Bisexuality

Bisexuality is a category of sexual orientation distinct from the homosexual and heterosexual orientations. People who identify as bisexual report experiencing romantic and sexual attraction to both men and women. There are many confusions and misconceptions surrounding bisexuality and oftentimes bisexual individuals are targets of social prejudices and political injustices. 

What is Bisexuality?

Bisexuality (from the affix “bi,” meaning both) is a sexual orientation in which a person is attracted to people of both male and female gender identity.1 Researchers are still struggling to understand dual attraction. Sometimes there is the general misconception that a person must be heterosexual or homosexual, but this is not the case. There is not always an exclusive attraction to one specific sex; often times people alternate between attraction towards males and females, and these feelings may change throughout a persons life. Bisexual patterns are fairly common, with approximately one quarter of all women and half of all men acting in non-homosexual and non-heterosexual behaviors.2

Bisexual people are capable of having emotional, sexual, and romantic relationships with men and women. It is often mistakenly assumed that bisexuals are not capable of being in monogamous relationships when in fact they are perfectly capable of the typical range of relationship types.Bisexuality is not related to gender identity; someone who is bisexual can identify as male, female, genderqueer, transgender, etc.

Bisexuality and the Kinsey Scale

Alfred Kinsey, the famous sexologist of the mid-twentieth century, understood sexuality as a scale ranging from heterosexual to homosexual.5 Today, many do not agree with this theory of sexuality, despite studies showing how widespread bisexuality is.2However, Kinsey’s theory remains unchallenged, and it can be helpful for understanding bisexuality. On Kinsey’s linear scale, zero represents completely heterosexual behavior; one represents predominantly heterosexual behavior, and only incidentally homosexual; this continues to six, completely homosexual.Bisexuals would be considered a three on the Kinsey Scale: equally heterosexual and homosexual. However, it is important to note that only someone who calls themselves bisexual, regardless of their attraction or sexual history with men and women, should be labeled as bisexual. Even if someone is 30% attracted to males and 70% attracted to females, that person may still identify as a bisexual, and this should be respected by those around them.

As mentioned above, the Kinsey Scale is not the only way to understand sexuality. One study by Weinberg et al states that bisexuality is experienced differently in men than in women when it comes to their respective sexual behaviors and romantic feelings. Their research showed that women find it easier to fall in love with other women while more men find it easier to have sex with other men than to feel intimate with them.  In general, bisexual men and women tend to have more traditional or mainstream views about gender, meaning sex with men is seen by society as more physical whereas sex with women may be considered more intimate.On the other hand,some see sexuality as multifaceted and as an orientation that should include many other identities, such as pansexuality and asexuality.

Bisexuality vs. Pansexuality 

The terms “bisexual” and “pansexual” are often confused with each other. Pansexuality (from the affix “pan,” meaning “all”) is the attraction to all kinds of people, regardless of their gender presentation.4 Bisexuality is the attraction to people of both the male and female genders. Although these two concepts seem very similar, it is important to use the correct term when referring to someone who identifies as either of the two terms, since that is a part of that person’s identity. For example, some people are non-gender binary, so an attraction to this identity would be labeled pansexual.

Bisexual vs. Bicurious

Someone who identifies as “bicurious” is someone who is interested in having a sexual experience with a person of the same sex. The use of this term can be considered problematic since it assumes that heterosexuality is the default sexuality. In any case, “bicurious” should not be confused with “bisexual,” since people who identify as bisexual know that they are attracted to both men and women. Sexual experiences within same-sex friendships are a good opportunity for people to take a step toward examining their sexual orientation further. In any sexual encounter, between friends or not, consent needs to be obtained on both sides. Experiences with friends or partners of the same sex can serve as an important role in defining ones sexual identity as bicurious, bisexual, homosexual, or heterosexual.Bicurious people are exploring their possibilities, and have yet to decide if they will identify themselves as “attracted to both genders.”

The B in LGBTQ+

Bisexual, alongside lesbiangaytrans*, pansexualasexual, and intersex, falls under the group of identities known as “queer.”4 In the past, the term “queer” was used as an insult toward someone who was assumed to have an identity other than heterosexual. Today, “queer” has been reclaimed by the LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer or Questioning, Intersexual, Asexual) community as an umbrella term for people who identify as LGBTQ+.

Because of misconceptions about bisexuality, some bisexual people have felt unwelcome within LGBTQ+ circles. Biphobia, similar to homophobia, is the prejudice that occurs when bisexual people are rejected or mistreated by the heterosexual or gay communities. This intolerance is an unfortunate reality that many bisexual people face.Bisexual identities may be erased even by those in the queer community, who argue that bisexuals need to just “choose a side,” or are going through a phase. This denial of bisexual identity is incredibly hurtful, and contributes to a hostile environment (for all LGBTQ+ people). Luckily, some LGBTQ+ communities are very accepting of bisexual people. It is important to recognize that bisexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation, and even more so, there should be no pressure to conform to a labeled sexuality.

Bisexual Relationships

A common myth is that bisexual people must always be sexually involved with both a man and a woman simultaneously. All people, from any sexual orientation, can have a wide variety of relationship styles, and bisexuals are no exception.  People who identify as bisexual may choose to be in monogamous relationships with only one sexual partner, or they may choose to have several, whether it be an open relationship, three-way relationship, or having a number of partners from one single gender or both genders. There is no particular “correct” relationship format. Similarly, bisexuals do not have sexual contact with every person they are attracted to, just like gay and heterosexual people do not act on every attraction either. People from any sexual orientation have the freedom to choose whatever form of romantic or sexual relationship that feels right for them.6

Misconceptions

There are a number of misconceptions regarding bisexual people that create a harmful atmosphere for them.7 Oftentimes, these misconceptions can be incredibly hurtful or upsetting to bisexual people, since it misrepresents an important part of their identity. The following are some of the misconceptions and corresponding facts about bisexual people.

1. Bisexuals are sluts, or cheaters.

Bisexual people are no more promiscuous than any other group of people. Not only that, but bisexual people are perfectly capable of being in a devoted monogamous relationship. Just because bisexuals are attracted to people of both genders does not mean that they act on their desires all of the time.

2. Bisexuals are attracted to all people, all the time.

Just because a bisexual person has the potential to be attracted to someone of either gender does not mean they will be. Bisexual people are attracted to certain people, but not others, just like everyone else.

3. Bisexual people just need to pick a side.

Bisexual people are not going to “pick a side.” They are not “half-gay, half-straight”, they are attracted to both genders. Their sexual orientation is its own identity, not a stepping stone to some other identity.

4. If a person is in a heterosexual relationship, they are straight; if they are in a homosexual relationship, they are gay.

It is important to never assume someone’s sexual orientation just by looking at their partner’s gender. A person’s current partner does not define their sexual orientation. It is extremely important to ask someone what their sexual orientation is (if you absolutely feel the need to refer to it) before you make assumptions.

5. A bisexual person is really just “experimenting.”

No, they are not experimenting. “Experimenting” implies that someone is exploring their sexuality. If someone identifies as bisexual, then they know that they are attracted to people of both genders.

6. Bisexuals, especially women,are “doing it for attention.”

Bisexual women are absolutely not “doing it for attention.” In fact, most women (lesbian or bisexual) find it demeaning for their relationships with women to be fetishized by men. Bisexual people, just like other people, want to have normal relationships, without the unwanted attention from men asking if they can watch.

7. All bisexual people love threesomes.

As stated above, bi people are just like other people. Some are monogamous, some are polyamorous, some like threesomes, and some do not. It is disrespectful to assume that because someone is bisexual, they would want to have a threesome.

Overall, bisexual people deserve to be treated just like everyone else. They come in all shapes and sizes, and their identities (like everyone else’s) should be regarded with respect.

Coming Out as Bisexual 

Coming out” is the colloquial term for personally accepting your identity in the LGBTQ+ community and revealing your sexual orientation to others. The process of coming out, although sometimes scary, is an important step and should be celebrated. Being open and proud of this aspect of you may take time, but it will hopefully lead to a more confident and fulfilling life. 

Members of the bisexual community face very similar struggles to other LGBTQ+ members when coming out to people in their lives that may not be fully educated and open-minded to be tolerant of sexual orientations that are foreign to them. This experience will be different for everyone, depending on the audience and history with them. Although the fear of rejection from friends and family members may be scary, there are many benefits to coming out, including a feeling of relief, the ability to date openly, and the benefits of having a support network that you can trust. At the end of the day, coming out is an individual decision and should be done when and if that person is ready.

Concluding Remarks

How Can You Support the Bisexual Community?

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or as a heterosexual cis-gender individual, you can be an ally to the bisexual community. Bisexuals face many of the same discriminations as other LGBTQ+’s as well as facing their own unique hardships. You can be bi-inclusive by accepting bisexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation, actively shutting down misconceptions and educating your community, and advocating for fair treatment and equal rights for all people.Make an effort to show bisexual people and other LGBTQ+ people in your life that they are being heard and respected.  

 

References

  1. "What Is Bisexuality?" Bisexual Resource Center. Bisexual Resource, n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2016
  2. Weinberg, Martin S., et al. Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality” Oxford University Press, 1995.
  3. "What Is Bisexuality?"The Bisexual Index. The Bisexual Index, n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
  4. "Kinsey Sexuality Rating Scale." The Kinsey Institute. Indiana University, 2016. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
  5. Elizabeth M. Morgan & Elisabeth Morgan Thompson. “Young Women’s Sexual Experiences within Same-Sex Friendships”Journal of Bisexuality, (2006). 6:3, 7-34.13 April 2019.
  6. “Bisexuality 101” LGBT Resource Center. University of Southern California, 2019. Web. 15 April 2019. 
  7. "Questions & Answers." Bisexual.org. American Institute of Bisexuality, 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.

Last updated: 15 April 2019.

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