOT the only person I have heard of, talked to, or known personally who isn’t sure what their sexual orientation is.  You might not believe me, but if you had an honest intimate conversation with ten people, a couple of them would tell you, more or less, the same thing.

If you only take away one thing from my response, I hope it’s this: the problem is not yours.  The problem is with the way we have come to talk about sexual desire and sexual orientation.


The Problem with Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation is a term that social scientists created in an attempt to try and categorize, classify, and understand human sexual behavior and experience.  It isn’t an actual thing, it’s just a theoretical concept.  And unfortunately while their intentions to understand were good, a term like sexual orientation actually obscures truths about sexual experience in order to make us more easily countable.

How so?

Well we tend to think of sexual orientation as being a label that tells you who you are sexually attracted to, who you desire.  But that’s not actually what sexual orientation refers to.  As it’s used in research, and commonly the news and entertainment media, sexual orientation tells you the sex or gender of the people you are sexually attracted to or desire.   Orientation is based on the (incorrect) idea that there are only two genders or sexes, and that we are either attracted to the same gender as ours, the “other” gender, or both.

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Essentially, sexual orientation reduces our attraction and desire to three options:  gay, straight, or bisexual.  More recently people have advocated for adding a fourth, asexual.

Of course it’s silly to think that all humans can be categorized meaningfully into one of three or four groups.  To do so may be useful for science, but it leaves us actual humans in quite a bind.

What about when we aren’t sure?  What happens when all the expected markers aren’t evident?


The Sex that Most People Talk About

I’m intrigued by the way you worded this in your question to me.  You say that you have never been aroused by either sex that most people talk about.  I’ve adding the italics. This makes me curious about whether you’ve been aroused by anyone ever.  If you haven’t then the orientation category that best fits you may well be asexual.  And if that’s the case you aren’t alone and there’s certainly nothing wrong with you.

But be aware that if there are people you feel desire for, as long as they are adults, there’s nothing wrong with that desire either, even if it doesn’t fit the expected norms based on who you are.  The sexual identity queer is one that is used by some people who feel like none of the other terms fit, and by people who are actively interested in challenging the normative pressures of heteronormativity and gender normativity.   You may want to explore some queer writings and queer culture and see if there’s anything there that fits for you (I can highly recommend starting with Vivek Shraya’s What I Love About Being Queer).

Appreciation vs Desire

You say that you appreciate male and female bodies, but I suppose the question on my mind is whether or not that feels to you like an intellectual appreciation only, or are there physical and emotional components.  Sexual desire, like sexual orientation, is a tricky concept to nail down.  But for me one of its hallmarks is that desire is felt in the body, not just experienced in the mind.

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I am also curious about your comment that you are an exhibitionist.  When I think of that term I usually associate it with desire, and more than anything else in your question, it was that statement that I think may be the most fruitful place to begin exploring the final question you ask.


How Do You Know Your Orientation?

With apologies to the scientists who believe that one day they’ll find the “gay gene” I bring news that there is no one way to know your sexual orientation.  Some people wonder if you have to have sex before knowing your orientation.  I don’t think so, but it’s possible that for some of us we won’t really know until we’ve allowed ourselves to explore some kinds of sexual intimacy (which doesn’t have to include having sex).

What I would say is that this is a question that only you can answer, and it’s a question whose answer, for many of us, changes more than once in our lifetimes.

Rather than focus on orientation and a label, I would suggest starting as broadly as possible.  Consider some of these questions:

  • What kinds of people interest you?  What is it about them that arouses your interest?
  • Are there any people (or things) that you respond to in a way that you think others would describe as sexually arousing?
  • How do you feel about your current life in terms of the amount of desire and interest you have for others and in terms of your intimate friendships and relationships?

If there are things you are missing, things that you wish you had in your life, then by all means it’s worth probing further.  But the fact that you don’t have a label for yourself alone needn’t be a cause for any concern.  In fact it may end up being a much healthier way to be.

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