Savin-Williams is a professor emeritus of development psychology at Cornell University and the author most recently of Mostly Straight: Sexual Fluidity Among Men. We hear a lot about the Big Three Sexualities — straight, bisexual and gay. Most of us assume that these three orientations encompass the universe of sexual identities. But there is a new kid on the block: The mostly straight male.
To the uninitiated, mostly straight may seem paradoxical. How can a man be mostly heterosexual? If you’re a young man, you might assume that either you’re straight or you’re not, meaning you’re likely gay and maybe bisexual. Yet the evidence suggests that more young men identify or describe themselves as mostly straight than identify as either bisexual or gay combined.
A 2011–2013 U.S. government poll found that among 18- to 24-year-old men, 6% marked their sexual attractions as “mostly opposite sex.” That’s nearly 1 million young men. Yet when these men were forced to choose between straight, bisexual or gay, about three-quarters marked straight because for them bisexual, even if it is understood as “bisexual-leaning straight,” is too gay to accurately describe their identity. Given such constraints, these young men were left with no place to truthfully register their sexuality, thus forcing them to be less than honest. Talking to them, I found that in the most general sense, a mostly straight young man is sexually and/or romantically distinctive; we might say that he’s fluid or flexible, supposedly uncharacteristic of male sexuality. Traditionally, our understanding has been that if you’re male and have even a slight attraction to the same sex, then you must be gay. Even if this isn’t immediately apparent, we tell men, it will become so once you come to terms with your true self and exit your “phase” of bicuriosity or questioning. Women, by contrast, we give more space to be sexually fluid, as the sizeable literature on the subject attests.
The mostly straight man belongs to a growing trend of young men who are secure in their heterosexuality yet remain aware of their potential to experience far more. Perhaps he’s felt attracted to or fantasized about another guy to a slight degree or intermittently. He might or might not be comfortable with this seeming contradiction, a hetero guy who, despite his lust for women, rejects a straight label, a sexual category and a sexual description that feels foreign. He’d rather find another place on the sexual/romantic continuum, some location that fits him more.