Over the years I've had several clients tell me they are bisexual. One of them had a dilemma. A woman in her late twenties had experienced several short-term relationships with women and men since she was a teenager. For the previous three years she had been in a monogamous relationship with a male partner, and now he had asked her to marry him.
She loves him and they both would like to have children. The problem is that she has never told him that she is bisexual; she prefers to be in a heterosexual relationship because settling down and having a family is very important to her. Now her difficulty was, should she tell him or not?
I am often surprised how many people know very little about their partner's sexual past. Sometimes this is because they don't know how to ask, or they don't want to know because of insecurity or jealousy. Having to compete with a member of the opposite sex can even be more daunting.
Most people don't understand the concept of bisexuality, and the assumption is often made that "you are either, gay, straight or lying". Many bisexual people complain that they feel like outsiders, who don't fit in to the gay or straight world. It's difficult for them to find acceptance and there are very few role models.
Gay men often believe that bisexual men are really gay, but in denial. Bisexual women are often mistrusted by lesbians for "sleeping with the enemy", while straight women may reject bisexual men out of misguided fear they may have HIV or other sexual transmitted infections. Bisexual men are told to make up their minds.
More than 50 years ago, sex researcher Alfred Kinsey noted that sexual attraction varies along a continuum and he devised a seven-point scale to describe this. At one end are people who are exclusively heterosexual and at the other end people who are exclusively homosexual. In between are many graduations of desire. This third category, meaning people with some significant attraction to both genders is called bisexuality.
In Australia there hasn't been much research done yet into the subject. However, last year in the US a Pew Research Centre survey revealed that bisexuals differ from gay men and lesbians on a range of attitudes and experiences related to their sexual orientation. For example, while 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians say most or all of the important people in their lives know of their sexual orientation, just 28 percent of bisexuals say the same.
Many bisexuals avoid coming out because they don't want to deal with misconceptions that bisexuals are indecisive or incapable of monogamy, or going through a phase (stereotypes that also exist among straights, gays and lesbians alike). They also feel that they are sometimes shunned by the gay and lesbian and the straight world alike.
Another client, who has been happily married for 20 years and has three children, has an active sex life with his wife but also has occasional anonymous sex with men. He explained that while he is not romantically attracted to men, it's exciting and easy to hook up with another man and get a sexual release. But his wife found out and was devastated and she believes he must be gay or bisexual.
This scenario happens quite often, and the men in this category are known as "married men who have sex with men". Most of these men insist they are not gay or bisexual. However, it's very confronting and confusing for their wives if they are found out.
So, with all the myths and prejudices that bisexuals experience, will they be more accepted in the near future? There are many gay characters in the movies or TV but still few bisexual ones. However, over the last years TV shows like 'Transparent', 'The Fall', 'The Good Wife', 'Glee', 'How to Get Away with Murder', 'Revenge' and' Orange is the New Black' have included them in their storylines.
September 23 was celebrated around the world as Bi Visibility Day or International Celebrate Bisexuality Day. In the wake of this event a nation-wide survey has been launched that aims to understand more about the experiences and wellbeing of Australians who have attraction to and/or intimate experience with people of their own gender and at least one other gender.
The survey is being conducted by PhD student Julia Taylor at La Trobe University's Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS). The current statistics on bisexual mental health in Australia are alarming and it is hoped that this research will shed light on this little understood issue and inform efforts to improve mental health issues. She would like bisexual people to fill out her confidential questionnaire.