Bisexuality

FAQ

Bisexuality may be a difficult topic to comprehend. Many of us are taught to look at almost everything in the universe as a duality: male and female, light and dark, hot an cold, moral and immoral, etc. This is also seen with human sexual orientation. Most view it as existing in two forms: heterosexuality and homosexuality. But  human sexuality is a little more complex than that. One cannot squeeze the full range of human sexual feelings and behaviors into only two classifications. A minimum of three is really needed to represent human sexual attractions and activities: heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual. Some have suggested a minimum of five.

Depending upon who is writing or talking, "bisexuality" may be defined in many different ways. Some important ones are described below:

  • Most people use the term "sexual orientation" to refer to sexual feelingsHeterosexual, homosexual and bisexual is a part of what people are.Thus, bisexuality is sexual orientation in which an individual feels sexual attraction towards both men and women, although not necessarily to the same degree. This is the meaning given to bisexuality by most mental health professionals, religious liberals, secularists, and persons of minority sexual orientations.
  • Conservative Christians and their faith groups often assign different meanings and definitions to many religious and human sexuality terms. This makes dialogue and debate very difficult. They typically refer to heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality as descriptions of people's behavior. Thus, bisexuality becomes a "lifestyle" in which an individual engages in sexual behavior with both men and women.
  • Others restrict the term bisexual to a person who not only has feelings of attraction to both men and women, but for whom "bisexuality is [also] an important part of their experience or identity.1
  • Still others define bisexuality as either feelings of sexual attraction, or sexual behavior towards, both men and women. 2
  • According to the Soc.bi newsgroup, some suggest "that the word 'bisexual' should be limited to describing behavior, and the word 'bi' could be used for describing identity."
  • Some persons who are sexually attracted to both men and women feel more strongly attracted to one gender than the other. Further, they may identify themselves as homosexual or heterosexual, depending upon their prime attraction. So, a bisexual who feels more attracted to members of the same sex might identify themselves as gay or lesbian rather than bisexual. Others, attracted to members of the opposite sex might view themselves as heterosexual.
  • In an attempt to codify sexual attraction for the two genders, human sexuality researcher Alfred Kinsey developed a seven level rating scale in which "0" meant purely heterosexual and "6" meant purely homosexual. The vast majority of adults rate themselves as a "0." A gay and lesbian minority identify themselves as a "6". A small minority are bisexual (ratings 1 to 5). Of these, only a very small minority are attracted to both men and women equally and identify themselves with a "3" rating. 3
  • W.H. Masters and V.E. Johnson used the term "ambisexual" in their books Human Sexual Response and Homosexuality in Perspective, to refer to a person who is sexually attracted to both men and women to the same degree. The term does not seem to be commonly used. Most persons with equal feelings of attraction are referred to as bisexual.

Bisexuality, in terms of feelings of sexual attraction:

To many gays, lesbians, bisexuals, physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, human sexuality researchers, religious liberals, and some others, the term "sexual orientation" normally defines which gender(s) an individual is sexually attracted to:
  • A heterosexual is attracted to persons of the opposite gender only;
  • A homosexual, to the same gender; 
  • A bisexual to both genders, although not necessarily to the same degree. 

They believe that all three sexual orientations are normal and natural for at least a minority of the population. An adult's orientation is not consciously chosen. It is not changeable through prayer, therapy, surgical intervention, etc.

Bisexuality describes how people feel, not necessarily how they act: 

  • A person can feel attractions to both men and women, decide to remain celibate, and still be considered a bisexual by themselves and others.
  • A bisexual might make a conscious decision to confine their sexual activity to person(s) of one gender and still be considered a bisexual by themselves and others.
Bisexuality viewed as behavior:

To some conservative Christians, sexual orientation is an umbrella term that includes both many forms of sexual behavior: homosexuality, bisexuality, bestiality, necrophilia, abusive pedophilia, etc. They believe that any human rights legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation will promote homosexuality and bisexuality. It will also decriminalize child sexual abuse and other violent activities. To our knowledge, has such an inclusive definition for the term "sexual orientation."

To most conservative Christians, and others, bisexuals are individuals who choose to enter into sexually active relationships with persons of both genders. They teach that most, perhaps all, bisexuals can convert to heterosexuality through reparative therapy and prayer. 

To Don Nickels (quoted above), who defines bisexuality in terms of behavior, it makes sense to regard all bisexuals as promiscuous. To him, a person must have engaged in sexual behavior with at least two people in order to be called a bisexual: one or more males and one or more females. Since at least one of these must have happened outside of marriage, then every bisexual person must have met Nickels' definition of promiscuity. 

Most conservative Christians rarely refer to bisexuality. They prefer to deal with only two forms of behavior: homosexuality and heterosexuality. They regard a bisexual:

  • Who has decided to become celibate to be a person who has left the "gay lifestyle," and become an "ex-gay.
  • Who had decided to be sexually active only with person(s) of the same gender to be a homosexual.
  • Who had decided to be sexually active in the future only with person(s) of the opposite gender to be a heterosexual who have left the "gay lifestyle."

In recent years, conservative Christians have funded publicity campaigns in an attempt to convince gays and lesbians to enter reparative therapy, to leave the "gay lifestyle" and become "ex-gay." Many of their success stories are actually bisexuals who have made a conscious decision to remain celibate or to confine relationships only with the opposite gender. Others success stories are based on homosexuals who have decided to remain celibate. The main message of their advertisements, that homosexuals can become heterosexuals, is probably impossible for anyone to achieve, or nearly so.

Definitions of "bisexuality" -- a summary

With these differences in the definitions of "bisexual" and "bisexuality," chaos reigns. Dialog is very difficult. Debates can be unproductive. We recommend that people first decide on a common definition of these terms before proceeding with any discussion. 

As is our custom, we will use the definitions adopted by a consensus of physical and mental health professionals throughout the rest of this essay. That is, we will refer to bisexuality as a sexual orientation -- a feeling of attraction for both men and women, although not necessarily to the same degree. This applies whether the individual is sexually active or not; a celibate bisexual is still a bisexual.

Misunderstandings, sweeping generalizations and stereotyping of bisexuals:

Misinformation abounds on any topic that involves human sexuality. However, it seems to be particularly prevalent in data related to homosexuality and bisexuality:

  • Everyone is bisexual: This does not appear to be true. Kinsey found that only a very small minority of adults identify themselves as bisexual on his 7 level rating scale. His team found that most people were rated at either 0 (purely heterosexual; attracted only to members of the opposite gender) or 6 (purely homosexual; attracted only to members of the same sex.) 3
  • Only about 2% of the adult population is bisexual: This depends upon your definition of the term "bisexual". "Research carried out at the Harvard School of Public Health, USA in 1994 found that 20.8% of the men and 17.8% of the women studied admitted to same-sex sexual attraction/behavior at some time in their lives.Quoted in Ref. 2 No data is available that predicts the percentage of the population who consider themselves to be bisexual, but have not acted on those feelings.
  • Nobody is bisexual: Prior to the mid-1880s, many gays and lesbians believed that there were only two sexual orientations: homosexual or heterosexual. One was either sexually attracted to the same sex or to the opposite sex. They regarded bisexuals as if they were really homosexuals who were not ready to come out of the closet. Since then, the vast majority of homosexuals and gay-positive groups have accepted bisexuality as a separate, legitimate sexual orientation. In reality, there are individuals who have identified themselves as bisexual throughout their entire adult life and who have had fulfilling sexual relationships with both men and women during their adult life. .
  • Bisexuality is just a phase: For some it may be. For example, many gay males attempt to avoid society's homophobia by attempting to develop a sexual relationship with a woman. A few even go so far as marrying. But such relationships are generally very short term; the individual remain homosexual. However, other individuals sincerely regard themselves to be permanently bisexual throughout their adult life.
  • Bisexuals are only satisfied if they have sexual partners of both genders: No. Bisexuals are attracted to both genders, but do not necessarily act on their feelings of attraction.
  • Bisexuals spread AIDS: Some believe that "bisexuals choose to be perverse, they spread the HIV virus with their indiscriminate sex lives, and they make a mockery of things such as marriage and the family." This is true, for some bisexuals. However, it is also true of some heterosexuals and homosexuals. In Africa, HIV is most commonly spread through heterosexual intercourse. In North America, it is spread most commonly through anal intercourse and the sharing of dirty intravenous needles -- practices done by persons of all sexual orientations. The solutions to the AIDS problem involves celibacy, or monogamy, and safer sex techniques. This is the "ABC" approach of Abstain from sex, or Be faithful and wear a Condom.
  • Bisexuals are equally attracted to both genders: Some believe that to be a bisexual, one must be sexually attracted to men and women equally.This is definitely not true. In the Kinsey scale described above, a person who is equally attracted to both men and women are a "3." Kinsey found many bisexuals who identify themselves as a 1, 2 (i.e. mainly attracted to members of the opposite gender), or a 4 or 5 (i.e. mainly attracted to members of the same gender). Many individuals, although attracted to both man and women, have a real preference.
  • Bisexuals are incapable of being monogamous: Many bisexuals have proven that this stereotype is wrong. A heterosexual male might be attracted to a substantial percentage of the approximately 1.5 billion adult women in the world. And yet, they are quite capable of committing themselves to a single partner. Similarly, a bisexual person might be attracted to a substantial percentage of the approximately 3 billion adult men and women in the world. Yet they are also capable of committing to single partner. Senator Don Nickles' comment above is incorrect by the most common meaning of the term "bisexual;" bisexuals may be celibate or monogamous; they may have few partners, or be promiscuous.
  • Bisexuals alternate genders in their relationships: The author was told by a sincere person who regarded themselves as knowledgeable about bisexuality, that if a bisexual person ends a relationship with a man, their next sexual partner will be a woman -- and vice versa. There appears to be no basis for such a belief.
  • Bisexuals have the same problems as gays and lesbians: Not necessarily. Bisexuals who admit or act on their attraction to members of the same sex will be at the same risk as gays and lesbians of being victims of: gay bashing, being discriminated against in hiring, being firing from their job, being refused accommodation, losing custody of their children, etc. But there are many other factors to consider:
    • A bisexual who keeps their attraction to the same sex a secret can pass in society as a heterosexual and not be at risk of homophobia.
    • Some openly bisexual individuals are also subjected to prejudice from the lesbian/gay community. However, this prejudice is dissipating as more gay/lesbian groups have evolved to become gay/lesbian/bisexual groups.
    • "...dealing with the emotion of SOs [Significant Others] who we deeply love yet who cannot understand our attraction to both sexes."
    • Having to deal with the myths and misunderstanding of the public towards bisexuality. 2,6
  • Bisexuals "...possesses a generally indiscriminate sexual desire toward persons of both sexes:" This is a quotation from America, the national Roman Catholic weekly. 9 They define bisexuals in this way, but do not enlarge on their definition later in the article. In fact, they only refer to bisexuals once in the entire article. It is not precisely clear what the authors meant by "indiscriminate" desire. However, all adults, including those with a bisexual orientation are known to be attracted to only some persons and not to others. They may discriminate in terms of the age, physical attractiveness, body style, etc. The authors may be expressing the belief that a bisexual is equally attracted to both men and women. This is a well known fallacy.

References used in the above essay:

  1. Albert Lunde, "Bisexuality notes," at: http://www.ssmu.mcgill.ca/
  2. The Usenet Soc.bi newsgroup has a FAQ list at: http://www.serf.org/
  3. "Kinsey's heterosexual-homosexual rating scale," at: http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/
  4. "Humorous quotes attributed to Woody Allen," at: http://www.geocities.com/ 
  5. Lynn Schultz-Writsel, "'Reparative' Therapy: Does it work?", 2000-FEB, at: http://www.eurekalert.org/
  6. "Bisexuality: The myth, the legend, the life," at: http://www.bathsheba69.com/
  7. Senator Don Nickles, ENDA debate in the U.S. Senate, 1996-SEP-10.
  8. Melany Ashby, "Being bisexual," Channel 4.com, at: http://www.channel4.com/
  9. Melvin Blanchette & Gerald Coleman, "Priest Pedophiles," America, 2002-APR-22, at: http://www.americamagazine.org/

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