Different for bis: the latest bi research

The NUS has published a new report on experiences of sexual violence in further education in the UK.

The report used two approaches to understand students’ experiences of sexual harassment and violence: a survey of 544 UK-based students in further education and three focus groups at further education colleges.

It highlights particularly disturbing findings over bisexual students’ experiences. They say:
“Throughout the data, significant differences emerged between the experiences of respondents with different sexual orientations. The sample sizes of some groups of LGBT+ respondents were small but, overall, two key patterns were evident. Firstly, that LGBT+ respondents were consistently disproportionately affected by unwanted sexual behaviour compared to their heterosexual counterparts. And secondly, that the experiences of bisexual students were more pronounced.

“LGBT+ students participating in our research were more likely than those defining as heterosexual to have experienced both being pressured into a sexual or romantic relationship and facing threats for being sexually uncooperative. In particular, bisexual respondents were significantly more likely to tell us they had experienced unwanted comments and remarks via media more than five times. As women were another group more likely to report having experienced these incidents more than five times, those who define as bisexual women experience sexual harassment particularly often as a result of the double oppressions they face. The more pronounced experiences of respondents identifying in this particular intersection was also suggested when looking at behaviour described as sexual assault. While women were more likely than men to have experienced unwanted kissing, bisexual respondents were most likely to have dealt with all forms of sexual assault, including unwanted contact such as groping and pinching, attempted kissing and unwanted exposure of their own bodies.”

These issues also extended to experience of domestic violence, sadly echoing other research in recent years which has shown bi people to be more likely to be on the receiving end of such attacks:

“LGBT+ respondents also reported experiencing domestic abuse at a significantly higher rate than their heterosexual counterparts, and particular groups within the LGBT+ community were more severely affected than others. For example, while 36 per cent of heterosexual respondents who had been in a relationship had experienced a threat or intimidation from their partners at least once, 61 per cent of lesbian or gay respondents reported having experienced this, rising to 64 per cent and 66 per cent for bisexual and queer respondents, respectively.

They go on to report that “…bisexual respondents were consistently more likely to have experienced behaviour described as domestic abuse than heterosexual or gay/lesbian students participating in our research. This was particularly stark given that 70 per cent of bisexual respondents who have been in a relationship had been unjustly accused by their partner of flirting with other people or cheating at least once, compared to 46 per cent of heterosexual respondents, 42 per cent of gay/lesbian respondents, 44 per cent of queer respondents and 62 per cent of those identifying another way, a group comprising only 16 respondents.”

And in looking at experiences through the lens of the sexual orientation of survey respondents they conclude:

“While LGBT+ students clearly often find themselves at the sharper end of unwanted sexual behaviour, particular attention must be paid to the experiences of bisexual students and their impact on this group. In addition to the differences illustrated above, bisexual students who reported having experienced any of the experiences described in the survey were significantly more likely than other sexual orientation groups to say that they did not report it to anyone because of embarrassment. Further, when compared to heterosexual respondents, students defining as bisexual were significantly more likely to state being affected by unwanted sexual behaviours in a wide range of ways, telling us they had experienced all of the impacts listed in the survey as a result of it, from feeling anxious and depressed, to poorer academic performance and trying to kill themselves.

“Beyond being directly affected by these incidents, bisexual respondents were also more likely than others to have experience of many forms of sexual harassment, assault and rape in their wider social environments – they reported higher levels of awareness of other students having such experiences. This suggests that both the exposure to, and the consequences of, unwanted sexual behaviour are wider and more serious for bisexual students, with bi-phobic [sic] prejudice, particularly around bisexual people’s sexual availability, leading to stigma and internalised shame.”

There are also particular problems for disabled students highlighted; so much so that the final shortlist of recommendations for action on campus, by NUS as a whole, and for FE institutions, includes:
As part of its sexual harassment and consent work, [NUS should] develop campaigning activity to challenge harmful stereotypes relating to the sexualities of disabled and bisexual students.

NUS tweeted following publication of the report that, “Your FE union/club/society could receive £250 to run a campaign or project next year. We are keen to support activities that; – help students identify & respond to unhealthy sexual behaviour – develop understanding & confidence around consent”.

It’s a big campus and wider-society cultural change to achieve but one we have to aim for. Good luck to them.

Full report: see tinyurl.com/y2xcwwud



These findings are miserable reading but also not a great surprise. Social biphobia comes from ‘both sides’ telling bi people they are deluded and the people around them that bisexuals are liars and hyper-sexual.
Meanwhile many notionally LGB or LGBT services have only recently started to engage on the B if at all – and then often at a lower level than their past or present work on L and G.
We face stark statistics again and again about how bi life is different. We have poorer mental health outcomes, physical health outcomes, more unsafe home lives, we earn less, we live more precarious lives with all the consequences of the stress that brings.
We are only getting these shocking figures because in social research bi experience is starting to be separated out from that of lesbians and gay men rather than us all being lumped together – and it is reflecting the consequence of years and years of work by big LGB organisations that has been funded and directed based on assessments of LGB needs but that has targeted only lesbians and gay men – or just the latter – in its delivery.
Bisexual people are like the control group in an experiment over the past 30 or so years as to what happens if you do something to address discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. After years of this experiment we are seeing how the divide between bi and gay has opened up in consequence.
Yet we didn’t sign up to be an experiment. We were just trying to get on, in a world that would only see straight and gay.


BCN issue 156 cover

This first appeared in BCN magazine issue 156, July/August 2019.