Pynk like the Anthem of my Heart…Maybe?

Since first hearing Janelle Monae’s new song “Pynk,” I have been listening to it over and over and over again, equal parts mesmerized by the beautiful choreography and the billowing vulva pants in the music video.

Despite how much work I have done in celebrating and reclaiming my body and sexuality from trauma, purity culture, and sexism, this year I have been reminded that that reclamation isn’t a static process. I don’t reach a point of loving myself and suddenly no longer struggle with the old messages and wounds of the past.

Old scripts of shame can come creeping back in, often in new disguises so that I don’t immediately recognize them for what they are.

Over the past year, I watched as the March for Women, which had seemed like such a unifying experience last year, devolved into in-fighting, with women taking offense at pink pussy hats for various reasons.

What probably could have been a mindful conversation about the different ways that women experience body-shame within our culture instead became more about whether or not women should identify with pink (because not all vulvas are pink…and really no vulvas are the pink of the pussy hats) or with having a pussy (because not all women have pussies).

While both critiques have truth, I also couldn’t help but feel the ache in my soul of needing to have a way to talk about the experience of having a vagina.

The experience of having a vagina in a world that glosses over vaginal pleasure and orgasm.

The experience of having a vagina in a world where someone decided that my vagina belonged to them and not me and abused and violated the boundaries of my body when I was a child.

The experience of having a vagina that sometimes I don’t even want to own because along with all the wonderful things my vagina is, there’s also the reality that it houses and stores memories, sensations, and emotions that terrify and paralyze me. It is a source of nightmares as well as ecstasy.

The experience of having a vagina in a world where a President can brag about grabbing a vagina without repercussions but someone who has a vagina can get banned from a discussion involving vaginas because she alluded to that body part.

Yes, we need to leave room for talking about the experience of being a woman without a vagina or being a woman with a vulva that doesn’t conform to societal standards, just as we need to leave room for talking about the experience of being a woman in many other contexts as well (size, shape, age, race, reproductive choices/options, and career).

But as I watched the conflict from the sidelines, I felt the tug back to a point I never wanted to return to and though I had left far behind–a point of feeling like it was wrong to talk about my vagina and about how having my vagina influences my world. There was a shame and silencing to the conflict that felt anything other than feminist to me.

Enter Janelle Monae, who is somehow able to create this beautiful anthem that both acknowledges women who have vaginas and those who don’t and celebrates the fact that pink is part of everyone’s bodies, be it their eyelid, tongue, vulva or heart. I love this song because it honors diversity while also reconnecting me with the beauty and power of my pussy and chasing away that shame script that had been trying to infiltrate yet again.

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Celebrate Love…Self-Love That Is!

So…it’s Valentine’s Day weekend.

Seems like a good time to talk about love.

But don’t worry. I’m not going to rehash all of the tired tropes about obligatory, commercialistic love that tends to dominate this time of year.

Instead, I want to turn my attention to a topic that is at the foundation of every relationship but rarely gets talked about: self-love.

Also, don’t worry. While I could spend a good deal of time talking about ways to love ourselves by liking ourselves better, I’m actually here to talk about loving ourselves by…doing ourselves better.

Yup! This week, Valentine’s Day, I’m going to write about masturbation and how fucking awesome it is!

I’m taking a class on sex and sexuality right now, and we’ve been going over some really important shit about couples and relationships. I’m sure I’ll use the information, treatments, and resources that I’m collecting…but I noticed that something was missing from the discussion that seems far more foundational to sexuality than the dozens of different ways to treat erectile dysfunction.

Take a moment and think about the way that you think about masturbation.

Is it something you were taught was shameful and dirty?

Is it something you see as “sub-par” to other forms of sex? The thing you turn to for a quick release when you can’t get laid?

Is it something you “get over” and do quickly?

Most likely, it’s not something that you celebrate or think of as super special.

And I was right there with you several years ago. Never would I have chosen to have an evening with myself and my vibrator over a partner. At least, not until I read Sheri Winston’s fantastic books on sexuality.

The way that Sheri approached sexuality was transformative for me. She wasn’t the first to introduce me to the idea of using masturbation to explore what I liked and to learn about my body…but she was the first that I’ve encountered who portrayed sexuality as primarily about my relationship to myself. And she was the first to open my eyes to the potential of self-pleasure to be a sacred, powerful experience.

So, in protest to both the cultural hype around what Valentine’s Day should be and the cultural bullshit about sex being something primarily shared between people, I am going to list my reasons for why we should all rub one out for ourselves this weekend.

  1. Health benefits: Orgasm is freaking good for you, for your heart, your stress levels, your sleep, your mental health. While partnered sex might have some things to offer that masturbation doesn’t, one of the consistent things with both (if the partnered sex is done well) is that you still get the health benefits.
  2. Self-focus: Some might say that masturbation is actually wrong because it focuses solely on the self and its pleasure; however, for me, that’s a big reason why it’s so fucking right! Partnered sex can be amazing. It can be so rewarding to give pleasure to someone else that you care about. It can be really rewarding to have a sense of mutuality in bed. But sometimes you just need to be a recipient and not a giver. During those times when life just seems to be over-extending your resources, masturbation is one way that you can give give give to yourself, taking as much time as you want or need to linger over the pleasure, come as many times as you want, and never have to worry about whether anyone else involved is bored, tired, etc. because there is no one else involved.
  3. Creativity: One of the most interesting things I learned from Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina was that sexuality can heavily influence creativity. If that’s not a reason to rub one out frequently, then I don’t know what is.
  4. Better Partnered Sex: If you don’t know yourself, it’s going to be hard to communicate what makes you really tick with a partner. Masturbation is like doing dance drills in between ballet class. Sure, you can still make it through class if you don’t practice at home, but you’ll be far better if you do.
  5. Spirituality: If you’ve never masturbated while meditating, you seriously need to try it! Like, right now! There’s nothing quite like having a spiritual experience while you’re having an orgasm. And, as with numbers 1 and 3, spiritual experiences can also happen with partnered sex, it’s a different kind of spiritual experience. It’s the kind that is shared and connected to things outside of you. Orgasmic meditation and spiritual masturbation are the intense spiritual experiences that take you deeper into yourself where you can connect with and meet parts of yourself normally inaccessible. Sheri Winston even talks about using the energy of orgasm for healing purposes.
  6. Independence: This is one of the most important reasons, in my mind, especially given the context of when this post is being written. Single people often feel like absolute shit on Valentine’s Day. And so far with my sexuality class, no one has mentioned the possibility of a single person coming into therapy to grow their sense of sexuality. And it’s bullshit! You don’t need a partner to be sexual or sexy. The same goes for married people who may feel like their sexuality is defined and/or controlled by their partner/s. Just as a person’s sense of self shouldn’t reside in whether they do or don’t have a relationship, their sense of sexuality shouldn’t reside in whether they do or don’t have partnered sex.

So whether you are celebrating Valentine’s Day with a significant other or trying to celebrate being single, give yourself a little attention this weekend…and actually make it momentous. Light some candles and incense. Put on your sex music. Say your own name. Let yourself be the best you’ve ever had.

 

A Sex-Positive Play List

I’m super excited about my classes beginning this semester. I get to take two electives in which I’m extremely interested, one of which is a class on sexuality. In preparation for a full semester of reading about and discussing all things sex, I’ve developed a sex-positive, badass playlist that is as representative as I can find.

I’ve gotten requests to pass on the playlist from a number of friends, so I’m posting it here.

I’m also really interested in continuing to expand it, so if you notice that there is a song you know about that I don’t have, feel free to make a suggestion in the comments. I’m currently strapped for songs by male artists that are sex-positive and respectful.

Enjoy the following playlist! (I’m having a hard time getting the new WordPress format to cooperate with YouTube videos, so I’m linking also to the song through the title).

  1. Love Myself by Hailee Seinfeld
    Everyone needs to celebrate masturbation! Can you scream your own name?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMpFmHSgC4Q
  2. Touch of my Hand by Britney Spears
    Another good masturbation anthem.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SnQcYcG41U
  3. Sexercize by Kylie Minogue
    Work it!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3VjJKKVNew
  4. Shut Up and Drive by Rihanna
    Because someone needed to make the obvious innuendo
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up7pvPqNkuU
  5. Made to Love by John Legend
    An all-around beautiful song with a beautiful music video celebrating beautiful sex in diverse forms
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRpjsFcb2uo
  6. Worth It by Fifth Harmony ft. Kid Ink
    What could be better than women celebrating their sexuality by saying exactly what they want?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBHQbu5rbdQ
  7. Let’s Talk About Sex by Salt n’ Pepa
    Isn’t it time we destigmatized the topic?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydrtF45-y-g
  8. S & M by Rihanna
    A little celebration of some kink needs to be represented, of course.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdS6HFQ_LUc
  9. Candyman by Christina Aguilera
    Just and all around fun song
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ScjucUV8v0
  10. LoveGame by Lady Gaga
    Of course Lady Gaga needs to be on here!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mB0tP1I-14
  11. Three by Britney Spears
    Not everyone is monogamous. Britney gets that.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTs6oQx1WJY
  12. Blow by Beyonce
    Possibly one of the sexiest songs on the list, and obviously an anthem to oral.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIELYkfoKy8
  13. Lick It by God-Des and She
    As much a celebration of women loving women as it is a tutorial on how to do a woman…Unfortunately, I can’t find a non-censored version of this song, but if you buy the actual version it’s explicit. 🙂
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Why2n9XtlNw
  14. Lady Marmalade by Patti LaBelle
    Although sex work requires a much more nuanced conversation, I included a sex-positive prostitution song because I think it needs to be represented. I would never presume that all sex workers feel positive about their work, especially given the deplorable way our nation treats them and the rampant sexism and violence of patriarchy; however, I also would never presume that all sex workers hate their jobs because that’s just not true. So, my disclaimer is that I recognize this song is a limited perspective, romanticized view of prostitution that may have limited applicability.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4LWIP7SAjY
  15. None of Your Business by Salt n’ Pepa
    For all the haters
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Q96-e042bk
  16. Sugar in my Bowl by Nina Simone
    I had to end with a throwback to the dirty blues!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCTP5zjQTWE

A Sex-Positive Reading List

I’ve been on a quest to reclaim my sexuality over the last several years, which has been a beautiful and wonderful journey. That journey has required a lot of education and re-education, both about the physical basics of “doing the deed” and about the attitudes I was taught to hold towards sex and my body. There have been a number of books that have been particularly influential in that quest, which I list below. I highly recommend them to anyone else on a similar quest to positive and celebratory sexuality.

The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy

This is, hands-down, the absolute best relationship and sex book I’ve ever read. While the majority of relationship advice in other books is formulaic (do this and you’ll be a strong couple and have great sex; don’t do that or you’ll end up divorced, alone, and very sad), this book recognizes that everyone is different and has different needs, desires, and goals in relationships. Despite being a “guide to polyamory”…or maybe because of being a guide to polyamory…The Ethical Slut offers great tips on boundaries, honesty, working through and owning your own emotions, working through differences with your partner/s, exploring your sexuality, and so much more. Whether you’re single, monogamous, polyamorous, or just plain promiscuous, this is a great book to read to gain a fantastically positive attitude towards sex. Show that judgmental, puritanical voice in your head the way out with a book that celebrates all consensual relationship styles and sexual desires.

Vagina by Naomi Wolf

A little heterosexist, but overall a really great way to start to get to know the female body and introduce yourself to the ways in which others, past and present, have found to honor and love female sexuality. It touches on anatomy and history enough to give you some really interesting information without making you feel like you’re reading a textbook. This is the book that introduced me to the possibility that the physical trauma of my sexual abuse could be treated, and it is thanks to this book (as well as gynecologist who was up on the latest developments) that I was able to seek physical therapy to treat my injured pelvic floor.

What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety by Jaclyn Friedman

This is a really great book that touches on a lot of the stuff that I loved so much in The Ethical Slut but in a way that is less overtly trying to reclaim the idea of “slut.” Each chapter has exercises and journaling prompts to explore your sexuality as well as references to great resources. It has one of the most in-depth guides to talking about sexual safety and sexually transmitted diseases that I’ve come across, which is great if, like me, you were basically led to believe your body would mimic pregnancy if you masturbated and that you could get an sti by holding someone’s hand.

What I love most about this book is that she doesn’t just expect readers to know how to have the conversations necessary with their partners. She infuses the book with excellent information but also incorporates advice on how to have those conversation with partner/s and suggestions of how you can practice them in advance. So, instead of just telling you to tell your partner what you want to do with him/her or if you want to stop at any point, she actually guides you through ways of communicating your needs and desires…which is also really important if, like me, you were basically taught that you didn’t have a right to have your own desires and that sex was something you endured because God expected you to fulfill your wifely duties. Friedman is also wonderfully inclusive of all genders and sexualities.

Women’s Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston

If The Ethical Slut is the best relationship and sex book I’ve ever read, this is the best body and sex book I’ve ever read. Written with incredible beauty and wit (and illustrated with some of the best erotic art in history), this anatomy book is hardly the stuff you’d find in a textbook…yet surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) it covers far more information on the structure and function of a woman’s arousal and reproductive system than I’ve seen anywhere else. This book goes into depth on what Naomi Wolf only touched on and explains in mesmerizing detail how arousal works. Throughout the book, exercises are given to help you learn about and explore your own body and arousal network. Although this book is more about solo learning and play, tips are given for partners to learn how to navigate this amazingly complex system as well.

Succulent Sexcraft by Sheri Winston

I just started reading Sheri’s second book. Although I haven’t finished it yet, I feel pretty confident in recommending it to those on their own sexual journey. The same beauty and wit are present in the writing, but rather than being solely focused on women and women’s anatomy, this book is for anyone, partnered or solo, who is interested in expanding their sexuality in a more positive way. I can’t say yet what will stand out the most to me about this book, but so far it accompanies all of the others beautifully and is inspiring me with yet more reasons to love and honor my sexuality.

Reclaiming Negative Emotions: Lust and the Prohibition Effect

Lust.

It’s one of the seven deadly sins.

Depending on which religion or denomination you ask, lust is anything from mere sexual desire (i.e. all sexuality) to “wrongfully directed sexual desire” (Christianity Today’s “Understanding Lust” by Jim Vander Spek)

There’s no denying it gets a bad rap.

At first in my own journey, I separated “lust” (the wrong version of passion and attraction) from sexuality (a healthy version of attraction and love). It worked at a time when I was trying to reclaim my right to experience sexual pleasure. Being able to say that lust was what someone experienced when they objectified and dehumanized another person or longed to have sex with someone who wasn’t “theirs” to have sex with helped me to separate it from my own feelings of desire and find ways to embrace them, love myself, and love my partner.

I stopped actively thinking about it years ago, and my journey towards sex-positivity hasn’t really missed the equivocation of definitions. I didn’t consciously reclaim lust as a “negative emotion.” But I did consciously reclaim sexuality, and now I think it’s time to wed the two.

Here’s my definition of lust: sexual desire. That’s it.

Wherever you find a demonization of lust, you are guaranteed to find a group of people trying to dictate and control the sexual desires of another. It’s okay in “this” context, but not in “that” context. It’s okay with “this” person, but not with “that” person. It’s sacred and holy in “this” way, but it’s an abomination in “that” way.

But what happens when you stop placing value judgments on internal feelings and desires? What happens when you just let them be?

For one thing, they lose the stigma of shame.

As with most “negative emotions,” lust gets ingrained in our minds as a destructive thing to experience because the only time it is brought to the forefront of our minds is when we see its destructive expression. Just as anger is associated with violence, lust is associated with sexual impropriety, sexual violation, and sexual obsession.

Mostly because we’ve been conditioned to label it “lust” only if it’s problematic.

But sexual desire does not come with the mandate to cheat on your partner, sexually assault a person, or lose all sense of balance. Many of us experience sexual desire frequently as humans without those elements being present.

But society, especially religion, would have us believe that if we just accepted lust as a benign feeling, that all hell would break loose. We need the “this” but not “that” controls in place to prevent all manner of harm and evil.

But do we?

My partner and I were chatting the other night about what we’ve termed the “prohibition effect”—the phenomenon where something relatively benign becomes destructive as a result of prohibition, thus creating a false sense of the need for that prohibition.

For example, how many times have we heard a similar story to the following? A gay man is taught that he is sinful in his attractions to other men and is promised that if he gets married to a woman he will be cured of his sin. He doesn’t come out. He gets married to an unsuspecting wife. He struggles with trying to suppress his natural attraction, but eventually gives in to a one-night, anonymous encounter in a dark room.

He returns to his wife, distraught by the destructive power of his desire. He “repents” and tries to once again suppress his desire. A few months later it happens again.

At some point, his wife and church find out about him being gay, maybe because he contracts a sexually transmitted disease, maybe because he’s caught in the act of cheating, maybe because he just can’t handle lying about who he is anymore.

His marriage is destroyed. His and her health are both at risk. He is despised in his community. And everyone points to the “sin” of homosexuality being at the root of all of this destruction.

But his attraction isn’t the root!

Had he been given accurate information about his orientation when he was younger, had his attraction not been portrayed as deviant or abominable, had he not been talked into marrying someone he couldn’t love, had he been taught how to have safe sex, and had he not been driven into desperation and secrecy, he might never have lived out that vicious cycle.

He could have easily gone on to have a normal, happy, healthy life with relationships that were honest and with partners with whom he could be open.

It wasn’t the fact that he was gay that created the problem. It was the prohibition of his natural, normal, innocent desires.

That is the power of the prohibition effect, and its fingerprints are all over our sexual ethics. Those who wish to control the sexual behavior of others conveniently attach the label of “lust” to anything sexually prohibited. Then when people step outside the lines of prohibition, everything from eternal damnation to name-calling (slut) is rained down on them in an attempt to shame or scare them back into the confines of approved sexual expression.

But there are those of us out there who are tired of being shamed and punished for something that is arbitrarily decided to be bad. There is a movement of sluts, feminists, and queer activists who are redefining sexual ethics to be not about what others think of what you do in the bedroom or with whom you do it but about what is right and good for you and your partner/s on an individual basis, even if it’s taboo for another.

We free ourselves from the negative connotation surrounding lust. And we return to a far more basic version of good vs. bad sexual ethics. It’s easy to remember. It leaves room for everyone to be themselves.

It’s called consent.

In the world of The Ethical Slut, the only right or wrong about sexual desire is whether each person is consenting to the actions that follow.

 

 

Belly Dancing for that Special Someone

I’m spending Valentine’s Day just me and a bottle of wine…and of course the Internet. I feel like I should feel like a loser for that, with all the societal pressure to make this day about romance…or obligation and outlandish gifts, but I actually don’t feel like a loser.

Instead, I’m finding that it’s a great time to unwind from all the head stuff that has been clogging my time lately and get back into my body—which is a part of me, despite what the rest of the world might say (I’m looking at you, patriarchy and modesty culture and feminism.)

What does a girl do on Valentine’s Day to reconnect with her body?

Belly dancing!

That’s right. I’m standing in my room—coin skirt jingling—shimmying, undulating, and bumping to traditional and non-traditional tunes.

It’s pretty damn sexy (with some awkward mixed in to add charm), but it’s not something I started learning to spice up my sex life. Although I might give my partner a show a little bit later, I’m not doing it so I can tantalize him.

I’m doing it for me…because I enjoy feeling sexy, strong, and embodied, even when I’m spending Valentine’s Day alone.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to take pleasure in my body. I’ve been so swamped with cerebral things like grad school applications, research, and general everyday stress that fitting in time to enjoy the unique abilities and movements of my body has been the last thing on my mind.

And I’m not exactly in the place where I naturally look at myself and thing, “Damn, you and I should have a sexy night in, baby!” With recovering from an injury, my physical activities have been limited. Only recently have I been given the go-ahead from doctors to start a more strenuous work-out routine (omg, I forgot how much fun it is to run!). I’m happy to be active again, but I’m far from feeling like I want to throw on a sequined bra and short skirt and hit the streets.

That’s what is so wonderful about belly dancing! While the rest of the world is trying to convince women that dancing is for others’ pleasure and that looking good is key, belly dancing is there to tell women that dancing is about a sacred moment with yourself. It’s about giving yourself love, acceptance, and sensuality for sensuality’s sake.

What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than by reaffirming that I am an embodied, sensual being who isn’t just here for the relationship and pleasure of another?

Be sure to check out the amazing video I found of a belly dance interpreting the Tarot card “Justice!” I’m lost in the beauty of it right now. 

5 Reasons I Love Being Bisexual

It’s been a rough week, and I don’t have the energy to delve into anything heavy. I wanted to find something to make me smile, so I decided to try to “count my blessings” in a way. Below is a list of reasons why I’m happy to be bisexual. I’m not saying these are universal for all bisexual people or that they are exclusive to bisexual people. These are just some of the ways that I feel my bisexuality enriches my own personal life.

1. Beauty

Although I’m not sexually attracted to everyone who crosses my path, I think every person has a unique beauty which I can see and appreciate even when I don’t like them “in that way.”  A genuine smile is gorgeous to me; a great personality can turn anyone into the most mesmerizing person. I like to think that since I’m not distracted or concerned so much with the outward expression of a person’s gender, I’m able to see their soul.

2. Body Image

Being attracted to multiple gender expressions means that I don’t have to rely on the feedback of others to figure out whether I think I’m attractive. All I have to do is look in the mirror and let my own heart decide…and I think I would probably date myself if I met me at a bar.

I don’t like everything about myself. Some days I don’t like anything about myself. But when I can take my own body image out of the male gaze and the self-hatred it perpetuates, I find that I’m able to acknowledge qualities I would find attractive in another person.

Being able to judge my body based on my own internal preferences rather than the ever-changing, impossible “ideal” of society is incredibly empowering. It highlights just how ridiculous the expectations I put on myself can be. If I wouldn’t want another girl I was dating to go through that, why would I do it to myself?

3. Spirituality.

In many ways, I see my bisexuality as just another expression of my zodiac sign—that living duality, walking-in-both-worlds Gemini.

But in other ways, I also feel I owe my spirituality to my bisexuality. Perhaps one of the reasons why I never saw spirituality and agnosticism as mutually exclusive is because I am already accustomed to the way that socially constructed dichotomies don’t prove true for me.

Even before I was able to name my sexual orientation, I subconsciously knew that I didn’t fit into the monosexist paradigm that one is attracted either to men or to women. When I began questioning my religion and felt that pressure of “either you remain Christian or you become atheist,” I knew that didn’t fit either.

It’s probably impossible to determine whether my bisexuality influenced my soul or whether my soul influenced my bisexuality, but I do know that my bisexuality enhances my spiritual life because it reminds me that I don’t like to color within the lines of convention or social constructs.

4. Entertainment

Two words: character crushes.

I absolutely love being bisexual when I’m watching a movie or reading a book. I can’t lose on the loveable character front. I can fall as much in love with Rose as with the Doctor, with Legolas as with Arwen…and don’t even get me started on Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swan!

5. Flexibility

When you’re bisexual and you have double jointed arms, at some point you have to make the joke:  “I can go both ways.”

This point is more about humor than about actual flexibility, obviously. I don’t think it’s possible to be bisexual without developing some sort of sense of humor. Otherwise the mix of homophobia and biphobia and the erasure of your orientation by the Queer and straight communities alike would just drive you absolutely insane.

Or at least they would me.

Bisexuality has taught me how to laugh—about little things, like a pun about my inordinate physical flexibility or the awkward silence that follows me blurting out “Catherine Zeta Jones!” in a discussion about celebrity crushes, as well as about big things like …I don’t need to name the big things though. If you’re bi, you know what they’re like. Why ruin the fun we’re having by naming them?

I know! I know! This doesn’t do anything to end biphobia, but sometimes I think it’s good for people to take a break from the activism. The cause will still be there tomorrow. There will still be plenty of prejudice and discrimination to call out, lament, and fight about tomorrow. 

But today, let’s just celebrate being who we are. I’ve given you five reasons why I’m happy to be bisexual. What are your reasons?