(Photo above by Delia Giandeini via Unsplash)
Bisexuality is the most common single identity within the LGBTQ+ community, yet bisexual people are the least likely to come out to their friends and family. A Pew Research Center analysis of a 2017 Stanford University study shows 75 percent of gay and lesbian participants were “out” to most or all people in their life, while only 19 percent of bisexual participants were. Additionally, bisexual people have higher rates of depression, anxiety, domestic violence, sexual assault, and poverty than gay, lesbian, and straight people.
Are you surprised by these statistics? Did you not know that bisexuality was so common? Have you never heard about these issues bisexual people face? That might be because of bisexual erasure (but I’ll explain more about that below).
In part, these problems are due to pervasive, influential falsehoods and negative stereotypes that have historically been associated with bisexuality. Bisexual people face judgment and exclusion from straight and gay people alike, which can take a toll on mental health, as evident in their disproportionate rates of mental illness.
In an effort to shed light on this misunderstood identity, I will list some of the most common misconceptions and explain why they are untrue. Some of these myths bisexual people hear from loved ones, some are perpetuated by the media, and all of the ones listed below are present in this truly regressive clip from an episode of “Sex and the City.”
Myth #1: Bisexuality doesn’t exist
I feel like I shouldn’t even have to say this but, bisexuality is a real, valid identity. In the “Sex and the City” clip, Carrie says that she doesn’t “even think bisexuality exists.” This is not a unique opinion. In a 2013 University of Pittsburgh study, 15 percent of the adult population surveyed “outright disagreed that bisexuality was a real sexual orientation.”
If someone identifies as bisexual, you should believe them. But because the “gay, straight, or lying” rhetoric is so prevalent, there are scientific studies that show humans are capable of sexual attraction to both men and women. A 2011 Northwestern University study had male participants who identified as straight, gay, or bi watch erotic videos of males and females. Those who were straight were aroused by the female videos, and those who were gay were aroused by the male videos. Unsurprisingly, those who identified as bi were aroused by both.
So, yes. Bisexuality exists.
Myth #2: Bisexual people are really just gay/ just experimenting
An extension of the myth that bisexuality doesn’t exist, some people believe that bisexual behavior is a temporary phase someone experiences until they “realize” they are gay or straight. This myth usually assumes that bisexual women are just experimenting with other women until they settle down with the right man and that bisexual men are scared to be gay and use the bi label to hide until they’re ready to fully come out of the closet. (Funny how all sexuality is supposed to revolve around men, isn’t it?)
Here is where bi erasure comes in. Bi people aren’t straight people or gay people in disguise. They’re bi. When a bi person enters a relationship with a person of the opposite sex, they are still bi. For example, did you know that Lady Gaga is bisexual despite being portrayed as straight her whole career? And that even though media outlets have grouped Alan Cumming into the gay community since he married a man, he still identifies as bisexual? That’s bi erasure.
Further proof that bisexuality is not “a stop on the way to gaytown,” as Carrie Bradshaw puts it, is this 2008 longitudinal study published in the scientific journal Developmental Psychology. After 10 years, 92 percent of participants still identified as bisexual. Bisexuality is not just a phase.
Myth #3: Bisexual people are greedy and more likely to cheat
This time, it’s Miranda who says something inaccurate about bisexuality on “Sex and the City.” She calls bisexuals “greedy” because they’re “double dipping.” People often accuse bisexual people of being more promiscious. This participant, a bisexual woman, of a 2013 Pew Research Center survey said, “people assume that I will sleep with anyone I meet because I am attracted to both genders. This, of course, is not true.”
In the same 10-year study that helped debunk the previous myth, 89 percent of the bisexual women were in long-term monogomous relationships at the end of the study. Though there is little research on the subject, there is currently no evidence that bisexuals are more likely to be unfaithful than people of other sexualities. Most likely, if a bisexual person cheats, it’s because they’re a cheater, not because they’re bi.
Myth #4: Bisexuality is an attraction to only men and women
Sexuality is a very personal thing, and how a person defines their own bisexuality may differ from others’ definitions. At the most basic level, bisexuality is an attraction to multiple genders. This can be your own and the opposite gender, the opposite gender and non-binary genders, all genders, or any number of combinations. Some people like to define it as attraction to people regardless of gender.
Bisexuality is not inherently exclusive of trans and non-binary identities, though some definitions portray it this way. The Bisexual Manifesto, written collectively by members of the Bay Area Bisexual Network in 1990, says, “Do not assume that bisexuality is binary or duogamous in nature: that we have “two” sides or that we must be involved simultaneously with both genders to be fulfilled human beings. In fact, don’t assume that there are only two genders.”
Bisexuality does not mean just an attraction to men and women. Some people may experience their own sexuality that way, and that’s OK! Others may experience their bisexuality differently, and that’s OK too! The Bisexual Manifesto got it right: the moral of the story is don’t assume. Don’t assume that bisexuality means binary attraction, promiscuity, infidelity, or experimentation. Bisexuality is its own real, valid identity that deserves just as much recognition as any other.
What are you going to do now?
Accept bisexual people
Love bisexual people
Love AND accept bisexual people <3