Seven Things You Should Know About Bisexuality For LGBT Pride Month

June 19, 2019 by Justin Lehmiller

Bisexual flag in the shape of a heart

Bisexuality continues to be a widely misunderstood sexual orientation. Given that this is LGBT Pride Month, I thought it would be useful to put together an article that explores some of the key findings scientists have learned about bisexuality that can speak to some of the biggest misconceptions about it. Here goes:

1.) Bisexuality is real, and it’s not the same as being gay or lesbian. A lot of people deny the existence of bisexuality and assume that everyone who identifies as bisexual is secretly gay; however, research finds that bisexuality involves a distinct pattern of sexual interest and arousal compared to homosexuality. For example, consider a study in which participants viewed photos of men and women while researchers secretly recorded how long they spent looking at each one. The results revealed that bisexual persons spent similar amounts of time looking at photos of both sexes, whereas gays and lesbians spent far longer looking at photos of their desired sex. Likewise, other research has found that bisexual men exhibit high levels of genital and psychological arousal in response to both men and women, whereas gay men only show strong arousal in response to men.

2.) Women are more likely to identify as bisexual than men. The results of several national U.S. surveys have consistently found that more women than men identify as bisexual. For example, according to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 2.6% of men identified as bisexual compared to 3.6% of women. Other studies have reported much larger differences (for example, see page 32 of this report from the CDC that summarizes the findings from several recent surveys). This could reflect greater societal acceptance of bisexuality among women, or (as some scientists have argued) it could be a reflection of women’s greater erotic plasticity.

3.) Bisexuals experience prejudice from heterosexual persons, as well as gays and lesbians. Bisexual persons are frequently the targets of prejudice, particularly bisexual men. They are often stereotyped as being sexually confused and highly promiscuous. However, such biphobia or binegativity doesn’t just come from heterosexual people—it also comes from gay and lesbian persons. For example, both gay and heterosexual individuals report relatively low willingness to become romantically involved with bisexual persons. Likewise, other research has found that gay men tend to see bisexual men as being “secretly gay,” whereas lesbians tend to see bisexual women as being “secretly straight.” In other words, both groups perceive bisexuals (regardless of their sex) as being more attracted to men than to women.

4.). Bisexual people do not necessarily have higher sex drives than everyone else. One of the most common stereotypes about bisexuals is that they are extremely horny. However, a 2007 study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior featuring a sample of over 200,000 participants revealed that bisexuals have sex drives that are pretty similar to most other people. Specifically, sex drive scores (rated on a 7-point scale) were 5.47, 5.28, and 5.26 for heterosexual, bisexual, and gay men, respectively. By contrast, the numbers were 4.51, 4.91, and 4.60 for heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian women, respectively. As you can see, within a given gender group, the sex drive differences between persons of different sexual orientations were rather small and the differences were not consistent with the idea that bisexuals across the board have higher sex drives.

5.) Being bisexual does not necessarily mean that you are equally attracted to both men and women. Being bisexual involves a capacity for attraction to men and women, but attraction to each sex does not necessarily have to be equally strong. For instance, research has found that bisexual men usually demonstrate more genital arousal to one sex over the other, although the direction of the effect is inconsistent (i.e., some show more arousal to women, others to men). Research on bisexual women has found that they do not exhibit equal levels of arousal to male and female stimuli either. Some bisexual persons may indeed experience equally high attraction to men and women, but equal attraction should not be considered an essential or defining feature of bisexuality.

6.) Bisexuals are actually the single-largest group within the LGBTQ+ community. 2018 data from the General Social Survey revealed that 3.3% of Americans identified as bisexual, compared to 1.7% who identified as gay or lesbian. Bisexuals haven’t always outnumbered gays and lesbians, though. In fact, a decade ago, the percentage of gays and lesbians was actually higher. However, over that 10-year period, the rate of identification as gay/lesbian has remained pretty stable, whereas the number of persons identifying as bisexual has tripled. This doesn’t necessarily mean that bisexuality itself is increasing; rather, it probably reflects growing comfort with acknowledging this sexual identity.

7.) Bisexuality doesn’t mean just one thing—different people define it in different ways. Research exploring how people think about bisexuality finds that they don’t necessarily adhere to a common definition. For example, while some people believe that being bisexual necessarily means that you’re only attracted to people within the gender binary, others adopt more expansive definitions, such as “attraction to more than one sex/gender,” which leaves open the possibility of attraction to persons with trans or non-binary identities.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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