The New Free Love

Boys? Girls? Both? CLEO in­ves­ti­gates the shift away from ‘com­ing out’ in favour of la­bel-free re­la­tion­ships.

CLEO (Malaysia) - - LOVE & SEX SPECIAL -

“Of course I still fancy girls,” said Olympic diver Tom Da­ley in his YouTube video, “Some­thing I Want To Say”. “But right now I’m dat­ing a guy and couldn’t be hap­pier.” Just weeks be­fore, Hol­ly­wood ac­tress Maria Bello shared de­tails of her re­la­tion­ship with a woman – while ref­er­enc­ing sev­eral past re­la­tion­ships with men.

While ‘com­ing out’ in Cele­bville is noth­ing new, th­ese ‘out­ings’ weren’t your gar­den va­ri­ety LGBT: Nei­ther Da­ley or Bello iden­ti­fied them­selves as gay, or even bi, for that mat­ter. In fact, they ap­peared to art­fully swerve the topic of la­belling their re­la­tion­ships al­to­gether. Un­sur­pris­ingly, their rev­e­la­tions have reignited pub­lic de­bate about the com­pli­ca­tions of mod­ern day sex­u­al­ity. Is it now sim­ply a mat­ter of ‘switch­ing teams’ and ig­nor­ing the la­bels?

Love La­bels

Sex­ol­o­gist and re­la­tion­ship ex­pert Dr Nikki Gold­stein says we need to con­sider the dis­in­te­gra­tion of so­cial taboos to an­swer this ques­tion. “Over the last 40 years, LGBT life­styles have be­come more in­ter­wo­ven into the nor­ma­tive fab­ric of so­ci­ety, so ‘com­ing out’ is now met with less ad­ver­sity and is well rep­re­sented,” she says. “This gen­er­a­tion can freely ex­plore their sex­ual de­sires and choose the la­bels that ap­ply to them. Twenty-some­things in same-sex re­la­tion­ships of­ten don’t see the value in as­crib­ing to la­bels like ‘gay’ or ‘bi­sex­ual ’ if they don’t feel like they ex­clu­sively fall into th­ese cat­e­gories. We’re slowly com­ing to re­alise sex­u­al­ity is fluid, we don’t just stay the same sex­ual be­ings through­out our lives.”

This idea of sex­ual flu­id­ity has also gained trac­tion in aca­demic cir­cles, with re­search from the Univer­sity of Utah in­di­cat­ing that fe­male sex­u­al­ity can be open-ended. This may ex­plain why fe­male ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is a hot topic in pop cul­ture and why women might be re­luc­tant to put a la­bel on it when it’s a case of ‘just wanna try you on’.

Gia Ravaz­zotti, sex­ual health coun­sel­lor from the Aus­tralasian In­sti­tute of Sex­ual Health Medicine, says it’s the tra­di­tional act of ‘com­ing out’ that can be a de­ter­ring fac­tor for some. “In our so­ci­ety there’s an ex­pec­ta­tion that if we say some­thing about who or what we are, this should never change, so there’s a lot of pres­sure that comes with hav­ing to pick a side.”

Bi­pho­bia

Just as we have a ten­dency to jump from job to job, per­haps this re­jec­tion of la­bels has some­thing to do with Gen Y’s love of mix­ing it up. Af­ter all, at­ti­tudes to sex­u­al­ity have al­ways re­flected the mood of the times. So has the no­tion of sex­ual pref­er­ence just been repack­aged for 2016?

Ravaz­zotti thinks so. “Choos­ing not to dis­close your sex­u­al­ity is a re­cent phe­nom­e­non, but en­gag­ing in sex­ual re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple of both gen­ders is bi­sex­u­al­ity,” she ex­plains. Bi­sex­ual com­mu­ni­ties like Bi­sex­u­alin­dex.org.uk re­flect this view, stat­ing, “You’re bi­sex­ual as soon as you stop be­ing ex­clu­sively at­tracted to only

one sex.” This shift away from la­bels, Ravaz­zotti ar­gues, is per­haps less to do with free love 2.0 and more re­lated to a stigma at­tached to the term ‘bi­sex­u­al­ity’ (“Fickle much?”).

Pres­i­dent of Bi-Al­liance Vic­to­ria, Re­becca Dominguez, agrees. “There’s an as­sump­tion that bi­sex­u­als are ‘un­trust­wor­thy’, ‘con­fused’ and ‘fickle’,” she says. This ‘bi­pho­bia’ doesn’t come ex­clu­sively from the straight com­mu­nity, but in many cases em­anates from gay cir­cles. “As a bi­sex­ual you’re not gay enough for the gay com­mu­nity and not straight enough for the het­ero­sex­u­als,” says Dominguez.

Even some celebri­ties dis­tance them­selves from this la­bel, only adding to the idea that bi­sex­u­al­ity is the pariah of sex­ual iden­ti­ties. Ac­tress Cyn­thia Nixon, who mar­ried a woman af­ter hav­ing chil­dren with a man, said, “I don’t pull out the ‘bi­sex­ual ’ word be­cause ev­ery­body likes to dump on the bi­sex­u­als.”

Sex Games

As out­wardly per­mit­ting as this la­bel­free love model seems at first glance, sex­ual pol­i­tics are still, well, political. But Ravaz­zotti ar­gues the pay­off for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is still worth it. “Iden­tity for­ma­tion con­tin­ues well into our twen­ties and thir­ties. There’s still risk of be­ing judged for our choices but feel­ing pres­sure to la­bel your sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences can thwart this im­por­tant process,” she says. Play­ing coy with your sex­u­al­ity may not be with­out its bag­gage, but for any­one who feels like they don’t fit neatly into one box, there’s no deny­ing that hav­ing the op­tion to tick an­other one is just a lit­tle tempt­ing.

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