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Recently, a client (we’ll call him Nick) came to me confused about his sexual orientation, and he wanted help clarifying. He professed to have chronic erotic and romantic feelings for both genders since adolescence but had only dated and been sexual with women. Nick was in the midst of exploring a new relationship with a woman but found himself torn between his unexamined feelings toward men — questioning if he was truly gay.
He discussed how interactions with friends and acquaintances further polarized his feelings. Some gay men doled out judgments that he was using bisexuality as a way to avoid the social ramifications that exist in our homophobic culture toward being gay and to capitalize on heterosexual privilege. While some straight individuals snubbed him for having same-sex feelings. Nick felt isolated by both camps and felt pigeonholed to be either/or with his sexual orientation.
A lot of confusion exists about bisexuality, and the purpose of this article is to shed some light on this often misunderstood form of sexuality so that we may reduce ignorance and validate this orientation as it deserves. Click the links below to jump to the section that most interests you.
According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, bisexuality is described as “the capacity for emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction to more than one gender” and “a bisexual orientation speaks to the potential for, but not a requirement of, involvement with more than one gender.”
So this means that someone can be bi and still be a virgin, have had sex with only members of the same gender, or have only been with partners of the opposite sex, like Nick.
Bisexuality is different from homosexuality, in which the emotional and romantic attractions and sexual behavior are directed only toward members of the same sex. To counter many of the objections people can receive because of their bisexual orientation, American psychiatrist and sex researcher Fritz Klein has said, “bisexuality is not disguised homosexuality, nor is it disguised heterosexuality. It is another way of sexual expression.”
This also means that bisexuality is not necessarily a transitional pathway from heterosexuality to homosexuality. Bisexuality is a distinct orientation in its own right. It can, however, be a transitional pathway for a small segment of gay individuals who are grappling with and coming to terms with understanding their sexual orientation and identity. Here’s an article that showcases the developmental stages an individual can often go through when formulating a bisexual identity.
HealthyPlace.com describes pansexuality as “not limited or inhibited in sexual choice with regard to gender or activity.” The biggest difference between pansexuality and bisexuality is the focus on gender identity.
In 2011, the Williams Institute at the University of California School of Law published a research brief that included estimates of the numbers of LGBT individuals in the United States after conducting a study and comparing it with other international surveys. Some of the results include:
1. 3.5% of adults (9 million people) in the U.S. identify as LGBT.
2. Bisexuals represent 1.8% of this population.
3. What percent of women are bisexual? Studies have shown about 8%.
While these numbers do not include adolescents or individuals who are not out, the findings are nonetheless fascinating and show contrasts of the various studies that have been conducted around the world with various categories discussed. The Pew Research Center, HealthResearchFunding.org, and The Advocate are a few other places with interesting statistics and commentary about bisexuality.
Bisexuality is an often misunderstood and misrepresented part of sexuality, and one can be hard-pressed to find much of anything of any substance written about the subject, most likely a byproduct of biphobia. As we’ve seen, often feared by the heterosexual and snubbed by the homosexual, bisexual individuals tend to receive little support or resources to assist them with understanding their sexual identity and with helping to meet their needs.
So how do you make sense of your bisexual feelings if you’re questioning your orientation? It is important for one to understand that sexuality is fluid and flexible. A person’s sexual behavior, feelings, and identification are not fixed in nature and can change in an ongoing, dynamic process. Bisexuality is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
According to Klein, there are three different facets of bisexuality when viewing it from this perspective.
Transitional bisexuality represents an avenue where an individual moves from one spectrum of the sexual orientation continuum to the other extreme (usually from heterosexuality to homosexuality). This transitory period of time is needed to help the individual develop a more cohesive sexual identity in his or her development with associated changes in emotions, values, and behaviors.
Second is historical bisexuality, which is described as a person who predominantly lives a straight or a gay lifestyle, but who also has had a previous history of bisexual experiences and/or fantasies. Lastly, sequential bisexuality involves a person whose sexual relationships are with only one gender at a given period of time, and the frequency of gender change varies according to person or context.
As one can see, the range of bisexual preference and tendencies is very broad-based and the bisexual individual can also have “episodic, temporary, experimental, or situational homo-or heterosexual activity.” The Klein Sexual Orientation Grid is a systematic model that showcases this reality by presenting seven important variables that characterize orientation. One way to help you clarify your orientation is to conduct a self-assessment using this grid.
The American Institute of Bisexuality has a page on its website where you can go about the process of self-identification by completing the grid regarding your past, present, and ideal among the various orientation variables to help you understand what you’ve been questioning.
This tends to be one of the most reputable inventories available to assist with sexual orientation identification. Talking to a counselor about your findings can help extrapolate more meaning and clarity for you as you continue with your identity-defining journey.
Another route you could take is trying out some so-called bisexuality quizzes. There are a variety of these online, but I tend to not support them because they are not empirically supported and there is no known behavioral test that exists to diagnose one’s sexual orientation. How you choose to identify is your choice, all the while knowing that sexual identity develops over time and is not a fixed state, though for some the process of discovering their sexual identity may take a lifetime.
For fun, however, you may want to take these quizzes as an opportunity to explore any thoughts, feelings, or triggers that arise for you from taking the assessments, and then speak to a trained professional to help you make sense of what’s emerged. Gurl.com and MyDailyMoment.com are a couple sites that contain such quizzes.
As you go about the process of clarifying your sexual proclivities, you will likely encounter a number of stereotypes and myths that abound about bisexuality that will try to block your progress and create unnecessary strife and confusion for you. These fallacies are created by a lack of education and biphobia, the fear of bisexuality.
Becoming mindful of these ignorant thought traps and confronting and countering them with truths can liberate you to move beyond these roadblocks and toward your journey of self-realization. There are a plethora of myths about bisexuality.
GLAAD.org has an article that discusses a variety of these myths and their associated facts that debunk them, including bisexuality is a phase, all women are bisexual, and you can’t be bisexual unless you’ve been with both genders.
Having support is vital during this time and below are a couple of ways to find the resources you need.
A variety of resources have been springing up in recent years to honor and support bisexuals. I highly recommend becoming involved or volunteering in these types of groups and centers to surround yourself with others who can understand and appreciate the journey you’re on, to help normalize your experience, and to broaden your social support network. You are not alone! Here are a few options to consider:
The Bisexual Resource Center, identified as the oldest national bisexual organization, advocates for bi awareness and visibility.
This is an online forum/support group for the bisexual community to discuss varied topics of interest and garner support and friendship.
Here is a very valuable resource to have on hand! This is a national charity that provides various services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women, including extensive information if you’re questioning your sexual identity.
Additionally, volunteer at any local gay health center or search the term “bisexual” on Meetup.com to find groups in your area that cater specifically to bisexual individuals. The centers serve as places for recreation, dating, or advocacy efforts and to meet other bisexual members of the community and their supporters.
Bisexual Awareness Week occurs every September and includes Celebrate Bisexuality Day. Both are sponsored by GLAAD and a variety of other bisexual advocacy organizations.
My client Nick ended up in a committed relationship with his new girlfriend, whom he later learned was also bisexual. He discovered that he had the capability to be sexually attracted and fall in love with either men or women, and that this is where he validly falls on the sexuality continuum. He achieved a sense of pride and acceptance in his identity and learned the importance of honoring all of his attractions and finding outlets for expression of them that were within the boundaries of his relationship agreements with his girlfriend.
In our society, I believe we get too hung up on labels and we have to classify things in black or white, either/or binary categories. “Am I gay?” “Am I bi?” Notice how these questions conjure up anxiety and confusion? According to Klein, our culture takes comfort in labels because they help to define our relationships, and they’re a way to minimize the threats of fear, uncertainty, and ambiguity when we face something that we don’t understand or steps outside of the norm.
Labels are limiting and put a cap on existing possibilities. They also strip us of our uniqueness and individuality. Rather than getting hung up on terms and labels, live and embrace your true and authentic self and love who you are intrinsically drawn to.