Bisexuality - What is it? What does it mean?

Last Updated: 02/10/2022
14 min read
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Bisexual flag

Bisexuality typically refers to a sexual orientation that is a sexual or romantic attraction to people of more than one sex. Some say bisexuality is an attraction to only two genders while others argue it is about being attracted to two or more gender identities. 

Bisexuality is an umbrella term that includes many diverse sexualities that are attracted to multiple genders. This means the term bisexual is perceived differently by each individual. Some openly bisexual people may be attracted to men or male-aligned people and women or female-aligned people in the same way, while others may experience stronger attraction to one over the other. 


Table of contents

Terminology

The term bi sexuality has a long history when it comes to describing attraction between human beings. The prefix bi means two in Greek. Some think that bisexual means both meaning sexual and romantic attraction for only two genders or men and women exclusively. To the same degree, the prefix bi is also sometimes reinterpreted to refer to two genders as many openly bisexual people have a sexual preference for two or multiple genders. That said, for many folks who identify as bisexual this sexual preference does not mean the gender binary. So, bi people may be attracted to their gender as well as transgender people and non-binary people. 

Bisexual means that a person is romantically and/or sexually attracted to men and women, as well as other genders. A bisexual man can be attracted to cisgender men and women but he may also be attracted to transgender men as well as cisgender women and many other genders. 

Bisexuality is an inclusive term. It encompasses sexual attraction to people of two or more genders with or without a gender preference. It is an umbrella term that also includes labels like pansexual, omnisexual, polysexual, and more. There are some people who argue that bisexuality is a sexual identity that is far too gender specific and focuses on the biological sex. 

Even though bisexual means both, bisexual men and women often face misconceptions about their identity. In other words, these myths make people who are bisexual feel excluded from the LGBTQ+ community and beyond. 

History

Historically, bisexuality is a sexual identity that involves romantic attraction as well as sexual feelings for two or more genders. Bisexuality is a sexual orientation that involves attraction to the same gender and the opposite gender as well. Modern-day sexuality research focuses on the umbrella terminology associated with bisexuality. 

The Early Age

According to sources online, the first known definite of bisexuality in a sense that we currently understand as referring to sexual attractions to both men and women was by Charles Gilbert Chaddock in his translation of Krafft-Ebing's sex research work Psychopathia Sexualis in 1892. Before Krafft-Ebing, the term bisexual typically referred to intersex people as in having both male and female parts. It also was a word to describe more than one gender mixed-education as in only women or only men were allowed but bisexual was for both men and women. 

20th Century

Starting in the 1970s, bisexuality gained notoriety in literature as well as activism. The fight for equality in the United States and Europe led to a surge in sex research. Gay men and women as well as sexually fluid and gender non-conforming individuals brought attention to LGBTQ+ culture and community. Despite that, bisexuality was still one of the marginalized sexualities in film, academic research institutions, and literature. 

In 1987, an article by bisexual activist Lani Ka’ahumanu expressed the difficulties in solidifying bisexuality as attraction to multiple genders. The article titled “Are We Visible Yet” talked about the fact that many bisexual people along with those of other sexual orientation have been active during the gay liberation movement yet their sexuality was viewed as confused, untrustworthy, or wishy-washy. Lani wrote:

"I am bisexual because I am drawn to particular people regardless of gender. It doesn’t make me wishy-washy, confused, untrustworthy, or more sexually liberated. It makes me a bisexual."

The article continues to resonate with bisexual people today. It demonstrated that the definition of bisexuality does not mean promiscuous, confused, or misguided. Their sexuality is valid and has many different aspects that should be celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community. 

Flag & Symbols:

The bisexual pride flag is one of the most recognizable LGBTQ+ flags. It was designed in 1998 by a team led by Michael Page, an LGBTQ+ rights advocate. The flag was created with a goal in mind. It had to give the bisexual people a symbol. The aim was to increase bi visibility not only in the LGBTQ+ community but in society as a whole. 

Michael Page was inspired by the colors of the existing bisexuality symbol, the biangles. The two pink and blue triangles of unknown origins have long been a symbol for the bisexual community.

BianglesBiangles

So, the most commonly used bisexual flag features pink which represents same-sex attraction, blue that stands for the opposite sex attraction, and overlapping purple which represents attraction to both sexes. 

Bisexual flagBisexual flag

Page described the flag’s colors as having a deeper meaning. He said: “the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue, just as in the real world, where bisexuals blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities."

It should be noted that the colors of the bisexual flag are often misinterpreted. Some say pink represents the attraction to only women, blue stands for the attraction to only men and purple is for the attraction to gender non-conforming individuals. 

Bisexual symbolBisexual symbol

There are also other versions of the flag that can be viewed in the gallery. Some other symbols for the bisexual community like a pair of back-to-back crescents are also available there. 

Misconceptions

Bisexuals make up the largest part of the LGBTQ+ community yet continue to face misconceptions and mistreatment because of their identity. 

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions associated with bisexuality. Just like many other LGBTQ+ identities, bisexual people face biphobia and bi-erasure on a regular basis. Some of these misconceptions are:

  • Bisexuality is associated with promiscuity
  • Bisexuality is neither gay nor straight 
  • Bisexuality is just a phase
  • Bisexuals cannot sustain relationships
  • Bisexuals are confused and sexually frustrated
  • Bisexuals only care about the looks
  • Bisexuals are transphobic or trans-exclusionary 
  • Bisexuals cannot pick a side

These are just a few of the many misconceptions and myths associated with bisexuality. These can lead to biphobia, violence against bisexual people, harassment, and bi-erasure. In its very extreme form, bi-erasure completely denies the existence of bisexuality. 

Bisexual Erasure

There have been several studies on bisexual erasure. Bisexual Resource Center and Taimi had a poll on how bisexual men and women feel when it comes to their bisexual identity. An overwhelming number of persons said that they have experienced bisexual erasure in some form on dating apps.

Bisexual people are not gay, they are not straight either. They are who they are and it is time we accept them for their true self.

The Difference Between Bisexual and Pansexual

Bisexuality is sometimes confused with other multi-gender sexualities. Sometimes people confuse it with pansexuality which can fall under the bisexuality umbrella. The key difference is that people who are bisexual feel attraction to two or more genders whereas pansexual people feel an attraction to all genders. 

For many people the terms are interchangeable and they do not have to be attracted to one gender or the other. Some bisexual men experience sexual attraction to gay men and straight women while other bisexual men date only bisexual men. Bisexuality does not have to mean a person has to date the same gender in order to identify as bisexual. People who experience attraction to all genders may also identify as bisexual while others may choose the other sexual orientation and solely use pansexual. Labels are ultimately an individual preference. 

Pronouns

Bisexual people can be of many different genders. They can be cisgender men and females, transgender, non-binary or agender folks.  People who identify as bisexual may use gendered pronouns like he/him or she/her. Some may prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns like they/them and others may use neopronouns of their choice. 

Remember that it is always important to use inclusive language regardless of the situation you are in. Do your best to share your pronouns first and ask the person about their pronouns in a polite manner. Never assume someone’s pronouns based on their sexuality or gender expression. 

How to Know If You Are Bisexual?

It ultimately comes down to an individual. If you feel the word bisexual best describes your sexual orientation and sexual activity then go ahead and use it.  There are truly no strict sourcing guidelines when it comes to using the label. If the word gives you a sense of comfort and makes you happy - then that is the terminology that works best for you at the current point in your lifetime.

If you feel the need to do a tad bit more research on sexuality to find out more about yourself, then by all means google “what does it mean to be bi”. Trust us, there is no rush to slap a label on your identity. That said, if you feel like bisexuality is truly the best term for you then it’s absolutely great. 

Some of the questions you may ask yourself to find out if you are bisexual are: 

  • Am I attracted to two or more genders? 
  • Do I have a gender preference when it comes to my sexual behavior? 
  • Does a person’s sex play a role in my attraction to them? 
  • Do I feel comfortable using the term bisexual to describe myself? 

How to Come Out as Bisexual

Now, if you’re just coming to terms with your identity and learning more about the LGBTQ+ community, a great way to start is to join organizations that work with bisexual and LGBTQ youth. Remember, young people who come out as bisexual may face misconceptions and myths along the way. There may be some who have their own definition of bisexuality.

It can be extremely difficult for LGBTQ youth to come out to family and friends, so do it on your own terms and at your own pace. Coming out may put added pressure on you.  It can also be detrimental to your mental health. So, try to seek professionals who can provide medical advice to you. That said, to some, it is a very freeing experience. Always consider your safety a top priority when contemplating coming out to friends and/or family. 

A great lifeline can be a local LGBTQ+ organization that provides services to people in the closet. There are also several helplines and online platforms available for bisexual people. 

What If I No Longer Like The Term?

That is absolutely okay! Remember that sexual identity development does not happen overnight. Gender and sexuality are a spectrum. Identity and sexuality may and often do change over time. If you no longer feel like the word bisexual fits you then stop using it to describe your sexuality. 

You are the only person that can tell the world what label to use to describe them. Some people identify as bisexual then identify as gay then pansexual and so on. It doesn’t mean their identity as a bisexual person was not valid. In fact, your sexual orientation today may not be the same ten years from now, and that is absolutely fine! Do not let anyone tell you that your experience does not matter. 

Mental Health

Bisexual people make up half of the LGBTQ+ community, but they are much more likely to suffer from mental health issues. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Bisexuality, bisexual and bi-curious women in relationships with heterosexual men are much less likely to come out.

This means that a woman is much less likely to talk to her cisgender heterosexual male partner about her identity. Researchers found that bisexual women may experience issues with physical and mental health due to the fact that their sexuality is under wraps. So, many bisexual women are perceived by society as straight or just going through a phase, while many bisexual men are perceived to be gay. This can take a huge toll on the mental state of a bisexual man or woman. The best option is to find someone who can provide medical advice to bi people. 

For example, a woman who is in a relationship with another woman may be less affected by her partner's sexual orientation and gender. Peer-reviewed studies found that partners that both identified as bisexual had the least anxiety when it came to experiencing issues based on their sexual identity.

Bisexual Health

Oftentimes bisexuals face problems when it comes to social services, especially when dealing with medical care. This is more prevalent in cases of males having sex with men, but can also be seen when it comes to female health. Bisexual people sometimes fail to tell health professionals about their sexual identity and sexual orientation. This can lead to failure to provide medical advice. 

Patients shy away from asking questions, and health professionals tend to assume that those in opposite-sex relationships are cisgender heterosexual. Proving education to doctors and nurses on how to address bisexual health problems can go a long way in terms of treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

Relationships

A bisexual person may be in a long-term same-sex or heterosexual relationship, or they may alternate between the two. This does not mean their bisexuality is no longer valid. Bisexual people can be in hetero-passing relationships for their whole life yet continue to be bisexual regardless of their partner’s gender. 

A person may realize they are attracted to other or same genders at any moment during their lifetime. There are people who go through their whole lives thinking they need to only identify as gay or straight. So, they avoid coming out as bisexual to their partners. 

Bisexuals often end up in straight couples. That means a bisexual woman can get married to a heterosexual cisgender male, have children with him, but she will not magically turn heterosexual, the woman will remain bisexual regardless of her partner. Likewise, a bisexual male who ends up marrying a gay man is not gay because he is in a same-sex partnership.

Bisexuals do not evolve to be gay or straight. It is time to accept the fact that bisexuality is its own identity with many nuances. People are bisexual regardless of what kind of relationship they are in. 

Hiding the truth can make a huge impact on a relationship. Talking to your partner, if you feel safe to share your true sexuality with them is the best way to confront the feelings of anxiety associated with staying in the closet as a bisexual. It is always best to find resources and support groups that work with bisexual people prior to addressing the sexual orientation question head-on. 

It is important to note that it is absolutely fine to be attracted or think about attraction without ever acting on it. If a person is in love and attracted to their partner there is no need to break up with them. Bisexual people are attracted to two or more genders, remember? So, they can be in long-term, loving queer relationships as well as in long-term loving hetero-passing relationships. It is important to keep the communication lines open so the relationship is satisfying on emotional and physical levels. 

Offering Help and Support

There is truly a lot of stigma associated with bisexuality. In order to combat it, join support groups that work with LGBTQ+ people. If you would like to help, start by doing some of the following: 

  • Volunteer your time at bisexuality+ events
  • Join bisexual clubs and groups
  • Research and educate others on bisexuality 
  • Ask non-intrusive questions about bisexuality
  • Be an active listener and an ally to bisexual people. 

Always remember, the LGBTQ+ community has more than half of bisexual people, but many of them struggle to come out because of the stigma and societal pressure to pick a side. There are several days to recognize bisexual people and raise awareness about bisexuality. 

The following times of the year are official ways to celebrate and recognize Bisexual and Biromantic people:

March: Bisexual Health Awareness Month.

September: Bisexual Awareness Month.

September 16th - September 22nd: Bisexual Awareness Week.

September 23rd: Bisexual Awareness and Pride Day.

Sexual orientation and identity are deeply personal. So, coming out has to be done on their terms. You can be a supportive friend that is there for them. So doing your best to learn about bisexual erasure and finding community organizations can help a bisexual person feel welcome in your life. You can also help find a therapist or a counselor that works with LGBTQ+ people.

Misunderstood Identity

Bisexuality is one of the most misunderstood identities since there are very few bisexual dating apps out there. It is a real identity, not a phase that will magically have the person turn either gay or straight after it passes. 

There are many myths associated with being bisexual especially on dating apps. Some think bisexuals want to date more than one person at a time on an online dating site, others assume they need to be with many genders at the same time, there is even dating advice that suggests bisexuals are incapable of loving one person. 

If you are attracted to more than one gender that does not mean that you have to have a sexual relationship with more than one gender at the same time. So, being in a monogamous relationship is quite possible. 

Yes, sometimes gay people identify as bisexual prior to coming to terms with their homosexuality, but it doesn’t mean all bisexual people will end up gay. Sometimes bisexuals meet partners of the opposite sex, sometimes of the same. Their identity does not make them promiscuous and by no means influences them to cheat on their partners.

If you think you are alone, rest assured there are thousands of other bisexual+ folks in the world. Many of them are on our dating app. Bisexuality is a complex identity with factors that go beyond liking a boy or a girl. This identity that has been vastly misunderstood and put down is only gaining traction in the popular media. Even the LGBTQ+ persons that are often so supporting of the "B" can on occasion put down those who identify as bi. So, it is important to remember to be inclusive and welcoming to all queer people regardless of how they choose to represent and label themselves.

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An alternative bisexual flagAn alternative bisexual flag

An alternate version of the bisexual flagAn alternate version of the bisexual flag

Bisexual coat of armsBisexual coat of arms

Bisexuality crescentsBisexuality crescents

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Julia Sotska is a former Senior PR Manager at Taimi. She hails from Toronto, Canada where she studied Communications and Journalism Broadcasting. Julia is an experienced journalist, TV producer, editor and communications manager. Her work has been featured in prominent publications in Canada, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and more. Julia is passionate about LGBTQ+ and disability rights, mental health, wellness, and parenthood.

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