Bisexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by romantic love or sexual desire for members of either or both genders, contrasted with homosexuality, heterosexuality, and asexuality.
The terms pansexual, omnisexual and pomosexual are generally used synonymously with one another, but compare with terminology below. Bisexual people, like straight, lesbian, and gay people, may have simultaneous relationships with more than one partner, practice serial monogamy, or practice celibacy. These partners may be of one or both sexes. Bisexuality refers to desires and self-concept, not necessarily behavior.
Many bisexual people also consider themselves to be gay or lesbian (or part of the larger LGBT community). Others may be supportive of their cause but still consider themselves to be straight.
Some people argue that bisexuality, defined as neither exclusively heterosexual nor exclusively homosexual (in either desire, action, or otherwise), is the most common sexual preference, but is typically repressed as people choose either a straight or gay label (see Alfred Kinsey).
Bisexual orientation can fall anywhere between the two sexual orientations of homosexuality and heterosexuality; a bisexual person is not necessarily attracted equally to both sexes. Another view of bisexuality is that both homosexuality and heterosexuality are monosexualities, whereas bisexuality encompasses all monosexual orientations.
Pansexual, omnisexual and pomosexual (postmodern sexuality) are neologisms that also refer to people who are attracted to more than one gender. Rather than both or "bi" gender attraction, they refer to all or "omni" gender attraction, and are often used mainly by those who wish to express their understanding and acceptance of all gender possibilities including transgender and intersex people, not just two. Pansexuality sometimes includes an attraction for less mainstream sexual activities, such as BDSM.
Trysexual (sometimes "trisexual") is a neologism and a pun on bisexual. It is used as a humorous term for someone who will try any sexual experience.
People who are not bisexual are either "monosexual" (feel sexual attraction toward people of one gender only) or asexual (feel no sexual attraction toward people of either gender).
The term bisexual was coined by botanists c. 1809. It originally applied to plants that had both male and female sex organs. It is not known when the term was first applied to people, or to other animals.
Prevalence of bisexuality
Some studies, notably Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), have found that the majority of people appear to be at least somewhat bisexual. Most people have some attraction to either sex, although usually one sex is preferred. According to some, and falsely attributed to Kinsey, only about 5-10% of the population can be considered to be fully heterosexual or homosexual. An even smaller minority can be considered truly bisexual, that is, having no distinct preference for one gender or the other.
Kinsey ranked individuals on a seven-point scale of 0 to 6, with 0 being completely heterosexual and 6 completely homosexual. A 1 was considered predominantly heterosexual with only incidental homosexual attraction, a 2 mostly heterosexual with more serious homosexual attraction, a 3 completely equal homosexual and heterosexual attractions, etc. Kinsey found that most American men fell in the 1-to-2 range of the scale.
Kinsey's methodology (and in particular, his sampling technique), has been criticized as producing unreliable and biased results. See Demographics of sexual orientation and Kinsey Report for more information.
History of bisexuality
Bisexuality has a universal history. People in most known societies have exhibited varying degrees of bisexuality, and most of what is called homosexuality in previous cultures is in fact bisexuality (it should be noted, however, that the terms heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality may not be appropriate in the historical context as they are all relatively modern concepts. In most ancient societies, behaviour was considered homosexual while people were not labeled using such terms.
For example, in Ancient Greece most men often engaged in same-sex relationships, yet almost always also had wives. Ancient Rome, Arab countries up to and including the present, China and Japan, all exhibit patterns of analogous bisexual behaviour. Perhaps the most famous and militaristic example is Alexander the Great who had many wives, but also a sexual relationship with his male lover Hephaestion, but the same could be said of almost all the Roman emperors, the shoguns of Japan, the Chinese emperors, and others in every country and every age.
Ancestral law in ancient Sparta mandated same-sex relationships - with youths who were coming of age - for all adult men so long as the men also had wives and produced children. The Spartans thought that physical relationships between experienced and novice soldiers would solidify combat loyalty and encourage heroic tactics as men vied to impress their lovers. Once the younger soldier reached maturity the relationship was supposed to become non-sexual, but it is not clear how strictly this was followed.
Greek religious texts, reflecting cultural practices, incorporated bisexual themes. The subtexts varied, from the mystical to the didactic. See Mythology of same-sex love
Middle Eastern culture
In the Middle East, same-sex sexual behavior between men is somewhat common; a few sources describe it as near-ubiquitous. It is also a topos celebrated by some of the greatest artists of the Middle East, such as the famous poet Abu Nuwas and the Persian painter Riza Abbasi. This is despite prohibitions against homosexual behavior in the Qur'an and severe penalties for offenders in some nations, including the death penalty. The Qur'an however requires that the transgression be witnessed by four men or eight women in order to convict the participants. Therefore, while among Middle Easterners, bisexual behaviour is known to be common, and men are not given much trouble about these behaviors so long as they marry and raise families and fulfill other societal duties, it is something which remains very covert, and an open declaration of homosexual preference would be unacceptable. In this way, bisexuality in the Arab world and Persian world is somewhat similar to the DL culture prevalent in some African-American communities.
Bisexuality in Western Culture
Comparitively positive and notable portrayals of bisexuality can be found in mainstream cinema movies such as: Goldfish Memory ; The Rocky Horror Picture Show; and Henry and June . In popular music, many of the songs of The Smiths are commonly cited as classic examples. In notable graphic novels, Love & Rockets subtly portrays bisexuality. Krazy Kat is an early comic-strip character whose loves are not limited by gender. Notable novels containing significant bisexual characters are: Anne Rice's Cry To Heaven; Rosamond Lehmann 's Dusty Answer; Mary Renault's The Last of the Wine and The Persian Boy; Colette's Claudine novels; David Leavitt's The Lost Language of Cranes and While England Sleeps; Jeanette Winterson's The Passion; Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time; and Jane Rule's Young in One Another's Arms. Non-fiction scholarship, such as Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae (1990) and Louis Crompton's Byron and Greek Love (1985), has uncovered previously hidden histories of bisexuality.
Bisexuality is the subject of many misconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes. The following are common assumptions in western gay & lesbian cultures:
- that gay & lesbian people sometimes adopt the bisexual label as a way of holding on to heterosexual privileges.
- that people adopt the bisexual label while questioning their orientation or engaged in same-sex activity while closeted and heterosexually married. This is expressed by the well-known saying in gay culture: 'Bi now gay later'.
- that bisexuals are untrustworthy and promiscuous, engaging in a string of short-term sexual relationships and are that they are not serious about love. In lesbian communities, it is a common assumption that bisexuals may leave women for men or vice-versa.
Among heterosexuals, the following are common misconceptions:
- that bisexuality is about having 'three in a bed' sex.
- that bisexuals appear androgynous, or else are subject to sudden radical changes in their gender-appearance (e.g. transvestism).
- that an ambiguous sexuality entails an ambiguous moral worldview.
- it's "just a phase" that young teenagers go through.
Many of these stereotypes often find their way into popular culture, in film, television and in music. For instance, the television show Friends sported a short song about the topic that expresses a common prejudice on the subject:
- "Sometimes men love women,
- Sometimes men love men,
- Then there are bisexuals
- Though some people say they're kidding themselves"
And a Saturday Night Live joke ran thus:
- "A bisexual is a person who reaches down the front of somebody's pants and is satisfied with whatever they find." -- Dana Carvey as the church lady, Saturday Night Live.
Because many bisexual people often do not feel that they fit into either the gay community or the heterosexual world, and because they have a tendency to become invisible in public (fitting in rather seamlessly into both homosexual and heterosexual society), some bisexual persons are committed to forming their own communities, culture and political movement. Some adopt instead the new flexible meaning of the word queer.
Biphobia is a neologism that describes either the view that people are either heterosexual or homosexual, or expresses disapproval of bisexuals. Bisexual persons may also be the target of homophobia. Biphobia is also expressed in the storylines of movies in which the bisexual characters conceal murderous neuroses (Basic Instinct, Black Widow).
The bisexual pride flag
In an effort to create both more visibility, and a symbol for the bisexual community to gather behind, Michael Page created the bisexual pride flag
The bisexual flag, which has a pink or red stripe at the top for homosexuality, a blue one on the bottom for heterosexuality and a purple one in the middle to represent bisexuality, as purple is from the combination of red and blue.
- Bryant, Wayne M.. Bisexual Characters in Film: From Anais to Zee. Haworth Gay & Lesbian Studies, 1997. ISBN: 1560238941