Research: Myths, Erasure Take a Toll on Bisexuals' Mental Health

Monday September 27, 2021
Originally published on September 24, 2021

Despite a barrage of articles and social media posts supporting this year's Bi Visibility Day earlier this week, the struggle for validation and understanding continues, Yahoo! Life reported.

Bisexuals occupy a greater share of the rainbow of sexuality than other identities. Yet, research shows that they are misunderstood and subject to a barrage of misunderstandings from fellow sexual minorities and the heterosexual/cisgender majority alike.

"According to a recent Gallup, 5.6 percent of U.S. adults identify as LGBTQ; among them, a majority — 54.6 percent — identify as bisexual," Yahoo! Life relayed.

"And still, systemic biases and misconceptions — that bi men are gay men in denial, that bi women only hook up with women to attract straight men, for example — continue to fuel misconceptions about the identity."

Noting that bisexuality can be a component in many contemporary demographics of sexual identity, such as pansexuality and demisexuality — the meaning behind the "bi+" designation — the article added, "The truth is that bisexuality exists on a wide spectrum, which is why everyone's experience is different."

When it comes to the reactions of the wider world, however, the experience of bisexual individuals becomes much more uniform. "With bi people it's like, 'No this doesn't exist,' " bi+ activist Zachary Zane summarized to Yahoo! Life.

That response amounts to a double dose of marginalization, which seeps into the dating world. For example, if a man openly identifies as bisexual, Zane noted, citing studies, "A majority of straight women will not date" him.

"So you're just like, 'OK, I can't date women after I come out as bi, so instead I'm going to hide this identity,' "Zane added. "Every single step of the way, it almost seems like there's nothing good about coming out as bi."

Other studies lend an even greater perspective on the challenges bisexual people face. Yahoo! Life noted one report that "showed that bi women were less likely to be out if they were dating a straight, cisgender man — mainly due to fears of being judged."

Another study indicated "that bi people are more sexually attracted to men than they are to women," the article noted. "These male-leaning biases make things even more problematic for those who exist in different areas of the bi spectrum."

Another wrinkle is the fact that bisexuality can also be part and parcel of sexual fluidity.

"The big pushback in the past was against the idea that bi folks were not real, or bisexual duality was not real because we could 'choose' to be straight," explained Kate Estrop, a board member of Bisexual Resource Center, the article said. "We could choose to be in straight spaces and have that privilege by saying, 'It's not a phase. It's my life.'

"We're trying to pick through that and say, 'Well, actually, sometimes you do have phases of sexuality,' " Estrop went on to add. "And sometimes you do have phases of identity. And that doesn't make what you're going through at any particular moment invalid. It's valid if you're feeling it."

"No one else can tell you you're not something," Estrop added. "You are valid, and your identity is valid."

But that truism is not enough in itself to fend off greater rates of depression among bisexual people than those who identify as gay or lesbian.

A recent essay on the subject published in Pink News referred to an Australian study that "58.5 percent of bisexual respondents said they had a high or a very high level of psychological distress, compared to 11.7 percent of the general population," with bi women being "more likely to experience anxiety disorders than their straight counterparts."

People surveyed in the study "reported having experienced biphobia, both internalized and from outside sources," the Pink News article noted. "Others drew attention to issues of bi-erasure, while some said they felt invisible as bisexual people."

Another factor may be sexual assault. New research from the CDC, political news site The Hill reported, shows that "36.1 percent of bisexual women reported instances of nonvoluntary or forced sex, compared to 17.5 percent of heterosexual women and 18.2 percent of women who identified as lesbian or gay."

Researchers defined " 'nonvoluntary sex' as when a woman reported not choosing to have vaginal intercourse 'of your own free will,' " The Hill detailed. "Sex was considered 'forced' when a woman was 'forced by a male to have vaginal intercourse against your will.' "