Different for Bis: the latest research – Winter 2016

The American Journal of Bisexuality publishes all the latest in bisexuality research four times a year. I’ve been catching up with the latest edition – so here’s what’s new out there…

Hertlein, Hartwell & Munns examine attitudes to bisexuality broken down by gender and sexual orientation, asking why it is that acceptance of gay and lesbian people has moved more quickly than that of bisexuals.

The study finds that sexual orientation is more important than gender in deciding what you think about bisexuals, with straight people showing more prejudice than gay, lesbian or indeed bisexual people.

Yes, bi people can be biphobic too – remember when actress Megan Fox came out as bisexual then opined that “I would never date a girl who was bisexual, because that means they also sleep with men, and men are so dirty that I’d never want to sleep with a girl who had slept with a man”?

The survey found the levels of biphobia found among bi people and among lesbian and gay respondents were statistically inseperable.  I wonder about that – it could mean we’re internalising more biphobia than we realise, or it could be a fluke of sample size.  With only 473 participants to start with, only 35 were lesbian or gay – so it may be luck.

There were more bi participants and it sadly noted that “much of the negative treatment that individuals who are bisexual experienced was based on harmful stereotypes, such as the notion that people who are bisexual are promiscuous, confused, or seeking attention. These stereotypes often interfered with the ability of participants who are bisexual to establish healthy relationships.”

Then the survey got – for me – more interesting, as bi respondents were asked about being out in different parts of their lives.  Many said it was easier not to be openly bi in every aspect covered – work, family, and situations where sexuality should be irrelevant like going to the supermarket.

One female respondent said,

“Almost always it’s easier to not self-identify. I don’t need to justify my existence or explain myself to anyone. It also just doesn’t really come up much in day to day life.

“Where I come from you don’t go around announcing your sexuality as a matter of course.

“It really only comes up when introducing a partner of the same gender to others. If I am at the point of making introductions then I am comfortable identifying as bi. Otherwise what happens in my bed should stay there.”

I imagine many readers will be sighing at the bi self-erasure there.

Another observed that, “It’s almost always better that I don’t self-identify because I don’t feel like educating others all the freaking time.”

Relationships were a barrier too: “It’s always easier not to say anything. I’m married at this point so my sexual attraction to women is no longer of consequence to anyone outside my marriage.”

I understand the sentiment, but it’s an individual decision that cumulatively across society keeps bisexuality invisible and – especially before social media – acted as a brake on tackling isolation and increasing bi acceptance.

Away from the J of B, other research from the USA suggests that bisexual, lesbian and gay people are four times more likely to be the victims of ‘revenge porn’ than heterosexual people are.

A report from the Center for Innovative Public Health Research suggests 1 in 25 internet users in the USA have been a victim of revenge porn – a surprisingly high figure. The report explains the term as meaning,

Nonconsensual image sharing, also commonly called “revenge porn,” is when someone shows, sends, or posts nude or nearly nude photos or videos of someone else without the consent of the person pictured.

Even if the images are not shared the threat that they will be can wreak emotional havoc for people affected. The report outlines the impacts:

The harms from nonconsensual image sharing can be substantial; a single act of posting sensitive images can cause lasting and ongoing reputational damage to victims. These images are often posted alongside personally-identifying information about the victim when they are posted in online spaces, which can lead to additional harassment and threats from third parties.

In a wider culture of biphobia and homophobia, this obviously has additional implications for bi and gay people. And we are more likely to be victims – nearly four times more likely:

Among internet users who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB), 15% say someone has threatened to share a nude or nearly-nude photo or video of them without their permission, a far higher rate than among heterosexual internet users (2%).

In addition, 7% of LGB respondents have had someone share a nude or nearly nude image of them, compared with 2% of heterosexual internet users.

Taken together, 17% of LGB Americans have either had an image shared without their consent or have had someone threaten to share an image of them

The data shows that victims are most likely to be younger (late teens or twenties) women. Those from lower income homes are also significantly more likely to be victims.

Here in the UK legislation was passed in response to the problem under the last government, but the US lacks equivalent laws, so there is more limited redress for victims. There is also a UK helpline if you need advice – 03456 000 459 – and a website. It’s a big problem in the UK despite the legislation – the helpline gets contacted more than 4,000 times a year.

Like all too many such reports, the research paper sadly does not separate out bi experience from that of gay and lesbian people – the sample sizes when broken down by strand are too small to produce statistically valid results.

It seems to me likely bi people may be at greater risk – as I would reckon there is a greater chance for bi people that a current partner either may not know about past sexual activity with partners of a different gender from themselves, or may have expressed biphobia to them making the power of the threat to ‘out’ more potent.