Shades of Desire

by | April 21, 2023 | General

Image by Aurélien Dumont from Pixabay

Over the past half decade or so, society has officially acknowledged that neither gender nor sexual attraction is black and white. Male and female might be convenient boxes for sorting people, but many – possibly even most – people don’t fit comfortably in one or the other. Way back in the nineteen forties, Alfred Kinsey recognized a continuum in individuals’ sexual response, ranging from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, but in recent years we’ve come to understand that even this insight is an over-simplification. Sexuality can be viewed along multiple dimensions. Orientation, attraction and action do not necessarily align. Gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, queer, non-binary, asexual, demisexual – the previously convenient LGBT acronym keeps acquiring new initials!

People do like labels. I’d argue, however, that no set of categories is sufficient to capture the many shades and nuances of desire. Sexual arousal and sexual satisfaction are based upon, but go way beyond, physical and biological factors. Personality, history, circumstances and especially emotion all contribute to determine what an individual experiences as erotic.

Some people might claim “I’m attracted to women” or “I’m aroused by men”, implying a sort of universality, but in many cases a more accurate statement would be “I’m attracted to that woman” or “that man”. Why? Appearance, behavior, voice, smile, scent, pheromones, conversation, values… any or all of these might be responsible for sexual desire. Furthermore, attraction to a specific individual can easily violate one’s conventional or acknowledged gender preference. For instance, a man who previously had only female partners might find himself drawn to a particular male.

I think we’re gradually become more accustomed to this notion, and the bookshelves reflect this. While stories featuring gay and lesbian relationships have enjoyed large followings for more than a decade, unexpected, non-traditional pairings (or multi-way connections) are now more common in erotica and erotic romance. One under-represented variation, though, is bisexual men. Aside from my own work (more below), I can’t think of any tale I’ve read recently that featured a hero who’s attracted to both men and women.

MM erotic romance frequently exploits the straight-to-gay trope, where a guy discovers or finally acknowledges his secret homosexual desires, but in most cases this results in the guy “switching teams” rather than embracing bisexuality. Indeed, I’ve found that fans of MM romance react really negatively if a predominantly gay character shows any interest in women. (I had a book rejected by a gay romance website once because of a half-page phone sex scene between a gay character and his female submissive.)

I don’t know how common bisexual men are in the real world. None of my male friends has ever admitted to having bisexual interests. I have a feeling that bisexual men may be even more closeted than gay men. Despite our supposedly broadening view of sex and gender identity, there’s a lingering association between male homosexuality and impaired masculinity. Men who are attracted to both genders may worry that their female partners may view them as less desirable or “manly” because they have sex with other men. They may even view themselves in that negative light.

The rarity of this erotic preference in literature may to some extent reflect this belief.

I’m not sure how, but somehow I managed to avoid being influenced by this and many other societal strictures about sex. I’ve been attracted to both genders since I was a teen; I’ve never really questioned whether this indicated there was something wrong with me. The multidimensional, fluid nature of desire seems obvious and intuitive to me. I’m more than ready to accept that eroticism is far more complex that the animal instinct some would like to claim it is.

When I began writing erotica, I felt it was natural to incorporate the full spectrum of desire including male bisexuality, even when this was beyond my personal experience. My very first novel, Raw Silk, includes a MMFF scene involving my heroine Kate, her exuberantly sexual Thai lover Somtow, a female domestic, and a male performer from a red light district bar. In my second novel, Incognito, the deceptively conventional hero Mark disguises the heroine as a young man and takes her to a gay men’s club in London, where she participates in his steamy encounter with one of the club’s members. Personally, I find this one of the most arousing chapters in the book.

At the time I wrote these novels, I knew nothing about market preferences or prejudices. I was using fiction to explore my personal fantasies. As my writing has matured, I’ve moved away from blatant sexual fantasy (at least in some cases!), aiming for more realistic characters and situations. Nevertheless, male bisexuality remains a favorite theme. In my recent holiday story Once Upon a Blizzard, a woman in her early forties reconnects with a flame from high school, only to discover that he shares his New England farmhouse with his male lover. In Monsoon Fever, a historical romance set in post-WWI Assam, Priscilla’s and Jonathan’s troubled marriage is healed by their mutual desire for a charismatic Indian lawyer. One of my most controversial stories may be Vows, Book 3 in my Asian Adventures series, about a mischievous but insightful wife who encourages her husband’s attraction to a beautiful Buddhist monk. That story (like much of my work, especially the stories of power exchange) turns on a recognition of the spiritual aspects of sex.

But that’s a topic for another blog post!

My bisexual tales often include a female protagonist as well as the two men. One common feature is that the woman is not threatened by the MM connection, but on the contrary finds it arousing. Though I’ve never had the good fortune to observe a couple of men having sex, I’m sure that I, at least, would react this way.

If you’re curious about my bisexual stories, I urge you to check out the links at the end, each of which will take you to a book blurb, excerpt and buy links for the corresponding title. Meanwhile, I’ve only mentioned a few of my books that feature bisexual men. For a full listing, go to and select the “LGBTQ” from the search list.

One of the people on my readers’ email list contacted me recently to tell me how much he appreciated my take on male bisexuality. He’s bisexual himself, married to a woman who sounds both tolerant and experimental. We’ve become regular correspondents. Early on, he mentioned that he really identified with my characters, including their frequent combination of excitement and anxiety. They’re drawn to other men, but afraid to act on that attraction. When they surrender to their desire, though, they have a deep conviction of rightness. That, he said, was exactly how he felt.

I’m thrilled to hear that, at least in one reader’s view, I got it right.

Raw Silk
Once Upon a Blizzard
Monsoon Fever

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


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