Stereotypes about bisexuality, often driven by the media, are both unfounded and quite literally unhealthy, according to studies recently published in the Journal of Bisexuality. The studies show that the bisexual community is diverse and subject to discrimination from gay and straight people alike, which negatively impacts the health and social lives of people who identify as bisexual.
Vanessa Schick and Brian Dodge, leaders of the studies and editors of this special issue of the journal, closely examined trends among people who are sexually attracted to or involved with both men and women, and effects on their health. Findings show that the mental, physical, and sexual health of bisexual women, as well as of women who identify as lesbians, is best when their respective sexual identity and recent sexual history reflect one another (though this does not similarly impact the health of women who identify as ‘queer’). But Schick says that this does not mean one’s history should determine how one identifies oneself. Her sentiments are illustrated by their findings that once again demonstrate that sexual identities are complex.
Of particular interest, Schick shows an almost equal distribution of self-identified bisexual women who have recently had only one male partner, only one female partner, some male partners and some female partners, or have not had any recent partners. This is contrary, she notes, to common stereotypes which are unfortunately echoed in the media, which equate being bi with indecisiveness and/or hypersexuality. Researchers say such unfounded assumptions contribute to a culture of biphobia that affects both men and women. According to a separate study led by Dodge, these stereotypes contribute to the stress and loneliness felt by many bisexually identified men. Believing that they would not be accepted by friends, family, and society, these men often hide their sexual orientation from others.
Denise Penn, a director with the American Institute of Bisexuality, spoke with GLAAD about her thoughts on these recent studies, and how to end stereotypes about bi people in the media. Penn, who says that bisexuality “is sometimes forgotten” by the public, is very pleased with the increasing diversity of LGBT characters in the media, but notes “there’s still a lot of progress to be made.” Often when a character is portrayed as bisexual, “the stereotype lingers that it’s a person who is confused, or someone who has a man and a woman on the side, or who has a woman and a man on the side.”
Penn adds, “it’s wonderful that some actors have come out as bisexual in a very matter-of-fact way, that’s a very positive thing.” Ultimately, though, she believes that in the media, “there needs to be more focus on everyday people who just happen to be bisexual…just normal, everyday people from every walk of life.”
GLAAD calls on the media to shed more light on the unique challenges faced by the bi community, and to make a conscious effort to include the voices of bi people in stories about the greater LGBT community.