This post was co-authored by Perrin Robinson, M.S.
Do you know – or only think you know – the sexual orientations of the people you care about?
People’s dating and sexual behaviors may not always reflect their self-ascribed sexual orientation (Silva, 2017; Wu, Marks, Young, & Beasley, 2019). Some people know from a young age that they are attracted to people of more than one gender but may adhere to heterosexual norms in their dating behaviors, at least at first. Individuals who identify as a sexual minority may wait years to come out to loved ones.
Coming Out as Bisexual
Bisexual people are less likely than gay men or lesbian women to be fully out to important people in their lives (Pew Research Center, 2013). One reason is the social stigma of bisexuality known as biphobia. Biphobia is “prejudice, fear, or hatred directed toward bisexual people” and includes jokes, side comments, or gossip that spread myths about bisexual people that invalidate bisexuality (Human Rights Campaign Foundation, n.d.a).
Bisexual people are often told “it’s a phase,” “you just want to experiment,” or “you haven’t decided yet” (Wandrey, Mosack, & Moore, 2015). These biphobic statements can adversely affect bisexual individuals.
What Is Bisexuality?
Bisexual activist Robyn Ochs (2015) defines bisexuality as “the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.” Bisexuality shares a conceptual similarity with pansexuality, the orientation in which one can experience attraction to a person regardless of gender.
How people understand orientation labels has developed in recent years as research on gender has expanded to include gender non-binary, agender, and other gender non-conforming people. In other words, many individuals no longer define bisexuality as “attraction to both men and women.” Some individuals find that the bisexual label fits their experiences, while others connect more with pansexual, and some avoid these labels all together (Wandrey et al., 2015). Despite variations in labels, many people who do not identify as heterosexual, lesbian, or gay share similar experiences.
Why Do Some People Avoid Dating Bisexual People?
Biphobic misconceptions and stereotypes, such as “bisexual people are more likely to cheat,” “bisexual people are selfish,” and “bisexual people are confused” exist in queer and straight/cisgender communities alike (Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 2019). Additionally, many people assume that bisexual people in a different-sex relationship are straight, and that bisexual people in a same-sex relationship are gay or lesbian. These assumptions remove the identities of bisexual individuals, a process known as bisexual erasure (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, 2016).
The pressures of these misconceptions are not without consequence. The minority stress that bisexual people experience is associated with higher rates of depression and suicidality (Human Rights Campaign Foundation, n.d.b). Emerging research suggests that strong social connections (i.e., less loneliness) may counter the negative impacts of these stressors (Mereish, Katz-Wise, & Woulfe, 2017). However, the same stigmas that cause the distress can also keep bisexual people from potential romantic relationships that could mitigate loneliness. While straight and gay men do not show the same bias with dating profiles, straight women find bisexual men to be less attractive and less masculine than straight men, and are less likely to date or have sex with bisexual men (Gleason, Vencill, & Sprankle, 2019).
Reducing Stigma & Helping Out
While media representation has increased in recent years, positive bisexual representation lags behind gay and lesbian representation (Johnson, 2016). TV shows such as Orange is the New Black, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine all feature bisexual lead characters. On Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Rosa Diaz (played by bisexual actress Stephanie Beatriz) came out as bisexual in season 5 and has since dated both men and women on the show (Benz, 2017). Perhaps more shows and movies will follow in these footsteps, and create more, accurate representations of bisexual people that could help decrease the stigmas and misconceptions.
Despite the stereotypes, relationships with or between bisexual, gay, or lesbian individuals are likely more similar to heterosexual relationships than most people think. Evidence has, for example, identified that relationship quality is predicted by the same factors, regardless of sexual orientation (Kurdek, 2005). Further, bisexual, lesbian, and gay people are no different in the extent to which they’re attracted to consensual non-monogamy (Moors, Rubin, Matsick, Ziegler, & Conley, 2014).
Yet, many of us, consciously or subconsciously, hold on to misconceptions that hurt bisexual people and prompt many to hide their identity or attractions. In addition to hurting others, we may even be cutting ourselves off from a satisfying relationship. Ask yourself: “Do I have any misconceptions about dating a bisexual person?” “How can I fix these misconceptions?” Challenging stereotypes about bisexual people reduces the minority stress that they experience, and allows you to open yourself to more romantic possibilities.
Benz, P. (Director). (2017, December 5). 99 [Television series episode]. In Brooklyn 99. Los Angeles, CA: Fox Broadcasting Company.
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (2016). The B in LGBT: Bisexual Identity, Erasure, and Invisibility [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.glsen.org/article/b-lgbt-bisexual-identity-erasure-and-invisibility-0
Gleason, N., Vencill, J. A., & Sprankle, E. (2019). Swipe left on the bi guys: Examining attitudes toward dating and being sexual with bisexual individuals. Journal of Bisexuality, 18, 516-534.
Kurdek, L. A. (2005). What do we know about gay and lesbian couples?. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 251-254.
Mereish, E. H., Katz-Wise, S. L., Woulfe, J. (2017). Bisexual-specific minority stressors, psychological distress, and suicidality in bisexual individuals: The mediating role of loneliness. Prevention Science, 18, 716-725.
Moors, A. C., Rubin, J. D., Matsick, J. L., Ziegler, A., & Conley, T. D. (2014). It’s not just a gay male things: Sexual minority women and men are equally attracted to consensual non-monogamy. [Special Issue on Polyamory]. Journal für Psychologie, 22, 38-51.
Ochs, R. (2015, October 11). The definition of bisexuality (according to bi organizations, activities, and the community) – Tumblr mobile edition [Blog post].
Pew Research Center (2013). A survey of LGBT Americans
Silva, T. (2017). Constructing normative masculinity among rural straight men that have sex with men. Gender & Society, 31, 51-73.
Wandrey, R. L., Mosack. K. E., Moore, E. N. (2015). Coming out to family and friends as bisexually identified young adult woman: A discussion of homophobia, biphobia, and heteronormativity. Journal of Bisexuality, 15, 204-229.
Wu, A. K., Marks, M. J., Young, T. M., & Beasley, M. A. (2019). Predictors of bisexual individuals’ dating decisions. Sexuality & Culture, 1-17