Bisexuality down 90%?

BCN 126 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 126, August 2014

USA bi stats fall into line with the UK’s

How many people are bisexual?  It’s a well-worn question that leads us down the weird twin paths of bisexual cliche: “well everyone is bisexual really” and “there’s not really any such thing as being bi”, each of which is a neat get-out for organisations and individuals from having to do anything for or about bi folk.

Some research from the US in recent years has pitched the number of bis at something like 6% of men and 9% of women, but the UK’s ONS statistics published in 2010 came to a very different conclusion.  The report on their “Integrated Household Survey” which includes responses from nearly 450,000 people that year said 0.5% of those interviewed identified as bisexual. A further one per cent described themselves as gay or lesbian.

Which makes the findings of the US equivalent, the National Health Interview Survey run by the Centers for Disease Control, all the more interesting.  They reported this summer that on their latest research, 1.6 percent of adults self-identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent consider themselves bisexual.

That’s much the same finding as for the UK, within a reasonable margin of wiggle.

Is bisexuality a much more exclusive club than we might have thought?

How much of that gap between 9% and 0.7% is down to who’s asking, how and when?  I might be happily out as bisexual to my friends but when a stranger with a clipboard asks about who I’ve been in a relationship with over the last two years, that might lead my answer this way rather than that.

It’s peculiar stuff, sexuality research: the answers tell us as much about the questions as they do about the answers!