When I was in uni, I had sex with another woman.
It was hungry, intense, clumsy sex – largely due to the fact neither of us really knew what we were doing. I immediately developed an intense crush on her, but it was made clear in the days that followed, the feeling was not mutual.
Years later, I dated a woman whose feelings deepened faster than mine, compelling me to abruptly ghost her; something I still regret.
I’ve had flings with and fantasised about other women since I was a teenager. Yet, I’ve never identified as gay, or even bisexual. And, perhaps because I’m a woman, my forays into same-sex intimacy have been largely shrugged off by friends as experimentation (and regarded as spank bank material by boyfriends). Consequently, I’ve never felt the need to justify or explain my sexuality to anyone.
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It occurred to me as I was sitting down to write this column, this is not a luxury I’ve afforded to men.
When the hipster bartender I was seeing in my twenties confessed he’d once had sex with another man, I interrogated him on what label he prescribed to.
“So you’re gay then? Bisexual?” I grilled.
Despite his insistence it had merely been a brief period of experimentation, I became obsessed with looking for signs he was in fact gay, and – unsurprisingly – promptly sabotaged the relationship.
Like most people, I spent most of my life believing two women getting it on was the stuff of wet dreams, while two men doing the same was a sure-fire indication of homosexuality.
But after spending almost a decade writing about human sexuality, I’m no longer convinced that theory holds water.
A 2018 study, published in The Archives Of Sexual Behaviour, suggests almost one in eight men who describe themselves as being straight have had at least one same-sex encounter.
And an informal poll I conducted on Instagram seems to reinforce this, with 25 per cent of male respondents admitting to either having had sex with, or fantasised about, having sex with another man.
“The number of online sexual exchanges I have had with other straight guys wanting to experiment is huge,” says Adam, a 51-year-old single guy who tells me he considers himself straight.
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“It started out as having a threesome with my girlfriend and another guy. That peaked my interest. Then when my girlfriend and I broke up, I decided to try playing with another guy solo. Both experiences were amazing.”
Another man, Ryan, tells me while he’s never physically been with another man, it’s at the forefront of his sexual fantasies.
“My wife and I had stopped having sex, so I was masturbating to porn a lot. I started coming across videos involving guys giving other guys massages, and then it kind of just went from there,” admits the 31-year-old, who’s been married to his wife for five years.
Ryan and Adam are part of a new breed of men who identify as heterosexual, but openly admit to deriving pleasure from fantasising about and participating in sex with other men.
It begs the question; women have been engaging in same-sex hook-ups for decades without our identity being called into question – could it be that men are just catching up?
In her controversial book, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, author and professor of women’s studies, Jane Ward asserts our ideas around male heterosexuality are fundamentally flawed.
“When straight-identified women have sex with women, the broader culture waits in anticipation for them to return to what is likely their natural, heterosexual state; when straight-identified men have sex with men, the culture waits in anticipation for them to admit that they are gay,” Ward explains.
Ward instead proposes male sexuality is equally as fluid as female sexuality.
“From saloons and tenement houses, to military barracks and fraternal clubs, and to truck stops and bathrooms, ‘normal’ (heterosexual) white men have long found ways to have hetero-masculine sex with one another,” she writes.
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Indeed, while sexual experimentation among men may not be a particularly modern concept, it’s certainly proving one our culture is increasingly comfortable getting behind.
According to a 2016 study, public acceptance of sexual activity between two people of the same gender has nearly quadrupled in the past three decades. Following suit, there are now more vehicles than ever for curious straight-identifying men to find hook ups with other men.
“I’ve met lots of straight married guys on a website called Fabguys, for blowjobs and sex,” says 40-year-old single guy, Nigel.
While the site identifies itself as being a hook-up site for “gay and bisexual men,” Nigel says it attracts its fair share of straight guys on the hunt for a same-sex experience.
“There’s lots of other hetero guys on there looking to have their first guy-on-guy experience. Some older – in their 50s and 60s. It was actually an older guy who I had my first hook-up with. He was a bit more experienced and so put me at ease.”
In the same category, new-age apps like Bro allow men to identify their sexual preference as “open-minded” and connect with other men up for no-strings-or-labels-attached hook-ups.
“Bro is about men finding a connection with each other beyond the stereotypes people may try to fit them into,” Bro’s founder Scott Kutler told Paper magazine in a 2016 interview.
It’s an attitude26-year-old Andy, who had sex with men during his teens, before going on to marry his female partner of nine years and identify as straight, is fully on board with.
“I’ve never felt shame about my experiences. I think there’s more people now in this day and age experimenting with the same sex,” he tells me.
“I actually think a lot of straight men have either tried it, or at least want to try it, but are too shy to go for it,” he adds.
It makes me wonder about my bartender boyfriend, and whether my attitude to his venture into same-sex hook-ups perhaps led him to feel the shame guys like Andy have managed to bypass.
“My wife’s fully aware of my past,” Andy answers, when I ask him if she knows about his history with men.
“She acknowledges it as experimentation and has never made me feel it had to mean anything about my sexual identity. It’s one of the many reasons I love her so much.”
I couldn’t personally think of a better way to put it. After all, love is love. Why put a label on it at all?
Nadia Bokody is a freelance writer and Instagram influencer. Continue the conversation on Instagram | @nadiabokody