What is bisexuality?
Bisexuality (from the affix “bi,” meaning both) is a sexual orientation in which a person, male or female, is attracted to people of both male and female gender identity.1 Bisexual people are capable of having emotional, sexual, and romantic relationships with people of either gender. It is often mistakenly assumed that bisexuals are not capable of being in monogamous relationships when in fact they are perfectly capable of the normal range of relationship types.4 Bisexuality is not related to gender identity; that is, 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, but it can be helpful for understanding bisexuality. On this linear scale, 0 represents completely heterosexual behavior; 1 represents predominantly heterosexual behavior, and only incidentally homosexual; this continues to 6, completely homosexual.5 Bisexuals would be considered a 3 on the Kinsey Scale: equally heterosexual and homosexual. It is important to note, however, that only someone who calls themselves bisexual, regardless of their attraction or sexual history with men and women, may assume the label 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. Some see sexuality as being multifaceted and inclding 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 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.
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. This term can be considered problematic when used, since it assumes that heterosexuality is a 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 heteronromative genders. Bicurious people are exploring that possibility, and have yet to identify themselves as “attracted to both genders”.
The B in LGBTQ
Bisexual, alongside lesbian, gay, trans*, pansexual, asexual, 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 LGBTQIA community as an umbrella term for people who identify as LGBTQIA.
Because of some misconceptions about bisexuality, some bisexual people have felt unwelcome within LGBTQIA circles. Bisexual identities are 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.
There are a number of misconceptions regarding bisexual people that create a harmful atmosphere for them.2 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.
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. Bisexual 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.
- "What Is Bisexuality?" Bisexual Resource Center. Bisexual Resource, n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
- "Questions & Answers." Bisexual.org. American Institute of Bisexuality, 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
- "Erasure of Bisexuality." GLAAD. N.p., 20 Sept. 2014. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
- "What Is Bisexuality?" The Bisexual Index. The Bisexual Index, n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
- "Kinsey Sexuality Rating Scale." The Kinsey Institute. Indiana University, 2016. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
Last updated: 18 February 2016.