Here we address common questions which we, as researchers, are asked about bisexuality, drawing on the evidence and literature that exists so far. Please read through these answers before contacting us with any further queries.
These FAQs are adapted from the information which we wrote for Stonewall UK on bisexuality, which can be found here.
You can read more about all of these topics in our publications.
What is Bisexuality?
Bisexuality (or bi) is commonly defined as being attracted to both men and women. However, many members of bisexual communities tend to prefer the definition: ‘a changeable sexual and emotional attraction to people of any sex, where gender may not be a defining factor’: the emphasis here is on being attracted to more than one gender or being attracted to people regardless of gender.
What is the extent of bisexuality?
It is extremely difficult to estimate the extent of bisexuality because it depends very much on how we define the term. For example, we might see it as people who identify themselves as bisexual (in which case the estimate might be rather small), or we might define it as all people who have ever had an aesthetic, romantic or sexual attraction to more than one gender (in which case the estimate might be rather large). Back in the 1940s, Alfred Kinsey put forward his famous scale of sexual orientation, finding that many people did not fall simply at either end of the spectrum (heterosexual or homosexual).
In terms of the proportion of people who are actively involved in UK bisexual communities, over two hundred people participate in the annual BiCon event and that is just a small proportion of the bisexual-identified people who are involved in local and on-line communities. Fears of biphobia may prevent some people from being ‘out’ about their bisexuality.
What is Biphobia?
Bisexual people, like lesbian and gay people, frequently suffer from homophobia, and face the implications of living in a heteronormative world. However, it is a mistake to lump LGB people together as facing homophobia alone because bisexual people also face biphobia, which is a specific type of negative attitude and behaviour.
One common stereotype of bisexuality is that it is ‘a phase’ on the way to a ‘mature’ lesbian, gay or straight identity. Some recent research has even attempted to prove the non-existence of bisexuality, particularly male bisexuality (see below). Bisexual women are frequently regarded as ‘just being bi-curious’ and trying to titillate heterosexual men: another way of denying that bisexuality is ‘real’.
There is also a common stereotype that bisexuals are greedy and promiscuous. This can lead to a double bind for bisexuals where those who are in non-monogamous relationships are regarded as proving this stereotype (even if these are honest open relationships), whereas those who are single or in monogamous relationships are regarded as ‘really’ lesbian, gay or straight and risk invisibility.
What do people mean when they talk about bisexuals being invisible?
Bi invisibility is this kind of denial of the existence of bisexuality, or the failure to include bisexuality, for example when LGB and LGBTQ groups and organisations leave off the ‘B’ and just refer to ‘lesbians and gay men’, or when celebrities and fictional characters are portrayed as lesbian or gay even though they have sexual/romantic relationships with women and men.
What is double discrimination?
The author Robyn Ochs writes about ‘double discrimination’ bisexual people often face from members of both heterosexual and lesbian/gay communities. She says that bisexuals are frequently viewed by gay men and lesbians as possessing a degree of privilege not available to them, as well as being seen by many people as amoral, hedonistic spreaders of disease and disrupters of families.
What is the impact of bisexual invisibility and biphobia?
Many surveys have found that bisexual people suffer from higher rates of mental health problems than lesbians and gay men, who in turn have higher rates than the population as a whole. This is often linked to biphobia, bisexual invisibility, low levels of support and acceptance, and the ‘double discrimination’ bisexual people experience.
Do bisexual men exist?
People tend to ask this question because of a well-publicised study claiming to have found evidence against the existence of bisexual men. The New York Times in 2005 reported that men were either ‘straight, gay or lying‘ on the basis of this research. However, reading the research carefully suggests reasons to be cautious. In the study, 95 gay, straight and bisexual identified men were recruited from the readership of gay and alternative magazines. They viewed films depicting two men having sex, and two women having sex, and their sexual arousal was measured subjectively and with a penile gauge (which measures extent of erection). Almost a third of participants were excluded because they did not show enough arousal to the films. The researchers claimed that ‘men who reported bisexual feelings did not show any evidence of a distinctively bisexual pattern of genital arousal’: that they showed signs of erection in one film, or the other, but not both, despite subjectively reporting being aroused by both. They concluded that ‘ with respect to sexual arousal and attraction, it remains to be shown that male bisexuality exists’.
There were several problems with this study, well summarised by Loraine Hutchins. Not least are the problems with the mode of recruiting bisexual participants (from readership of gay magazines), the fact that nearly 30% of participants were excluded (many bisexual men may have been in this group), and the fact that arousal to a man-man film is taken as indicating gay sexuality and to a woman-woman film heterosexual sexuality (imagine if a woman was aroused by a man-man film, would we assume that she was heterosexual on this basis?).
Recently the same group of researchers have addressed some of these problems and conducted a further study which suggests that there is a male bisexual pattern of arousal. The New York Times also reported this research. Although many problems with the study remain, it can be stated that – even within this research paradigm, and under this definition of bisexuality – findings suggest that bisexual men do exist. The claim that they do not is an example of bisexual invisibility (see above).