On Bi Visibility Day, Zoe Russell discusses the inconsistent treatment of bisexuality within the culture of hook up sites and sex parties
When I first started using hook up sites, it was to explore and have fun in an accepting environment. In some ways, I’ve been able to do that. However, for places that can be so sexually liberating, hook up sites often present a very rigid and unhelpful view of bisexuality.
Superficially, they can seem welcoming. Many women on these sites are bisexual or bicurious and write openly about their eagerness to meet other women. While in many other spaces, bi identities are erased, ignored or elided, bi women have a clear presence on hook up sites, particularly when taken as a proportion of women (rather than all users). As somebody used to struggling to have their identity recognised, this is genuinely refreshing.
The trouble comes when considering how that expression of sexual identity is policed and portrayed. The sites certainly don’t feel like queer spaces and I have very rarely encountered lesbian women on them. The large majority of users are heterosexual cis men and the male gaze feels like floodlights. Whether or not you are explicitly looking to involve men, profiles are written and read with the knowledge that there is this imbalance. It is hard not to feel like your (bi)sexuality is performed. This doesn’t make it false, but it means that how it is expressed and interpreted is informed by an audience.
Women having sex with each other is basically for the spectators. When approached by couples made up of cis women and cis men, the suggested set up is almost always the same: we’ll ‘play’ for a bit, then the man will join in and the whole thing will conclude with PIV (penis in vagina) sex. I love PIVving, but the whole journey of this scene shows us how women fucking is the appetiser, the titillation, the foreplay, while the male orgasm is the goal.
This is exacerbated if you explore group environments such as parties or sex clubs, which are often promoted on these sites. These vary a lot, but many carry on this sense of bisexuality among women as a treat for the men present. Often, they are for man/woman couples and single women only. While I can understand that some parties might wish to have a cap on the number of single men attending to avoid being completely overwhelmed, I’m cynical enough to think that the attempt to skew it the other way is not merely for the benefit of women.
Many people have some exhibitionist tendencies, so perhaps it isn’t the worst thing in the world to have that facilitated in a consenting environment. However, I definitely don’t buy the idea that these places are solely there to enable our fantasies – not least because even our fantasies of exhibitionism might be varied enough that, for example, some of us might take pleasure out of being watched by women that we would not gain from a solely or mainly male audience or indeed, we might want to spend time alone with other women and not permit male voyeurs, therefore presumably spoiling the fun. Take Fever Parties, for example, who describe themselves as providing “upmarket swingers parties for slim and attractive young couples and single women under 40”. That in itself is enough to see how rigid and judgmental these parties can be (and indeed enough reason not to go to them). But this is underlined by their FAQs, which let us know that “we accept threesomes that include two women but not if they include two men”.
Wait, what the fuck? Why not? I don’t suppose it could be because two women together is just thigh-rubbingly hot to the male gaze, whereas seeing two other men with a woman is kind of a snub to the men not involved? And that’s even assuming that the two men are purely focusing on the woman. Male bisexuality is given an incredibly short shrift in this community. Fever explicitly says that men cannot have sexual contact, explaining, “The convention of including bisexual female activity but not bisexual male activity is practically universal in swinging clubs in every country of the world. It’s like that because that’s what swingers everywhere – of both sexes – want.”
To be fair to Fever, they are correct that this is a common approach in swinging clubs and at sex parties; I’m mainly picking them out because they are relatively well-known and are so explicit about it. However, they are totally incorrect that this is what everybody wants. This is just the product of a culture of masculinity that pressures men into being visibly, heterosexually macho and a society where two men being intimate can still be seen as “sickening”.
To be clear, while us bisexual women are put on our unicorn pedestals, bisexual men are frequently excluded. This goes even further than the above example; if you look at couple profiles on hook up sites, even when they are searching for single men they will often specify that they will not be involved with bisexual men. This is evidence of the stigma that bi men live with. Although couples will insist that it’s just some indefinable personal preference, presumably it partly stems from an expectation that any bi man will want to have sex with all other men, and the heterosexual men in these couples are so uncomfortable with that there is no question of taking things further. Of course, with bi women, there is also that expectation, but it’s not a problem for these couples because we’re fun for everyone.
It’s also interesting to look at how people will talk about men and women that they’re looking for. It is incredibly common to come across something like this:
We’re a couple and we will never meet anybody separately; we always meet together with no exceptions! [Woman in couple] is happy to meet women alone to start with.
On the one hand, it’s a relief to sometimes find couples who don’t insist on the man watching or being involved all the time (though it is very rarely the case that couples are happy with this on an ongoing basis). However, I don’t mean to state the obvious, but I am a person. I normally categorise myself within “anybody”.
There are several things happening here, but the one that concerns me is that there is a continued reluctance to grant bisexual women personhood in these exchanges. While it’s an interesting twist to the usual stereotype that bisexual people are threats to relationships, here it is impossible for bi women to be threatening because we are not considered as whole, human entities. We are fucktoys. We are fantasies. We are that soft focus, smooth-skinned, lips parted, head tilted back amuse-bouche. We add spice to your relationship. We’re sooooo naughty. But we’re nothing to worry about. How can you be jealous of an object?
All bisexual people will have a different way of experiencing and expressing their sexuality. The way in which I see bisexual women portrayed on hook up sites is presumably the honest expression for some. However, I can’t help wondering what would happen if I expressed my bisexuality on hook up sites, unfiltered and frank. If I talked about queer politics and spaces and how they tie into my fucking. How the way I want to fuck and be fucked by women goes beyond gentle caresses and bitten bottom lips. How if I want to fuck a woman, I will get literally zero joy out of the fact her male partner is sexually excited about it – I don’t mind, I just don’t care.
But I don’t express these things. Although I won’t pursue things that don’t align somehow with what I would find satisfying, I don’t feel confident enough to explicitly challenge the dominant tropes around bisexuality very much within my own profile. Which is why, although I am so liberated by my ability to have a much more fulfilling and exploratory sex life than I would have without hook up sites, I still find they can inhibit identity. Even in spaces where bisexuality is, in a way, celebrated for women, it can mean very little if that isn’t backed up by true empowerment.
[The image features a grid made up of computer or television monitors. On every monitor is the same feminine eye, wide-open and gazing, made-up with mascara and eye shadow. The monitors are shades of blue and purple. This image is by geralt, was found on Pixabay and is in the Public Domain.]