A collection of new studies published in a special issue of the Journal of Bisexuality examines the unique challenges and experiences of those who have sexual attractions or engage in sexual behavior with both men and women. People who identify as bi experience biphobia from both straight and gay people, forcing them to reconsider the language by which they identify and how they form their social communities. Here are a few examples of the findings from the research:
- Women who identified as bi or lesbian reported the best health when their sexual identity matched their recent sexual history.
- The health of women who used the ambiguous label of “queer” was not impacted by their sexual behavior in the same way.
- The sexual behavior of bi women fits no stereotypical mold — in one study they were almost evenly divided among those who have only male sexual partners, only female sexual partners, some of both, or none at all.
- Bisexual men struggle to find community and people whom they can discuss their identity with, negatively impacting their mental health.
- Bisexual men see women sexual partners as “safer,” choosing to use condoms with men to prevent HIV/STI transmission but with women for pregnancy prevention purposes.
Studying the sexual behavior of individuals in the LGBT community is important for health advocacy purposes. If stereotypes are being used to guide funding for LGBT health outreach efforts instead of actual data, that could be incredibly wasteful or ineffective. For example, as researcher Brian Dodge points out, sexual health programs that target gay and bi men focus only on their experiences with male partners, which deprives bi men of important guidance they should have about their full range of behaviors.
Furthermore, these studies illuminate in new and profound ways the impact of biphobia. Earlier this year, Britain’s Open University published a meta-analysis of the research on mental health in the bisexual community and the need to identify it specifically:
Separate biphobia out from homophobia, recognising that there are specific issues facing bisexual people such as lack of acknowledgement of their existence, stereotypes of greediness or promiscuity, and pressure to be either gay or straight… Recognise the role that biphobia and bisexual invisibility play in creating negative outcomes for bisexual people.
But perhaps the most important takeaway is a reminder that labels can help communicate the nature of individuals’ identities, but they can be just as destructive when they create expectations to be fulfilled.