words by Gabrielle Smith (she/her)
When you grow up young, queer, and unfulfilled with your sexuality, it’s easy to romanticize the future of what could be. I did. After getting a taste of city living in my first ten years of life, my family relocated to a small town in a conservative area and as I grew older, I was always left wanting more — more access, more creative energy, and, oh, yeah, more queer love.
Although most of my friends were fellow bisexuals, our queerness always seemed to be distracted by cis men. Despite the fact that we lived in a blue state, the area was staunchly conservative. With that came the inability to escape typical gender roles. Dating another woman as a woman seemed impossible, especially when I exhausted all potential queer options after only an hour of swiping on Tinder.
So, we dated men. Men who, on occasion, would let us bring other women into the bedroom. Or we would join couples visiting our resort town, looking to indulge their heavily hetero threesome fantasy. Other times, we’d drive to Philly and get a taste of the queer culture we so desperately needed, but only for the night.
In terms of exploration, I was the latest bloomer among my friends. Although I’d gone on dates with girls, I never slept with another woman until I was twenty-four. Going that long without exploring the alternative side of my sexuality led me to pine for the opportunity and build grandiose expectations of what it would be like when I finally slept with a woman.
Unfortunately, it also caused me to doubt the validity of my sexuality. Internalized biphobia does that to you. After all, the questions folks ask you begin to ring in your head over and over again: how do you know you’re really bisexual if you’ve never slept with a girl? How do you know you won’t be grossed out by another woman’s vulva? How do you know?
Sometimes, I really didn’t know, although my search history suggested otherwise.
The obsession with concrete experiences that “prove” your sexuality permeates the culture of all sexualities. Straight people want to know why and how you’re queer, in this genuinely confused yet voyeuristic way. Queer people want to figure out if you really belong in their crowd, or if you’re just dipping your toes in the water before you go back to being “normal.” I can see how these are valid concerns, but it’s no one’s place to question another person’s sexuality.
The first time I had sex with another woman, it was a threesome. My boyfriend and I had just decided to explore polyamory, and it was my first sexual tryst outside of that relationship. I had met the couple on a dating app, and had mostly corresponded with her boyfriend prior to meeting, trusting that he’d convey my lack of experience. He didn’t, and she found out in the middle of our second round of drinks.
Going that long without exploring the alternative side of my sexuality led me to pine for the opportunity & build grandiose expectations of what it would be like when I finally slept with a woman.
What followed was a bit of a confusing mess. We ran around a casino trying to find the right vibe before heading back to their hotel room to take a bath. The three of us barely fit into a tub, but it was a soft, serene moment. I was the first to get out. After I dried off, I put on a robe and laid on the bed. I was in that middle ground of drunk-but-not, and suddenly we were all having sex and I wasn’t sure what to do.
Trying to balance the precarious nature of sex with an established couple is strange, and especially when it’s your first time having sex with a woman. I was stuck in this space of trying to pay equal attention to both of them, while also trying to figure out how to interact with someone else’s vagina — one that looked so much different than mine. By the time we had finished, it was four in the morning. My partner and I had a “no-sleepovers” rule with few exceptions, so I immediately got dressed and went home.
The experience left me with more questions than answers. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. I was more confused than ever. All this time I thought I liked women. I thought my first time sleeping with another woman would be amazing, sensual, and endearing. It’d be full of giggles and softness. Instead, I was confused and overwhelmed, without really understanding why.
The next time I slept with a woman, it was in another group scenario. Again, I left confused. While this time I felt physically satisfied, it wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t perfect.
In fact, it wasn’t until I actually dated another girl that I felt validated. I’d moved back to New York by then, and my life split open with possibility. Suddenly, I wasn’t confined by conservative small town values. I wasn’t restricted to being another couple’s third. I no longer had to drive an hour and some change in order to find folks of my likeness.
We held hands in the Botanical Gardens. She tried to fight men who hit on me. She didn’t drink alcohol, so we got creative when it came to our outdoor endeavors: we’d go to comedy shows, or thrift shopping, or eat at incredible restaurants for dinner.
I finally felt that familiar excitement I’d only previously experienced with a man. That heartsigh. That yearning. That feeling so overwhelming that it welled in my throat, threatening tears.
We weren’t in love — we never did fall in love — but I knew that this care, these emotions that were moving me…they certainly weren’t platonic. When we had sex, it was still awkward. But there was compassion there. There was that softness I’d dreamt about, that laughter I’d hoped for, and, what I had never realized was missing: a feeling of safety.
Despite the fact that I’ve had more than my fair share of bad sex with men, I had never doubted my attraction to them. The fact that it took me twenty-three years and experiences with three different women to feel secure in my bisexuality isn’t a mistake. A heteronormative society thrives off of that kind of confusion. It validates those creeping insecurities if everything isn’t “perfect.” Because why else would we be going against the grain? Without a queer role model, who was supposed to tell me that sex can be weird with women too, that just because we have the same body parts, doesn’t mean we’ll get along?
I was romanticizing sex with women because, for so long, a relationship with a woman seemed like an escape from all the negativity I associated with dating men: the ghosting, the gaslighting, the endless caretaking expected of me. Dating a woman seemed like a fantasy, something that was so out of reach, I may never experience it.
It was only once I actually experienced dating and sleeping with women, did I finally understand that dating is difficult, no matter the gender of my partner. I run into the same issues: lack of communication, fear of commitment, terrible texting patterns...people just go about their problems differently, and it’s equally frustrating. But that’s just because we’re human.
Meet the Author
Gabrielle Smith (she/her) is a Brooklyn-based sex and relationship writer. She specializes in looking at ethical non-monogamy, LGBTQ+ topics, mental health, and sex-positivity from an intersectional standpoint. Her work has appeared in publications like SELF, Cosmopolitan, Greatist, Insider, Men's Health, Teen Vogue, and various others. She provides resources about ethical non-monogamy on her Instagram @bygabriellesmith.