According to a 2020 Gallup poll, the majority of LGBTQ2S people identify within the Bisexual umbrella. The Bisexual umbrella includes many different identities, including, but not limited to: polysexual, pansexual, queer. Researchers often measure bisexuality through three different dimensions: attraction, sexual/romantic behaviour, and identity. For example, some bisexual people may experience attraction to more than one gender, but not engage in sexual activity with more than one gender. In other cases, someone might be attracted to more than one gender and engage in romantic behaviour with more than one gender - but they might identify to others as heterosexual. In this way, bisexuality can be very hard to measure or define.
Bisexual people face a great deal of stigma from heterosexual people, as well as other sexual minority people. Many stereotypes about bisexual people include ideas that they are duplicitous, untrustworthy, or sexually promiscuous. As a result, many heterosexual or LGBTQ2S+ spaces are not inclusive for bisexual people. There is also a shortage of positive representation of bisexual people in the media - although this is gradually improving. For these reasons, bisexual people often lack positive identity and community; they are unable to enjoy the benefits that come with community, like social support and enjoying time with similar others.
Some research suggests that bisexual people are more likely to experience negative mental health outcomes, such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts , and engage in suicidal attempts, compared to both straight and gay people.
A study conducted in Canada found that bisexual women were more prone to reporting mental and physical health problems, such as mood and anxiety disorders, a lifetime diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and past suicidal attempts, than lesbians or straight women.
Bisexual people’s health problems and risky behaviours have also been linked to the discrimination that they experience from those who identify as gay or lesbian. For example, a study found that the discrimination bisexual men experienced from lesbians and gay men was associated with risky sexual behaviours.
Bisexual women’s greater risk for contracting STIs compared to their lesbian and straight peers has been found in studies conducted in other countries.
Adult bisexual women are also at greater risk of suffering from sexual violence than their heterosexual and lesbian peers.
Bisexual women are at higher odds of having an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy during their adolescence compared to their straight peers.
Research suggesting that this may be because bisexual people experience prejudice and negative stereotypes by (a) broadly being members of the LGBTQ2 community and (b) specifically being bisexual. In some instances, bisexuality has been negatively described as an ‘underdeveloped sexuality’ that people will ‘outgrow’. Stereotypes about bisexual people portray them as promiscuous, indecisive, attention-seeking, and untrustworthy, adding to the stigma that they face.
Bisexual people can experience both homophobic and stressors, assumptions and microaggressions.
As an example, bisexual men are subject to stereotypes that gay men also experience, such as assumptions of an HIV-positive health status. But, bisexual men may also experience microaggressions that come from bisexual-specific stereotypes and negative social attitudes, such as false beliefs that bisexual people are promiscuous or dishonest, or that bisexuality is not a valid identity.
Several other factors have been linked to mental health in bisexual people. Bisexual individuals’ relationships can also be unsupportive of their sexual orientation, fostering issues with their family members, partners, friends, and the queer community as a whole. It is not a surprise then that bisexual people might present with identity struggles or difficulties coming to terms with their sexual orientation that are different than, for example, lesbians and gay men.
The perception of bisexual people’s sexual orientation is heavily determined by the gender of their romantic or sexual partner(s). For example, if they are dating a cisgender-presenting person of another gender, they are assumed to be heterosexual; when dating someone who is visibly a gender minority or someone of their same gender, they are perceived as queer (Ghabrial, 2019). This can negatively impact bisexual people’s identity.
Bisexual people employ personal strategies and tap into social support and other resources to navigate an environment in which their identities are erased, ignored or questioned. The following are examples of affirmative experiences as related by bisexual (or nonmonosexual) individuals across different studies, which have helped them cope with stigma, discrimination, and microaggressions:
“I have been feeling strong and empowered by the company I have been keeping, by people that accept and care for me, which affects my whole identity (not just my bisexual one). Bisexuality today was affirmed by holding my male lover’s hand and yet being positively affected by a beautiful woman walking towards us.”
(female, bisexual). (Flanders et al., 2017)
“I’m hanging out with friends who are totally cool about me being into guys and girls. They’re also not straight, one is pan[sexual]. It feels good to be able to talk openly and not be questioned about it.”
(male, bisexual) (Flanders et al., 2017)
“My girlfriend almost called me a lesbian (like she usually does), but then she stopped and corrected herself: ‘No, you’re bi.’ I realize that this probably shouldn’t even be an issue, but it felt good to have my bisexual identity actually acknowledged.”
(female, bisexual) (Flanders et al., 2017)
“I talked more with my coworker who came out to me and he ended up saying he was poly[amorous] and pan[sexual], and I admitted I was bi rather than totally gay and he was like “rock on man, I hear you.” We talked a bit about the semantics of bi vs pansexual because he’s dating a trans man, but all together it was a great and affirming experience. I did not expect to make a friend at work who got this stuff.”
(male, bisexual) (Flanders et al., 2017)
“Finding a blog about bisexual issues that’s actually well-written and interesting—there was an article about Bisexual Visibility Day and about how bisexuality still isn’t really understood even by other members of the queer community, and how we need more role models to counteract the stereotypes, and I found myself nodding the whole way through.”
(genderqueer, bisexual) (Flanders et al., 2017)
“I’ve been really lucky enough to have most of my friends [pause] most of my friends are varying gender identities and sexualities. I really only have a handful of friends who are straight. But they’ve all been very supportive. The biggest surprise would have been my best friend, who was raised in the same city as me, in a very [pause] quite a strict upbringing, but she was pretty chill about it, she thought it was cool, which [pause] I found very strange, because I was like, ‘This is not something you normally find cool,’ like, with a lot of people, they find it weird, and she was just like, ‘No, that’s who you are.’”
(Flanders et al., 2015)
“I think that I’ve been really lucky to have sort of met some of these challenges with resilience rather than rather than some of the negative things that have been discussed ... and there is anxiety sometimes, especially situational anxiety where maybe someone said something that makes me really uncomfortable, or I feel like someone’s giving me a look that makes me feel uncomfortable, whatever it may be, but I think that ... I had a babysitter when I was growing up who used to look at me, I mean, kids get anxious about insecurities at school, and I was a big kid, and she used to look at me and go, ‘Do you think?’ she’d go, ‘If I was worried about everything everyone had to say about me, I’d never leave the house!’ You know? And so I was lucky that I was given that sort of strength from some of my surrounding growing up so I had that base.... I think I’ve been lucky to become stronger in some ways.”
(Flanders et al., 2015)
“I have coped really well by getting involved with an active bi community in [city of residence]. The bi community in [city of residence] has peer-facilitated support groups which I attend and it’s really helped with coping in both queer and heterosexual spaces.”
(Bisexually-identifed White non-binary individual, age not reported) (Doan Van et al., 2019)
“I love being bisexual and I love the bisexual community. I’m proud to be bi, so when people exclude me because of my sexual orientation it doesn’t particularly bother me.”
(Bisexually-identifed White woman, age 19 years) (Doan Van et al., 2019)
Resilience Among Bisexual People of Colour
According to some research (e.g., The Movement Advancement Project 2016), the majority of bisexual people belong to an ethnoracial minority group. Bisexual people of Colour encounter many stressors and stigmas, including racialized sexism, cultural biphobia, and stressors of cultural gender expectations. They also exhibit a great deal of resilience and identity affirmation.
“Being bisexual and an Indian American has given me a unique perspective on multiple identities and the ability to adapt between both of them.”
(Bisexual woman, Indian American, age 24) (Ghabrial, 2019)
“My people are resilient, joyful, and beautiful. We will never be white enough to belong to the lgbt movement, we will never be straight enough to be brown, but we have each other...”
(Queer woman, East Asian-White, age 27) (Ghabrial, 2019)