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Bisexuality is a sexual orientation which refers to the romantic and/or sexual attraction of individuals to others of both genders (socially) or sexes (biologically). Most bisexuals are not equally attracted to men and women and may even shift between states of finding either gender or sex exclusively attractive over the course of time.[1] However, some bisexuals are and remain fairly static in their level of attraction throughout their adult life.

In the mid-1940s, Alfred Kinsey devised the Kinsey scale in an attempt to measure sexual orientation and activity. The 7-point scale has a rating of 0 ("exclusively heterosexual") to 6 ("exclusively homosexual"). Bisexuals cover most of the scale's values (1–5), which range between "predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual" (1) to "predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual" (5). In the middle of the scale (3) is "equally heterosexual and homosexual".[1] Although Kinsey's methodology has come under criticism, the scale is still widely used in describing the phenomenon of bisexuality.

Although observed in a variety of forms in human societies[2] and in the animal kingdom[3][4] throughout recorded history, the term bisexuality (like the terms hetero- and homosexuality) was only coined in the 19th century.[5]

Description[edit | edit source]

Bisexual people are not necessarily attracted equally to both sexes.[1] Because bisexuality is often an ambiguous position between homosexuality and heterosexuality, those who identify, or are identified, as bisexuals form a heterogeneous group.

Others view bisexuality as more ambiguous. Some people who might be classified by others as bisexual on the basis of their sexual behavior self-identify primarily as homosexual. Equally, otherwise heterosexual people who engage in occasional homosexual behavior could be considered bisexual, but may not identify as such. For some who believe that sexuality is a distinctly defined aspect of the character, this ambiguity is problematic. It is sometimes argued that the behavior of bisexuals may be explained by subconscious homophobia or peer pressure.[How to reference and link to summary or text] On the other hand, some believe that the majority of people contain aspects of homosexuality and heterosexuality, but that the intensities of these can vary from person to person.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Some people who engage in bisexual behavior may be supportive of homosexual people, but still self-identify as heterosexual; others may consider any labels irrelevant to their positions and situations. In 1995, Harvard Shakespeare professor Marjorie Garber made the academic case for bisexuality with her 600-page Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life in which she argued that most people would be bisexual if not for "repression, religion, repugnance, denial...premature specialization."[6]

Some bisexuals make a distinction between gender and sex. Gender is defined in these situations as social or psychological category, characterized by the common practices of men and women. For example, the fact that women wear skirts and dresses in Western society while men traditionally do not is a gender issue. Sex in this case is defined as the biological difference between males and females, prior to any social conditioning. Bisexuals in this sense may be attracted to more than one gender but only to one sex. For example, a male bisexual may be attracted to aspects of men and masculinity, but not to the male body.

Bisexuality is often misunderstood as a form of adultery or polyamory, and a popular misconception is that bisexuals must always be in relationships with men and women simultaneously. Rather, individuals attracted to both males and females, like people of any other orientation, may live a variety of sexual lifestyles. These include lifelong monogamy, serial monogamy, polyamory, polyfidelity, casual sexual activity with individual partners, casual group sex, and celibacy. For those with more than one sexual partner, these may or may not all be of the same gender.

Terminology[edit | edit source]

The term bisexual was first used in the 19th century to refer to intersexed people. By 1914 it had begun to be used in the context of sexual orientation.[5] Some bisexuals and sex researchers are dissatisfied with the term and have developed a variety of alternative or supplementary terms to describe aspects and forms of bisexuality. Many are neologisms not widely recognized by the larger society.

  • Pansexual, omnisexual, anthrosexual, and pomosexual (postmodern sexuality) are substitute terms that, rather than referring to both or "bi" sex attraction, refer to all or "omni" sex attraction and are used mainly by those who wish to express acceptance of all sex possibilities, including transgender and intersex people, not just two. Pansexuality sometimes includes an attraction for less mainstream sexual activities, such as BDSM. Some people who might otherwise identify as pansexual or omnisexual choose to self-identify as bisexual because the term bisexual is more widely known, and because they see it as an important term in identity politics.
  • Bi-permissive describes someone who does not actively seek out sexual relations with a given sex, but is open to them. Such a person may self-identify as heterosexual or homosexual and engage predominantly in sexual acts with individuals of the corresponding sex, and might be rated 1 or 5 on Kinsey's scale. Near-synonyms include heteroflexible and homoflexible.
  • Ambisexual indicates a primarily indiscriminate attraction to either sex. A person who self-identifies as ambisexual might be attracted with equal intensity on physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels to partner(s) regardless of sex or gender presentation while upholding selectivity standards in other areas. Some might experience equally intense attractions that could be triggered by sex- or gender-specific traits in the given partner or partners. A person with this orientation might fall in the 3 category on Kinsey's scale, as would some who subscribe to the 2 or 4 rating (although some individuals in these latter categories consider themselves bi-permissive).
  • Bi-curious has several distinct and sometimes contradictory meanings. It is commonly found in personal ads from those who identify as heterosexual, but are interested in homosexual "experimentation." Such people are commonly suspected—not necessarily correctly—of being homosexuals or bisexuals in denial of their homosexuality. It can also be used to describe someone as being passively bi, bi-permissive, or open to indirect bisexual contact.
  • Trisexual (sometimes trysexual) is either an extension of, or a pun on bisexual. In its more serious usage, it indicates an interest in transgender persons in addition to cissexual men and women. In its more humorous usage, it refers to someone who will try any sexual experience. It is used in the song "La Vie Boheme" in the Broadway musical Rent.
  • Biphobia describes a fear or condemnation of bisexuality, usually based in a belief that only heterosexuality and homosexuality are genuine orientations and appropriate lifestyles. Bisexual persons may also be the target of homophobia from those who consider only heterosexuality appropriate. The reverse can also apply in that bisexual persons may be targets of heterophobia or discrimination by some homosexuals.
  • Passively bi, aka open-minded, is a non-sex specific term that describes a heterosexual/bi-curious person who is open to incidental or direct contact (typically in a group sex scenario) from a member of the same sex or a homosexual/bi-curious person who is open to contact with members of the opposite sex under the same scenario, which usually doesn't involve reciprocation.
  • Actively bi is a non-sex specific term that can describe a bi-curious person who initiates direct contact with the sex opposite his or her usual identity (either hetero- or homosexual); it can also refer to a bisexual person who engages in contact with members of both sexes on a fairly regular basis.

Modern Western prevalence of bisexuality[edit | edit source]

Main article: Demographics of sexual orientation

A 2002 survey in the United States by National Center for Health Statistics found that 1.8 percent of men ages 18–44 considered themselves bisexual, 2.3 percent homosexual, and 3.9 percent as "something else". The same study found that 2.8 percent of women ages 18–44 considered themselves bisexual, 1.3 percent homosexual, and 3.8 percent as "something else".[7]

The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior, published in 1993, showed that 5 percent of men and 3 percent of women consider themselves bisexual and 4 percent of men and 2 percent of women considered themselves homosexual.[7]

Sigmund Freud theorized that every person has the ability to become bisexual at some time in his or her life.[8] He based this on the idea that enjoyable experiences of sexuality with the same sex, whether sought or unsought, acting on it or being fantasized, become an attachment to his or her needs and desires in social upbringing. Prominent psychoanalyst Dr. Joseph Merlino, Senior Editor of the book, Freud at 150: 21st Century Essays on a Man of Genius stated in an interview:

Freud maintained that bisexuality was a normal part of development. That all of us went through a period of bisexuality and that, in the end, most of us came out heterosexual but that the bisexual phase we traversed remained on some unconscious level, and was dealt with in other ways....He did not consider it something that should be criminalized, or penalized.... Freud felt there were a number of homosexuals he encountered who did not have a variety of complex problems that homosexuality was a part of. He found people who were totally normal in every other regard except in terms of their sexual preference. In fact, he saw many of them as having higher intellects, higher aesthetic sensibilities, higher morals; those kinds of things. He did not see it as something to criminalize or penalize, or to keep from psychoanalytic training. A lot of the psychoanalytic institutes felt if you were homosexual you should not be accepted; that was not Freud's position.

Joseph Merlino, [9]

Some studies, notably Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), have indicated that the majority of people appear to be at least somewhat bisexual. The studies report that most people have some attraction to either sex, although usually one sex is preferred. According to some (falsely attributed to Kinsey), only about 5–10 percent of the population can be considered fully heterosexual or homosexual.[How to reference and link to summary or text] On the other hand, an even smaller minority has no distinct preference for one sex or the other.

Despite common misconceptions, bisexuality does not require that a person be attracted equally to both sexes. In fact, people who have a distinct but not exclusive preference for one sex over the other can and often do identify as bisexual. Some recent studies, including one by researchers Gerulf Rieger, Meredith L. Chivers, and J. Michael Bailey,[10] which attracted media attention in 2005, purported to find that bisexuality is extremely rare, and perhaps nonexistent, in men. Some outside the scientific world have criticized that such studies have typically worked from the assumption that a person is only truly bisexual if he or she exhibits virtually equal arousal responses to both opposite-sex and same-sex stimuli, and have consequently dismissed the self-identification of people whose arousal patterns showed even a mild preference for one sex.[11] Such a criticism would not apply in Rieger, Chivers, and Bailey's case, as their study was not seeking to determine if men who claimed to be bi-sexual had equal rates of stimulation toward men and women, rather the study's conclusions were based on a comparison between the arousal patterns of perportedly bisexual men and homosexual or heterosexual men. The results did significantly indicate that the men who claimed to be bisexual had results that matched up with either homosexual men or heterosexual men.

One criticism that has been raised to the Rieger, Chivers, and Bailey study is that many bisexuals' attraction is based on social/mental gender of individuals rather than physical sex. For example, a bisexual might be attracted to both feminine women and feminine men, but have little interest in masculine individuals. This individual, while they might be highly attracted to certain members of both sexes, would be unlikely to be attracted to most males in modern western society (who tend to be masculine). As this study employed 2-minute clips of standard heterosexual and homosexual pornography, the study would be blind to the this type of bisexual.

Bisexuality in history[edit | edit source]


Shudo (Japanese pederasty): a young male entertains an older male lover, covering his eyes while surreptitiously kissing a female servant.

In some cultures, historical and literary records from most literate societies indicate that male bisexuality was common and indeed expected.[How to reference and link to summary or text] These relationships were generally age-structured (as in the practice of pederasty in the Mediterranean Basin of antiquity,[12] or the practice of shudo in pre-modern Japan)[How to reference and link to summary or text] or gender-structured (as in the Two-Spirit North American tradition or the Central Asian bacchá practices).[How to reference and link to summary or text] Male heterosexuality and homosexuality, while also documented, appear mostly as exceptions, unless we are examining cultures influenced by the Abrahamic religions, where heterosexuality was privileged, and bisexuality and homosexuality forcefully suppressed.[How to reference and link to summary or text] In fact, most of the commonly cited examples of male "homosexuality" in previous cultures would more properly be categorized as bisexuality.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Determining the history of female bisexuality is more problematic, in that women in most of the studied societies were under the domination of the males, and on one hand had less self-determination and freedom of movement and expression, and on the other were not the ones writing or keeping the literary record.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Sappho, however, is a notable example.

In 124 CE the bisexual Roman emperor Hadrian met Antinous, a 13- or 14-year-old boy from Bithynia, and they began their pederastic relationship. Antinous was deified by Hadrian when he died six years later. Many statues, busts, coins and reliefs display Hadrian's deep affections for him. Ancient Rome, Arab countries up to and including the present, China, and Japan, all exhibit patterns of analogous bisexual behavior.[How to reference and link to summary or text] In Japan in particular, due to its practice of shudo and the extensive art and literature associated with it, the record of a primarily bisexual lifestyle is both detailed and quite recent, dating back as recently as the 19th century.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Bisexual behavior was also common among Roman and Chinese emperors, the shoguns of Japan, and others.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the terms heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, and the concept of "sexual orientation" itself are all modern sociological constructs and may not be appropriate in historical contexts in which behavior might be considered homosexual but people were not labeled using such terms.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Ancient Greece[edit | edit source]

Main article: Homosexuality in ancient Greece
File:Homosexual scene - 420 BCE, Dinos painter - Capua - GR 1772.3-20.154 F65 - British Museum.jpg

Two athletes about to have sex, while a man watches; Apulian red-figure vase by the Dinos painter, 420BCE

Ancient Greek religious texts, reflecting cultural practices, incorporated bisexual themes. The subtexts varied, from the mystical to the didactic.[13]

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 eventually took wives and produced children.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The Spartans thought that love and erotic relationships between experienced and novice soldiers would solidify combat loyalty and encourage heroic tactics as men vied to impress their lovers. Once the younger soldiers reached maturity, the relationship was supposed to become non-sexual, but it is not clear how strictly this was followed. There was some stigma attached to young men who continued their relationships with their mentors into adulthood.[13] For example, Aristophanes calls them euryprôktoi, meaning "wide arses", and depicts them like women.[13]

In Ancient Greece it is believed that males generally went through a homosexual stage in adolescence, followed by a bisexual stage characterized by pederastic relationships in young adulthood, followed by a (mostly) heterosexual stage later in life, when they married and had children.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king, is thought to have been bisexual, and to have had a male lover named Hephaestion.[14]

Social status of bisexuality[edit | edit source]

Historically, bisexuality has largely been free of the social stigma associated with homosexuality, prevalent even where bisexuality was the norm.[How to reference and link to summary or text] In Ancient Greece pederasty was not problematic as long as the men involved eventually married and had children. In many world cultures, homosexual affairs have been quietly accepted among upper-class men of good social standing (particularly if married)[How to reference and link to summary or text], and heterosexual marriage has often been used successfully as a defense against accusations of homosexuality.[How to reference and link to summary or text] On the other hand, there are bisexuals who marry or live with a heterosexual partner because they prefer the complementarity of different sexes in cohabiting and co-parenting but have felt greatly enriched by homosexual relationships alongside the marriage in both monogamous and "open" relationships.

Since the 1970s, there have been waves of bisexual chic, in which celebrities and other persons of some notoriety have embraced and advocated bisexuality. This has led to more acceptance of bisexuals in some regards; however, some have latched onto bisexual chic for publicity's sake, with varying degrees of sincerity and permanency. Such celebrities as David Bowie, Dave Navarro, Anne Heche and others have claimed bisexuality only to later renounce the idea.

Some in the homosexual community accuse those who self-identify as bisexual of duplicity, believing they are really homosexuals who engage in heterosexual activity merely to remain socially acceptable. They may be accused of "not doing their part" in gaining acceptance of "true" homosexuality. Some homosexual people may also suspect that a self-described bisexual is merely a homosexual in the initial stage of questioning their presumed heterosexuality, and will eventually accept that they are homosexual; this is expressed by a glib saying in gay culture: "Bi now, gay later." These situations can and do take place, but do not appear to be true of the majority of self-described bisexuals. Nonetheless, bisexuals do sometimes experience lesser acceptance from homosexual people, because of their declared orientation. Bisexual experimentation is also common in adolescents of every sexual orientation.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Bisexuals are often associated with men who engage in same-sex activity while closeted or heterosexually married. The majority of such men—said to be living on the down-low—do not self-identify as bisexual.[15]

Because some bisexual people do not feel that they fit into either the homosexual or the heterosexual world, and because they have a tendency to be "invisible" in public, some bisexual persons are committed to forming their own communities, culture, and political movements. However, since "Bisexual orientation can fall anywhere between the two extremes of homosexuality and heterosexuality"[How to reference and link to summary or text], some who identify as bisexual may merge themselves into either homosexual or heterosexual society. Still other bisexual people see this merging as enforced rather than voluntary; bisexual people can face exclusion from both homosexual and heterosexual society on coming out. Psychologist Beth Firestein states that bisexuals also tend to internalize social tensions related to their choice of partners.[16] Firestein suggests bisexuals may feel pressured to label themselves as homosexuals instead of occupying a difficult middle ground in a culture that has it that if bisexuals are attracted to people of both sexes, they must have more than one partner, thus defying society's value on monogamy.[16] These social tensions and pressure may and do affect bisexuals' mental health.[16][17] Specific therapy methods have been developed for bisexuals to address this concern.[16]

Relatively few supportive bisexual communities exist, therefore there is not as much support from people who have gone through similar experiences. This effectively can make it more difficult for bisexuals to "come out" as such.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Bisexual symbols[edit | edit source]

Main article: LGBT symbols

The bisexual pride flag

A common symbol of bisexual identity is the bisexual pride flag, which has a deep pink stripe at the top for homosexuality, a blue one on the bottom for heterosexuality, and a purple one, blended from the pink and blue, in the middle to represent bisexuality.[18]

File:Bi triangles.svg


Another symbol of bisexual identity that uses the color scheme of the bisexual pride flag is a pair of overlapping pink and blue triangles, the pink triangle being a well-known symbol for the homosexual community, forming purple where they intersect.[19]



Many homosexual and bisexual individuals have a problem with the use of the pink triangle symbol as it was the symbol that Hitler's regime used to tag homosexuals (similar to the yellow Star of David that is constituted of two opposed, overlapping triangles). Because pink triangles were used in the persecution of homosexuals in the Nazi regime, a double moon symbol was devised specifically to avoid the use of triangles.[20] This bisexual symbol is a double moon that is formed when the sex-specific attributes of the astrological symbol of Mars & Venus (representing heterosexual union) are reduced to the two circles open on both ends, thus symbolizing that bisexuals are open to either-sex unions.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The color of the bisexual double moon symbol varies. The symbol is most often displayed with rainbow colors[How to reference and link to summary or text], signifying that bisexuals belong to the gay community.[How to reference and link to summary or text] It also may appear with the pink-purple-blue colors of the bisexual pride flag.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The double moon symbol is common in Germany and surrounding countries.[20]

Bisexuality in animals[edit | edit source]

Main article: Animal sexuality

Many non-human animal species also exhibit bisexual behavior. This is, of course, common in hermaphroditic animals, but is also known in many other species. Examples of mammals include the bonobo (formerly known as the pygmy chimpanzee), orca, and bottlenose dolphin. Examples of avians include some species of gulls and Humboldt Penguins. Other examples occur among fish, flatworms, and crustaceans.[21]

Many species of animals are involved in the act of forming sexual and relationship bonds between the same sex; even when offered the opportunity to breed with members of the opposite sex, they picked the same sex. Some of these species are gazelles, antelope, bison, and sage grouse.[22]

In some cases animals will choose intercourse with different sexes at different times in their life, and sometimes will perform intercourse with different sexes at random. Homosexual intercourse can also be seasonal in some animals like male walruses, who often engage in homosexual intercourse with each other outside of the breeding season and will revert to heterosexual intercourse during breeding season. [22]

In some cases bisexuality is actually a form of fitness favored by evolution. For example, in the absence of male whiptail lizards (Cnemidophorus), females reproduce by pairing up with each other. During the breeding season females will take turns switching between "male" and "female" roles as their hormones fluctuate. Estrogen levels are high during ovulation ("female" role) and much lower after laying eggs ("male" role). While in the "male" role, a female lizard will mount another in the "female" role and go through the motions of sex to stimulate egg-laying. The hatchlings produced are all female. This all-female species has evolved from lizards with two sexes, but their eggs develop without fertilization (parthenogenesis). Female whiptail lizards can lay eggs without sex, but they lay far fewer eggs than if they engage in sexual stimulation by another female. [23]

See also[edit | edit source]

Further reading[edit | edit source]

Ancient Greece
  • Kenneth J. Dover. Greek Homosexuality, New York; Vintage Books, 1978. ISBN 0-394-74224-9
  • Thomas K. Hubbard. Homosexuality in Greece and Rome, U. of California Press, 2003. ISBN 0-520-23430-8
  • Herald Patzer. Die Griechische Knabenliebe [Greek Pederasty], Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1982. In: Sitzungsberichte der Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft an der Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Vol. 19 No. 1.
  • W. A. Percy III. Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece, University of Illinois Press, 1996. ISBN 0-252-02209-2
By country
Modern Western

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Robinson, B.A.. Bisexuality: Neither Homosexuality Nor Hetrosexuality. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. URL accessed on 2007-02-17.
  2. Crompton, Louis (2003). Homosexuality and Civilization, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press.
  3. Bagemihl, Bruce (1999). Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, London: Profile Books, Ltd..
  4. Roughgarden, Joan (May 2004). Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Harper, Douglas (2001). Bisexuality. Online Etymology Dictionary. URL accessed on 2007-02-16.
  6. Garber, Marjorie B. (1995). Vice versa: bisexuality and the eroticism of everyday life, New York: Simon & Schuster.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Frequently Asked Sexuality Questions to the Kinsley Institute. The Kinsley Institude. URL accessed on 2007-02-16.
  8. Freud, Sigmund (translated by A.A. Brill), Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, Dover Publications, 128 pages, ISBN 0486416038
  9. Interview with Dr. Joseph Merlino, David Shankbone, Wikinews, October 5, 2007.
  10. Rieger G, Chivers ML, Bailey JM (2005). Sexual arousal patterns of bisexual men. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS 16 (8): 579-84.
  11. includeonly>Carey, Benedict. "Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited", The New York Times, July 5, 2005. Retrieved on 2007-02-24.
  12. Peter James, Nick Thorpe. Ancient Inventions. Ballantine Books; New edition, 1995, p. 164 ISBN 0345401026
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 van Dolen, Hein Greek Homosexuality. URL accessed on 2007-02-17.
  14. The Love of Alexander III of Macedon, Known as "The Great". URL accessed on 2007-02-18.
  15. Boykin, Keith. 10 Things You Should Know About the DL. URL accessed on 2007-02-23.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 DeAngelis, Tori (2002). A new generation of issues for LGBT clients. Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association. URL accessed on 2007-02-16.
  17. Study: Bisexuals face mental health risks. URL accessed on 2007-02-17.
  18. Page, Michael. Bi Pride Flag. URL accessed on 2007-02-16.
  19. Symbols of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Movements. URL accessed on 2007-02-27.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Koymasky, Matt, Koymasky Andrej. Gay Symbols: Other Miscellaneous Symbols. URL accessed on 2007-02-18.
  21. Diamond, Milton (1998). Bisexuality: A Biological Perspective. Bisexualities - The Ideology and Practice of Sexual Contact with both Men and Women. URL accessed on 2007-02-17.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Scott Bidstrup (2000). The Natural Crime Against Nature. URL accessed on 2007-06-26.
  23. Neil A. Campbell, Jane B. Reece (2002). Biology.

External links[edit | edit source]


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