The word "bisexual," for many, still exclusively brings to mind a person attracted to both men and women. That was the dictionary definition for decades, but as public discourse has evolved to finally acknowledge the vast number of gender identities that exist, that definition no longer feels specific or broad enough to capture the full range of experiences of bisexuality.
Today, our understanding of bisexuality has evolved along with our understanding of sexual attraction and gender identity. As people are finally able to embrace a seemingly infinite number of identities and ways of being, we need language to expand to hold us, or at the very least give us something to hold on to. The word "bisexual" is a perfect example of this shift.
What does bisexual mean?
In the most general sense, the term bisexual refers to anyone who experiences a romantic or sexual attraction toward more than one gender, which can include women, men, nonbinary folks, and other genders, as well as both cisgender and transgender folks. Bisexuality is not binary.
According to Angélique "Angel" Gravely, M.Ed., an LGBTQ+ educator and advocate, some bisexual people define their attraction in more specific ways, but the one thing that holds true for all definitions is that they indicate being attracted to more than one gender in some way.
"The most important thing to remember when it comes to defining bisexuality is that there is more than one accurate definition of bisexuality and more than one valid way of experiencing attraction as a bisexual person," she tells mbg. "Bisexual is a label that has room for multiplicity, and that multiplicity is what makes the bisexual+ community beautiful and diverse."
How common is bisexuality?
According to a 2016 report from the CDC1, 1.9% of men and 1.3% of women identified as "homosexual, gay, or lesbian," while 5.5% of women and around 2% of men said they were bisexual. A 2021 report from Gallup also found that about 55% of LGBT adults are bisexual, meaning that bisexual folks make up the single largest group within the LGBTQ+ community.
Since there is still so much prejudice in the world against LGBTQ+ folks, these numbers are likely lower than the reality; some are still fearful to "come out" or acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly.
Myth No. 1: The bi- in bisexual refers to the traditional gender binary.
One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding the bisexual community has to do with the prefix bi-, which means two. Dainis Graveris, a sex educator and founder of Sexual Alpha, says, for a long time, this is how many people defined bisexuality—that it's only focused on the attraction to two opposing genders (men and women) within the binary.
"However, bisexuality does not mean attraction to cis-male and cis-female [people] only. It could also encompass romantic, emotional, and sexual attractions to nonbinary people," he explains. "Many people who identify as bisexual are attracted to genders beyond the binary—specifically, attraction to gender like your own and toward genders different from yours."
In short, you can be both bisexual and nonbinary, and being bisexual can include attraction to nonbinary people.
Myth No. 2: Bisexual people are attracted to everyone, all the time.
This is another harmful stereotype, according to Graveris, even though it's rarely accurate. Someone identifying as bisexual doesn't mean they're walking around experiencing some form of attraction to everyone they meet (just like how heterosexual women aren't necessarily attracted to every single man they meet, for example). It also doesn't automatically mean they'll be more sexually promiscuous.
Graveris adds that there are some bi folks who have a split 50/50 attraction to two genders, but more often, bi folks are more interested in certain genders than others.
"Either approach is totally fine, and it's very much normal to have a change of feelings over time. You see, being bisexual doesn't necessarily mean that you need to be attracted to two or more genders at the same time, in the same way, and to the same degree," he adds.
Myth No. 3: It's just a phase…
Another common misconception about bisexuality is that being bisexual is just an experimental or transition phase, and that these people are going to "come to their senses" and eventually come out and choose one gender over the other, according to Graveris. This is false and also continues the binary of sexuality and gender.
"Never invalidate your bisexual identity, feelings, and experiences. Remember that no two bisexual experiences are the same," he emphasizes. "Bisexuality is a unique identity. Your bisexual identity is valid. You are valid."
Myth No. 4: Bisexual people are more likely to cheat.
It's also a common belief that folks who identify as bi are more likely to be unfaithful. Graveris says there's no evidence pointing out that bisexuality and cheating go hand in hand.
"Bisexual people build relationships just like any other person. If they stay in a monogamous relationship, they're [just as] likely to be faithful as anyone else. Being faithful is a choice; cheating is a choice, regardless of gender," he says.
Signs you may be bisexual:
You have conflicting feelings toward another gender.
Like any sexuality, bi feelings can be confusing—especially if you've grown up in a traditional household or have preferred one gender for most of your life. Graveris says you may now find that you're questioning yourself, perhaps because you're finding yourself with feelings for someone of a different gender. Rest assured that "these feelings are entirely normal. Over time, you'll get some clarity over your confusion when you begin to explore your desires and feelings," he says.
You've found yourself thinking characters in movies, series, and TV shows are hot—regardless of their gender.
"Perhaps you've started noticing attraction to both or any gender when you were younger. While this isn't a surefire sign that you're bi, it could help you begin an internal conversation about what you really want," Graveris says. (Note: Some bisexual people are attracted to men and women, though for some bisexual people, the genders they're attracted to may not necessarily include both men and women.)
You relate to a new bi character on your fave show…
…or you get a sense of pride when a famous star comes out as queer or bi. Although these two examples don't immediately mean you're bi, they could be good indicators.
You fantasize about people of different genders.
Graveris says, while some fantasies aren't meant to be enacted upon or might not mean anything much, there might be a reason you can't stop thinking about people of different genders in your fantasies or dreams.
You see yourself having a long-term relationship with someone, regardless of gender.
Visualizing having a long-term partnership with someone of any gender is a good sign that you're bi. You might be more comfortable with one specific gender over others, but if you could see yourself dating people of different genders, that may signal some bisexual inclinations.
The "bi" label resounds to you.
When you think about all it entails, you realize you identify with the label and think it perfectly fits how you experience romantic and/or sexual attraction. If you're comfortable using and being called this label, it's a good sign that you're bi.
You take the stigma personally.
Graveris says a good indication that you might be bisexual is if you find the unfair portrayal or stigmas toward bisexual identities hurtful and take them personally. Unfortunately, he says, bi folks have been subject to scrutiny from outside and even inside the LGBTQ+ community.
"If you feel hurt when someone questions your sexuality or claims that it's nonexistent or feel attacked when someone says that bisexuality is just a phase, you just like sleeping around, or you're not straight/gay enough, then you might be bi," he says.
How bisexuality relates to other identities.
Bisexual vs. pansexual.
Bisexuality and pansexuality are incredibly closely related and sometimes even used interchangeably. Some people embrace both, while some prefer one over the other. We've got a whole guide to the difference between bisexual and pansexual, but the gist: "Bisexual incorporates gender while pansexual does not," says Carmel Jones, a relationship coach and founder of The Big Fling. "To be pansexual means that gender doesn't factor much (if at all) into whether you are attracted to someone. Their attraction is to the person, regardless of their gender. But bisexuals register gender in their attraction to someone and recognize that they are attracted to more than just one gender."
Asexuality means there is a lack of sexual attraction and/or desire toward others in general. This is not gender-specific, but an asexual person might still have specific genders they're more romantically interested in or would be open to having some sort of physical intimacy with. "You can also identify as both asexual and another sexuality, leaving it open-ended. Some people call this graysexual, and it signifies very little sexual attraction," Jones says. In other words, yes, you could be both bisexual and asexual.
Romantic attraction and sexual attraction are not the same thing, says Jones, and someone can be sexually attracted to some genders and romantically attracted to others. So, a person could be heterosexual but biromantic, for example.
Other terms to know.
- Queer: The dictionary defines queer as something "odd, strange, or weird," but the word has since been reclaimed and redefined. These days, queer is an umbrella term that is sometimes used to describe anyone within the LGBTQ+ community. The term also provides a sense of community for those who may not fit into one of the other categories specifically but also don't identify as strictly straight or strictly cisgender.
- Multisexual: An umbrella term for any sexual identities that include romantic and/or sexual attractions to more than one gender. This can include bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, queer, and others.
- Omnisexual: Someone who is attracted to people of all genders, and for them, gender plays a huge role in that attraction.
- Bi-curious: Someone who is looking to explore or has already begun exploring bisexuality. There's some disagreement about whether this term has roots in biphobia, however.
- Heteroflexible or homoflexible: A heteroflexible person is mostly straight (heterosexual) though occasionally attracted to the same gender or other genders. A homoflexible person likewise is mostly gay (homosexual) though occasionally is attracted to the "opposite" gender. For example, a heteroflexible man might primarily date and sleep with women but occasionally date or sleep with a man. Like with bi-curiosity, there's still ongoing debate over whether these terms are rooted in biphobia.
- Skoliosexual: Someone who is attracted to anyone who isn't cisgender. This means a skoliosexual person will usually find themselves drawn to people who are trans or nonbinary.
- Fluid: Some people describe themselves as sexually fluid. A person who is fluid experiences their sexuality or sexual identity as changing over time or in different contexts rather than having one finite way they experience attraction.
These terms and many, many more can be found in our huge glossary of sexual identities.
What's the point of all these labels?
According to sex and relationship coach Azaria Menezes, for some people, labels can provide comfort and validation of something they experience to be true for them. Identifying with labels in sexuality can be incredibly supportive in naming your experience and finding comfort in relating to others who may feel the same.
"It's human nature to want to feel belonging and acceptance, and labels can often be a wonderful and valid way to understand ourselves and find acceptance and belonging in our experiences. Identifying with a label that feels good to you can feel incredibly empowering and affirming to define yourself," she tells mbg. "[Some people] identify with multiple labels, and sometimes they prefer to use terms that act more as an umbrella term without truly defining what the label is (fluid, queer, pansexual, etc.)."
On the other hand, labels aren't the only way to feel this way. In fact, for others, labels can actually create the opposite feeling of comfort because they may feel constraining and restrictive and don't support the experience they feel. Some folks feel like there aren't any labels that feel good to them. So, if you're having a hard time connecting to labels, Menezes suggests ditching them altogether.
"Sometimes folks grow and evolve, and finding new labels that match the experience can feel exhausting. The human experience of sexuality is incredibly diverse, and sometimes there isn't a label that feels right, and so the most empowering thing to do might be to ditch the labels and just do you," she says.
Additionally, Menezes says, "There really isn't a one-fits-all when it comes to labels, but there is a one-fits-all around the choice in deciding what feels the most empowering to you, and that is: Take what you love and leave the rest. You get to choose what feels right for you."
Dating when you're bisexual:
Be true to who you are.
It's OK to be upfront with potential new partners about your identity, says Antonia Hall, a transpersonal psychologist, sex educator, and author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life. Bisexual people can sometimes feel like they need to hide that part of themselves from dates due to the stigmas around bisexuality, but Hall says it's important to release that shame. "Do not let societal pressures shame you for your personal sexual preferences."
Be prepared for questions (and ignorance).
But remember, you don't have to prove anything to anyone. There are people in the world that are simply behind the times, says Jones. "When dating, just remember that curiosity and ignorance might come into play, and be prepared for that. But it's important to know that your sexuality is your business, and you never need to justify yourself to anyone. If you are in a dating scenario where you are justifying, overexplaining, or feel uncomfortable, that person is not compatible for you."
Take it slow.
"If you are newly exploring your bisexuality, it is fine to take small steps until you feel more comfortable dating multiple genders," Hall says.
Jones also recommends taking things slow. It can feel exciting (or nerve-wracking) to enter an unfamiliar dating world, but taking things slower will help you explore it on your terms. It's not going to happen overnight, and there's a chance you may get rejected here or there. But hey—that's how dating goes regardless of sexuality! So, remember who you are, what you want, and that the best experiences happen when you feel comfortable and work on your own timetable, she says.
Create a list of nonnegotiables.
"When you are new to navigating the bisexual dating world, it can feel as if the world is your oyster sometimes, and other times like nobody understands you. This pressure can then cloud your judgment when it comes to finding the right person," says Jones. "Make a list of dating bottom lines that you can always refer to, regardless of the gender of the person you are dating."
Supporting the bi+ community.
When it comes to supporting the bi+ community, many people need to start by letting go of judgment and releasing the stigma. A lot of what contributes to biphobia and bi-erasure are harmful cultural ideas and narratives around bisexuality, Menezes says.
"Biphobia is a form of homophobia toward folks who identify as bisexual or bi. It's important to challenge harmful beliefs and stories society has created around bisexuality. Bisexual folks face a lot of challenges in the LGBTQ community as well as the straight community, and part of supporting the bi community is educating and learning about some of the issues and challenges bi folks might face," she says.
Biphobia can be found in all communities: Bisexual folks are often fetishized by the straight community and not queer enough for the queer community. Often this leaves folks who identify as bisexual feeling invalidated in their experiences and identity.
So if you want to support the bi+ community, start by pushing back against the harmful stereotypes and bi-erasure. "That can range from calling out biphobic comments you hear in conversation to advocating for your local LGBTQ+ organizations to provide tailored supports for bi+ people," Gravely says.
Menezes says it's important to create more spaces for celebrating bisexuality and to uplift the voices of bi folks in both LGBTQIA+ spaces and everywhere. It's also important to educate yourself. Interact with bisexual folks, creators, and resource centers. You can start by spending time on websites such as Bisexual Resource Center and Bi.org, Gravely says.
Ultimately, Gravely says supporting bi+ people comes down to acknowledging they exist, affirming their bisexual+ identities and experiences, and fighting with bi+ people to create a world where they can exist without fear of discrimination or stereotyping.
If you think you might be bisexual, then take some time to explore the idea. See how the label feels. Your sexual identity doesn't make you who you are, but they are a part of the whole self—which means it's important to explore. It's also important to know that you don't need to claim a label immediately or ever. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate this journey of self-discovery.
In general, when it comes to bisexuality and all its nuances, it's time to release those outdated definitions and the stigma rooted in misconception and ignorance. Show up for the people in your world as they need you to, and hold space for them as they continue to become.
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