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W e 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? Yet the evidence suggests that more young men identify or describe themselves as mostly straight than identify as either bisexual or gay combined. A — U. Given such constraints, these young men were left with no place to truthfully register their sexuality, thus forcing them to be less than honest.

For my book, I spoke with 40 mostly straight young men, some over the course of several years. They were a very diverse group. In high school, they were hipsters, jocks, nerds, druggies, skaters, class clowns, burnouts and straight-laced achievers. Long hair, short hair, clean-shaven, bearded, tattooed, pierced, muscular, lanky, hyper and pudgy. 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. 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. But how much gayness? These attractions are sexual, romantic or both and can be expressed in various ways, from erotic fantasies to actual behavior.

He might have had an intense guy crush. But to fall passionately in love with a guy is too much, though he might have quite strong feelings and cuddle with a best friend. He feels his same-sex sexuality internally more than he lives it externally.

Perhaps if his culture were not so stigmatizing of same-sex sexuality he might be more inclined to express himself through tangible expressions of sex or romance — not frequently but occasionally. He is not a disgruntled straight man tired of sex with women, nor is he necessarily unhappy or frustrated with the availability of heterosexual sex.

He may retreat from a full identification with heterosexuality, but rarely does he gravitate toward bisexuality, and almost never does he move toward homosexuality of any sort. Thus, he is a closer cousin to straight guys than to traditional bisexual guys. A survey revealed striking contrasts across age groups. A majority of millennials endorsed the second option, which means they believe in a spectrum of sexuality. Adults from other generations preferred the first, which ifies a two-category approach — straight, not straight — to sexuality.

Identifying as mostly straight is now largely possible because the millennial generation is adding new complexity to sexual and romantic relationships. Contrasted with generations, young people today are more confident, connected, introspective, and open to change.

As adolescents and young adults, they are happier and more satisfied with their lives than generations. They express liberal, progressive attitudes toward religion and race relations, social policies and sexuality. How do these values and practices play out in the future? Well, if we are prepared to accept mostly straight as a fourth sexual identity, we gain an increasingly nuanced understanding of sexual orientation — and its close cousin, romantic orientation. Correction : The original version of this story misstated the title of the book from which it was adapted. at letters time. Daniel Grizelj—Getty Images.

By Ritch C. Harvard University Press. TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors. Related Stories. Hello, I Must Be Going. Already a print subscriber? Go here to link your subscription. Need help? Visit our Help Center. Go here to connect your wallet.

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Why ‘Mostly Straight’ Men Are a Distinct Sexual Identity