What is bisexuality?
Bisexuality can be a confusing topic because people define it in many different ways.
What is bisexuality? The answer varies, depending upon who is asking the question. Is bisexuality defined by identity, behavior, attractions – or some combination of these? Where does bisexuality begin and end? Human sexuality is sometimes seen as a continuum, with same-sex attractions on one end and other-sex attractions on the other. Bisexuality, then, must fall somewhere in the middle. But where? Does bisexuality refer only to the middle point, or 50/50 attraction? Or does bisexuality encompass all the space between the extremes? How much bisexual attraction and/or behavior does it take to make a person bisexual?
Is the concept meaningful across cultures, and does it always have the same meaning? Some cultures may not use the word bisexual, and even in those that do, many people may be unfamiliar with or misunderstand it. Does bisexuality encompass people whose attractions change over time? If you are once bisexual are you always bisexual? If you are in a long-term relationship, do you stop being bisexual and “become” gay or straight? And for each of these questions, who gets to decide?
When talking about bisexuality, it is sometimes useful to distinguish between behavior and identity. Someone who has had sexual experience with or even just attractions to people of more than one sex can be described as bisexual, but may not identify that way. Likewise, one can identify as bisexual regardless of sexual experience. Furthermore, identities can change over time. Definitions can change too.
All women are bisexual, but bi men don’t exist, right?
While these kinds of comments certainly reflect a stereotypical, heterosexual male point of view, they do a poor job of describing reality. Some women are bisexual and some men are bisexual. According to a 2011 study conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA, approximately 2.2% of women identify as bisexual (compared to 1.1% who identify as lesbian) and approximately 1.4% of men identify as bisexual (compared to 2.2% who identify as gay). Scientific studies have verified bisexual arousal patterns in both men and women.
Are all bi people polyamorous?
Bisexuality and polyamory are two separate identities. One does not cause the other. Bisexuality is the ability to be attracted to more than one biological sex. Polyamory means that a person is able to maintain a romantic relationship with more than one person at the same time. There are many straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who are polyamorous, just as there are many who are not.
Are bi people equally attracted to both men and women?
Some are, many are not. It all depends on the individual. Some bi people are more romantically attracted to men and more physically attracted to women. Some bisexuals are attracted to people who conform to mainstream gender norms; some are attracted specifically to people who defy those norms. For some bis, gender is an important part of attraction. For other bi people, it is totally irrelevant if a person is male, female, intersex, or something else. Many bis have very fixed patterns of attraction, while for others, the balance between heterosexual and homosexual attraction is fluid and changes over the years.
What unifies all these people and makes them all bi is the fact they have the capacity for romantic and/or sexual attraction to more than one sex or gender.
Are bisexual people more promiscuous than other people?
No. Just because you have the capacity for attraction to more than one gender does not mean that your sexual appetite is ravenous. Bisexual people are a diverse group with many different preferred relationship models. Some of us are monogamous. Some of us are polyamorous. Some of us are even celibate. Bi people aren’t all the same. What we have in common is romantic and/or sexual attraction to more than one gender. As with heterosexuality and homosexuality, bisexuality refers to our orientation. It does not imply anything about our preferred relationship models.
Are bisexuals all swingers?
Absolutely not. Bisexuality is a deep-rooted manner of interacting with other humans and a sexual identity. Swinging is a kind of sexual activity and a lifestyle choice. Indeed, swingers usually refer to swinging as “The Lifestyle.” Some bisexuals are swingers, but most are not.
Can you tell a person is bisexual just by looking at them?
No, you can’t. Bisexuals come in all shapes, all colors, and all sizes. Many bis fit traditional norms and read as “straight,” while many set off people’s “gaydar” across the room. If we fit people’s expectations of a straight person, most people assume – incorrectly – that we are straight. If we fit people’s expectations of gay/lesbian, most people assume – incorrectly – that we are homosexual. On top of that, people usually label us according to our current partners which, unless we happen to be poly and walking down the street with a man and a woman at the same time, also leads others to label us incorrectly. The bisexual equality movement has long had to fight for bi visibility. Although bis are the largest group under the LGBT umbrella, it is still common for people to question whether we even exist. It’s not that the doubters are bad people, most honestly just don’t realize that they already know bi people. Even many bisexuals don’t realize how many other bis they already know! All this would be a harmless intellectual exercise, except that lack of visibility and mislabeling has negative consequences for our community such as leaving us cut out of LGBT-oriented outreach, and leaving bi people feeling isolated and alone. For this reason, the bi activists designated September 23rd as Bi Visibility Day in 1999. Since then, the commemorations around September 23rd have grown bigger and bigger and spread across the globe.
Do bi people all like threesomes?
Because bi people have the ability to enjoy sex with more than one gender, the general public sometimes gets carried away with fantasies about our sex lives. The reality is a bit more mundane. Some bi people like threesomes, some bi people don’t – just like everyone else.
Do bi people get “gay” married?
Actually, the preferred term is same-sex marriage because it is inclusive. A bi person’s sexuality does not change depending upon a partner’s gender. If a bi person marries a partner of the same sex, he or she still is bisexual. “Gay marriage” is therefore not an inclusive term and is slowly falling out of favor in LGBT-friendly circles.
Do bisexual people really exist?
Of course we do! According to a comprehensive study by the William’s Institute at UCLA, of the 3.5% percent of the population that identified as LGBT in the survey countries, more than half were bisexual. That’s right, there are at least as many bisexual people as there are gays and lesbians combined – and that’s not even counting the nearly 75% of people who are bisexual by behavior but who choose to identify as straight, gay, or lesbian. Bisexuality has been measured and demonstrated in scientific studies, both in men and in women.
Does identifying as bisexual reinforce a false gender binary?
No, it doesn’t. This idea has its roots in the anti-science, anti-Enlightenment philosophy that has ironically found a home within many Queer Studies departments at universities across the Anglophone world. It is startling that people educated about the politics and dynamics of sexuality would go on to direct criticism for reinforcing a “false gender binary” at bi people. While it is true that our society’s language and terminology do not necessarily reflect the full spectrum of human gender diversity, that is hardly the fault of people who choose to identify as bi. As a scientific term to describe sexuality, the word bisexual came into use during the late 19th century as a means of classifying people with both homosexual and heterosexual patterns of sexual attraction or sexual activity. The latin prefix bi- does indeed indicate two or both, however the “both” indicated in the word bisexual are merely homosexual (lit. same sex) and heterosexual (lit. different sex). Let’s be clear, the scientific classification bisexual only addresses the physical, biological sex of the people involved, not the gender-presentation.
Bisexuality is an orientation for which sex and gender are not a boundary to attraction. Heterosexuality and homosexuality, on the other hand, are defined by the boundary of two sexes/genders. Given those fundamental facts, any criticism of bisexuality as reinforcing a gender binary is profoundly misplaced. Over time, our society’s concept of human sex and gender may well change. For bisexuals, people for whom sex/gender is already not a boundary, any such change would have little effect. Why then, would bisexuality be even remotely to blame for reinforcing a “false gender binary?”
Doesn’t the term “gay and lesbian” include bi people as well?
No, it does not. Gay and lesbian identities are based upon attraction to only one gender, which is something they have in common with heterosexuals. Bisexual identity is based upon attraction to more than one gender. That is quite different. One of the bisexual community’s greatest challenges is lack of visibility. When people erase bisexuals by leaving them out of the words they use, it is disrespectful and dismissive. When ostensibly LGBT organizations leave out bisexuals in their names or their programming, they often do so thinking that bis are a small fringe group. Ironically, when they do that, they explicitly fail to meet the needs of the largest single group under the LGBT umbrella, as the number of people who identify as bisexual is as large or greater than the total number of gays and lesbians. The total number of people who behave bisexually but identify as straight, gay, or lesbian is larger still.
Don’t bi people just want to “have their cake and eat it too?”
That question sounds a lot like envy! Besides when you have cake and don’t eat it, all it does is get stale and moldy. Do you want to get stale and moldy? Bi people, like everyone else, are healthiest when we can be open, honest, and live with integrity. Our reality happens to include the fact that our attractions aren’t limited to just males or just females. We didn’t choose our sexual orientation any more than straight or gay/lesbian people did – being ourselves isn’t a form of overindulgence as the expression implies.
How do I know if I am bisexual?
A bisexual person has the capacity for romantic and/or sexual attraction to more than one gender. If you honestly feel you meet that criteria, it is likely you are bisexual. As a bi person, you do not have to feel the same kind or intensity of attraction to all genders. There is nothing for you to prove, nothing to consummate, no requirement to “maintain” your bisexuality. Understanding and acknowledging your own sexuality is a personal process and is about living with integrity and being true to yourself.
If I’m married and monogamous, why does it matter that I’m bisexual?
Relationship status does not change a person’s sexuality. While it may be more obvious to others that someone is bi if he or she is actively dating men and women, that is most certainly not a requirement of bisexuality. Bisexuality, like all sexuality, is about much more than what one does with one’s genitals. Sexuality is an identity and a way of interacting with the world, not a sexual practice.
Bisexuality manifests itself on many levels in an individual, most of which are not affected by marital status or monogamy. While it is can be difficult to quantify something like identity, there is value in trying. The Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, for example, seeks to address the broadness of a person’s sexuality by breaking it down into: Sexual Attraction, Sexual Behavior, Sexual Fantasies, Emotional Preference, Social Preference, Lifestyle Preference, and Self Identification. While a monogamous marriage would strictly limit a person’s current sexual behavior, it would not affect a person’s attractions, fantasies, emotional preferences, social preferences, lifestyle preference, nor would it have to change a person’s self identification. In this example, out of 7 measures of sexuality, only 1 would necessarily be affected by monogamous marriage.
Is bisexuality a choice?
Was your sexuality a choice? Obviously not. It is no different for bi people.
Is bisexuality all about having sex?
Of course not. Everyone’s sexuality is about far more than genital stimulation. Emotional fulfillment, bonding, mutual support, companionship, friendship, and LOVE are all key elements of sexuality.
Is bisexuality complicated?
Bisexuality is no more and no less complicated than any other sexuality. And yet, many monosexualpeople (straight, gay, and lesbian) find bisexuality confusing. The root cause of this is that straight, gay, and lesbian sexuality divides humanity into two categories – two biological sexes, one of which is potentially attractive to the person, and one of which is not. It is a binary view of the world in which sexuality itself is neatly and tidily divided into a “we” and an “other,” into “us” and “them.” For example, a straight man can feel safe and secure that he is heterosexual because his attractions to women set him safely apart from gay men. Similarly, a lesbian can derive clarity around her own sexuality and identity based upon her relationships with other women.
Bisexual people come into this dominant, binary view of the world and blow it apart. Whereas straight and gay/lesbian sexuality is defined by a boundary between two sexes, bisexuality transcends any such boundary. Because bisexuality is not based upon an immutable dividing line between two sexes and is therefore defying the very foundation of heterosexuality and homosexuality, it is sometimes incomprehensible to people who are not bi. That doesn’t make bisexuality complicated. It just makes bisexuality different.
Is coming out different for bi people?
Coming out is different for bi people than it is for gay people in several ways. Most importantly, the coming out process never really ends for bisexual people. Typically, bi people must come out to each and every person they date. If a bi person gets serious with someone from the straight community, they must come out to that person. If a bi person gets serious with someone from the gay or lesbian community, they must come out to that person too. Of course, this process can be simplified by coming out before the first date. Still, that is a level of disclosure that is not expected of straight, gay or lesbian people (whose orientation is just assumed by virtue of the gender of their date). Unfortunately, biphobic reactions are far too common and almost every bisexual person has horror stories to share about dating or courting a straight, gay, or lesbian person for whom bisexuality was a deal-breaker. That additional risk of romantic rejection, rejection because of one’s sexual orientation, is not a hurdle faced by straight and gay people. Hopefully, as bisexuality is better understood and becomes more accepted, that will change for the better.
Is everyone bisexual?
In short, no. Roughly 2.2% of women and 1.4% of men self-identify as bisexual. The number of people whosebehavior is bisexual, but who choose to label themselves as straight, gay, or lesbian, is certainly much higher – about 3 to 4 times that – but still represents less than 10% of the population. Recent studies have shown that admission of bisexual attraction patterns is growing (largely due to increased acceptance), especially among millennials. Depending upon the study and the country, as many as 2/3 of young people polled admitted to having at least a little attraction to people of more than one sex.
It’s not uncommon to hear people say things like “everyone is bisexual, deep down.” While usually well-intended, it’s not a particularly helpful comment. First of all, it’s simply not true. Some people are bisexual, and some are not. Secondly, while sounding like a validation, these kinds of statements can actually contribute to bi erasure. Bi people are a significant proportion of the population, and it’s difficult to know just how large, but we aren’t 100% of the population. To pretend that we are would be to render the term meaningless and thus to erase the term altogether. Whatever percentage of the population is bi, it’s not 100%.
Isn’t bisexuality just a stop on the way to identifying as gay or lesbian?
Absolutely not! That narrative may be common to the personal experience of many gays and lesbians, but that hardly changes the nature of bisexuality itself. The fact is, many bisexuals identify for a while as gay or lesbianbefore they settle on a bisexual identity. It would be just as valid to say that gay and lesbian are temporary identities on the way to a permanent bisexual identity. Obviously, neither statement is accurate or fair.
To be bisexual, does a person have to be with a man and a woman at the same time?
In a word – no. To be bisexual, you only have to have the capacity to be attracted to both men and women. Relationship status or even lifelong celibacy do not change the sexuality of a straight, gay, or lesbian person. A bisexual person’s sexuality is just as resilient as anyone else’s.
What is the difference between bisexual and terms like pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual, ambisexual, and fluid?
Bisexuality describes anyone whose attractions are not limited to one sex. The term comes to us from the world of science and describes a person with both homosexual (lit. same sex) and heterosexual (lit. different sex) attractions. It is an open and inclusive word that describes a diverse group of people with a wide variety of experiences around same-sex and different-sex attractions. As a scientific term, bisexual is not just an identity label; it is also a sexual orientation that can describe a set of behaviors.
Identity labels like pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual, and ambisexual also describe a person with homosexual and heterosexual attractions, and therefore people who have chosen those labels are also bisexual. By replacing the prefix bi – (two, both) with pan- (all), poly- (many), omni- (all), ambi- (both, and implying ambiguity in this case), people who adopt these self-identities seek to clearly express the fact that gender does not factor into their own sexuality, or that they are specifically attracted to trans, genderqueer, and other people who may or may not fit into the mainstream gender categories of male and female. This does not mean, however, that people who identify as bisexual are fixated on traditional notions of gender.
The term fluid expresses the fact that the balance of a person’s homosexual and heterosexual attractions exists in a state of flux and changes over time. Usually, but not always, people who describe their sexuality as fluid are bi people whose attractions skew very heavily towards one gender. The terms Heteroflexible and homoflexibleadd a further level of specificity, by indicating whether the bisexual person’s attractions skew almost exclusively towards same-sex or different-sex individuals.
Why can’t you bis just make up your mind and pick one [gender]?
To ask a bi person to pick one gender is to ask them to pick a sexuality that is not their own. It is like asking a straight, gay, or lesbian person to only be attracted to people born on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday – to do so is entirely arbitrary and demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of what it means to be bisexual.
Why do bisexuals need to come out in the first place? Can’t they keep their sex lives to themselves?
Coming out is not about flaunting your sex life or airing private matters. Coming out is about putting an end to the lies and is about being honest with those around you. Hiding your sexuality requires an ever-growing web of careful pronoun changes, deliberate omissions, and strategic misrepresentations. Not only does it get exhausting, all that dishonesty creates barriers between you and other people. All that deception is bad for your self-esteem and for your soul.
Coming out is about living with integrity, and connecting openly and honestly with others as your true self.