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Heterosexual, gay, bisexual or "questioning"?

Bisexuality

We believe that while not all men and women have an attraction to the opposite sex, many do - far more than is generally acknowledged.

This isn't homosexuality, which we define as an exclusive attraction to the same sex, but a state where you may feel attracted to someone of your own sex without knowing why.

We regard this as normal, and this page of the site is an attempt to express how and why bisexual feelings should not worry you. (And of course, you don't have to act on bisexual feelings...thought it can be fun to do so!)

Bisexuality is the orientation in which a person achieves sexual and emotional satisfaction and fulfillment with members of both sexes. Bisexuality is a lifelong orientation, although relating sexually to both sexes may be limited to a particular period in a bisexual's life. Both women and men can be bisexual. Many sexologists now accept that bisexuality is as genuine an orientation as heterosexuality or homosexuality.

Bisexuals therefore are not people whose orientation is fundamentally homosexual but who have some heterosexual sex on the side, nor are they people whose orientation is fundamentally heterosexual but who enjoy some homosexual sex on the side.

Having said that, it is important to recognize that very little scientific research has been done on bisexuality and that there is a considerable element of generalizing guesswork in descriptions of bisexuality. New research could change our opinions.

The Kinsey studies on male and female sexual behavior showed that sexual orientation is a matter of degree, that people could be found at every point on a scale running from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality. Kinsey also showed that the same person can be at different points on the scale during his or her lifetime.

Kinsey found that 18 percent of white men in his study had at least much homosexual as heterosexual experience for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55.

Between four and 11 percent of unmarried men and between one and two percent of married women had homosexual experiences as frequently as heterosexual experiences in each year between the ages of 20 and 35. In the same age range the figures for divorced women were five to seven percent. Clearly, bisexuality is by means rare.

Why are some people bisexual?

We simply don't know, for the same reasons that we do not know what gives some people a heterosexual orientation and others a homosexual one. People have speculated, of course. A bisexual orientation is sometimes attributed to parent-child relationships.

Some researchers feel the answer may be found in the effect certain hormones on the brain centers of a child while it is still in the uterus.

Others see no need to identify the roots of bisexuality since they deny it exists - they believe that bisexuals are people whose true orientation is homosexual but who are disguising it.

Still others believe we are all born with the capacity to relate to both sexes but become socialized into heterosexuality or homosexuality, with a minority remaining bisexual.

Freud was one expert who denied the existence of bisexuality. In his view, people are either heterosexual or homosexual; anyone exhibiting signs of bisexual behavior is in a transitory phase from one orientation to thee other or is suffering a personality disorder.

Some psychoanalysts still support that view, though more and more accept that a bisexual orientation exists and that it is not a sign of a personality problem.

The work of Blumstein, Schwarz and Klein helped begin the organization of information about bisexuality in an understandable way. Dr Fred Klein in his book The Bisexual Option classifies bisexuality in three ways - transitional, historical and sequential.

Transitional Bisexuality. A transitional bisexual is a person who is moving (probably) from heterosexuality to homosexuality. Moving in the other direction is less common.

According to Dr Klein, the movement in either direction may occur within a short period of time, but it can take more than a year to complete. If a person is evaluated during this period the orientation will appear bisexual, but at some time thereafter it will show as homosexual or heterosexual.

Dr Klein and the authors of Barry and Alice: A Portrait of a Bisexual Marriage have found relatively few people in this stage.

Historical Bisexuality. The historical bisexual is a person who is essentially homosexual or heterosexual, but who, at some point, has had some sexual experience with or fantasy about a person whose sex ran counter to his or her orientation.

Sequential Bisexuality. In this category, the person has a relationship with a person of one sex and following that has a relationship with a person of the other sex. The commitment to the relationship is equal in each case. The number of such relationships will vary, depending on the needs of the person.

The point is that a person with a bisexual orientation does not fit simply into a single mold. There are shades and degrees of behavior and attitude, all of which must be considered and all of which result in a complexity that is not yet adequately understood.

Sometimes a person with a bisexual orientation will have two simultaneous sexual relationships - one with a woman and one with a man - but that is not usual.

Generally, the limited data suggest that most people with a bisexual orientation have a relationship with one person and when it ends they are quite likely to seek another relationship but with a partner of the alternative sex.

Affairs during a lasting relationship may also be used to express the duality of the orientation. Most definitions of a bisexual orientation include having sex with a person of each sex. However, Dr Fred Klein suggested that emotional intimacy was sufficient indication of bisexuality.

Q. "Don't bisexuals have sex with people of their own sex and of the other sex on an equal basis?"

A: "Usually not. Most have a tendency toward relationships with one sex more than with the other, but the importance of the relationships appears to be the same to them, regardless of the sex of the other person."

Q: "At what age do people usually discover their bisexuality?"

A: "Usually later than either heterosexuals or homosexuals. The majority of people model the heterosexual orientation and drift easily into that life-style without consciously thinking about it.

Most homosexuals begin by trying to fit the heterosexual mold, usually realize by adolescence that it is not satisfying and right for them and so begin to express their homosexuality.

Because of the myth that people are either heterosexual or homosexual, bisexuals struggle for a longer time trying to conform to one lifestyle or the other. It can therefore be well into their 20s or 30s even before bisexual people accept their orientation."

Sex with someone of the same sex in a confined situation like a boarding school is more likely the result of a need for human contact and a release of sexual tension than a real sexual orientation in that direction.

Usually the fantasy lives of such people and their true needs are directed toward the other sex, but their circumstances dictate same-sex expression or none at all. Although some same-sex expression is genuinely homosexual in orientation, the majority of people express heterosexual or bisexual orientation.

Q. "I've noticed a lot of celebrities claim to be bisexual. Isn't that a bad example for all the teenagers who imitate them?"

A: "No. Sexual orientation is not something that a person can turn off or on depending on the fad at the moment. Sexual orientation is part of the essential fabric of personality and imitating sexual behavior is just that - imitation. It has no chance of meaning anything to teenagers in the long run unless it is truly their orientation. "

Bisexuality, probably because it has been less noticed and less discussed than, say, homosexuality, has not built up a really widespread network of popular mythology. The myths that are in circulation, however, betray our society's serious ignorance about bisexuality and bisexuals:

  • bisexuals are really homosexuals who protect their identity by having sex with the other sex
  • bisexuals are phony fence sitters trying to get the best of men and women
  • a person is either all heterosexual or all homosexual.

FEELINGS

Bisexual people's feelings about their orientation are enormously influenced by the social definitions of what is normal, appropriate, right and natural. Under these circumstances it is not unusual for women and men with a bisexual orientation to feel alienated and oppressed, and for them to raise serious questions about their sexual identity.

"I always heard things like a bisexual was a closet gay. That just wasn't me."

"I had this secret and I just kept it to myself. Finally I've accepted who I am as a sexual person."

"My bisexual identity was late in developing. I always felt it was there but I denied it."

"Being bisexual I feel I have greater intimacy possibilities, not just greater sexual possibilities. I don't run around looking for sex anyway."

"I won't explain or justify my feelings about this. It just is."

Constant questioning and self-examination in an effort to understand oneself can be an enormous emotional burden, taxing every moment and effectively preventing a rich and fulfilling life.

Living and growing with who you are is difficult and a challenge for everyone, but for the bisexual minority, as for the homosexual minority, the historical, social and personal barriers make it doubly so. Clearly, the problems can be resolved and the growing support of understanding people may be particularly helpful, but surely the first step must be squarely to face the issue of one's identity.

Once one's outside and inside are in harmony, it is then necessary to work with the same resolve on the important family and social connections that need to be dealt with.

Sometimes a qualified and sensitive counselor or therapist can help, but in the end the answer must lie within each person. Hostile though the majority of society's attitudes are, it is possible to turn what at first seems a set of impossibly unfair obstacles into an enriching, creative life-style.

RELATIONSHIPS

It is not only bisexuals who may have relationship problems but, even more, the non-bisexual people with whom they get involved:

"I think I'm bisexual, but I'm sure my relationship would break up if I acted on it."

"Although I really don't like the fact that my husband is bisexual, our relationship is OK. I just don't think of him with another person."

"I wouldn't get involved with a bisexual because they don't know what they want or who they are."

"Bisexuals are fence sitters. I keep away from them until they find out who they are."

"I said 'Yes' to a bisexual relationship, but I said 'no' to having children."

"My lover knows I'm bisexual. It's just a part of me like everything else in my personality. It doesn't get in the way at all."

Of these comments from and on bisexuals, only one claims that bisexuality causes no relationship problems. Bisexuals have particular difficulties in relationships - they are both different and often misunderstood. Being different usually means some degree of rejection, making it harder to form relationships.

Being misunderstood has the same effect: people who do not have a bisexual orientation themselves often find it hard to understand that their relationship with a bisexual person can be properly valid and rewarding.

Bisexual people can therefore, through no fault of their own, not only find it harder to start relationships than people whose orientation is heterosexual or homosexual but can also find it harder to keep them going.

Jealousy, which can be a problem in any relationship, is particularly likely in a relationship in which one partner is bisexual. If both partners are bisexual the possibilities are theoretically endless.

The real sense of competition that can arise may be threatening and will create stress. Some authorities on bisexuality believe the chances of these problems arising are greatly diminished if a bisexual person is fully resolved in his or her orientation.

People who are bisexual and fully self-accepting in fact claim positive benefits from their orientation, saying that it offers them enormous possibilities for personal growth. Klein, Kohn and Matusow in their books on bisexuality all concur.

Bisexual people have similar problems to those that homosexual people have in "coming out" and making their orientation known to family, friends and children. How much is it fair to tell whom?

Is it better to face them with the whole truth or to protect them by disguising it? Even the most sensitive handling of these circumstances creates stress for the couple and therefore in the relationship.

As bisexuality comes to be studied we will no doubt learn more about the rewards and problems of relationships in which bisexual people are involved. At the moment, all we can be reasonably sure of is that many people in relationships with bisexuals find their partners' orientation confusing and on occasion difficult to handle.

Q: "I read about some married couples that are bisexual. They have their marriage and they also have lovers of their own sex. This sounds weird to me; does it really happen?"

A: "Yes. Many have children and same-sex relationships while their marriage continues, apparently successfully. In the book Barry and Alice, A Portrait of a Bisexual Marriage, the authors describe exactly this experience and suggest that there are more couples like themselves who are involved in this kind of relationship.

In a society so accustomed to male-female marriages, children and grandchildren, understanding a nontraditional relationship structure is quite difficult; accepting it as a valid life-style is an even more troublesome task. Nevertheless, people are unique, and have continually resisted classification into set models.

Throughout history people have learned that there is value and merit in respecting differences."

CULTURE

Large numbers of the most famous people in history appear to have been bisexual. Alexander the Great, conqueror of the known world, was twice married and certainly had sexual relationships with men too. His fellow Greeks Socrates and Plutarch were following the proper Greek pattern in marrying and having children as well as having sexual relationship with young men.

Julius Caesar had a reputation for having sex with whomever was available - man or woman, young or old - despite three marriages (one to Cleopatra). Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo may both have been bisexual. Nearer our own time, Oscar Wilde, commonly regarded as one of the most celebrated homosexuals of history, had a wife and children with whom he lived and to whom he was devoted.

Andre Gide and Somerset Maugham also related to both sexes, despite their popular reputations. This list could go on for a very long time, and we would never be able to say with certainty that anyone on it was a genuine bisexual.

Social pressures can condition the appearance of sexual orientations out of all recognition, making it impossible for us to judge retrospectively what really motivated the behavior of an individual. What we can be sure of is that a great many people throughout history have exercised their capacities to relate to both sexes.

Why is this all about men? Because women have at most times and in most places been decreed into an inferior position, which made their activities "not worth recording." Quite often it has been thought that women were either uninterested in sex or incapable of relating sexually to other women.

No wonder that, until now, there has been an almost complete lack of information about who has a bisexual orientation and how it is expressed.

RELIGION

The traditional teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Judaism on bisexuality is to reject it, following their general principles that heterosexuality, marriage and procreation are the ideal; likewise the fundamentalist Protestant groups. Even the Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish groups whose beliefs about sexuality are more progressive have not yet developed public positions on bisexuality.