When I started dating a woman for the first time after years of happily dating men, I had a go-to joke ready for when I was called upon to explain my sexual orientation to the confused: “I’m half gay. Only on my mom’s side of the family.”
I’m one of those people who’d always misguidedly “hated labels,” and I actively eschewed the term “bisexual” for years. I went on to date a number of trans guys, and in my mind, “bi” was also indicative of a gender binary I didn’t believe existed. I’ve since come to understand that actually, the “bi” implies attraction not to two genders, but to members of both one’s own and other genders, and that the bisexual umbrella includes a wide rainbow of labels connoting sexual fluidity. These days, I wear the “bisexual” label proudly.
Given all that struggle and growth, my current situation might come as a surprise: I’m in a committed, long-term relationship with a cisgender man who identifies as straight—just like a startling majority of other bisexual women.
Dan Savage once observed that “most adult bisexuals, for whatever reason, wind up in opposite-sex relationships.” Whether or not you’re a fan of Savage (or his sometimes dubious takes on bisexuality), the statistics support his assertion: The massive 2013 Pew Research LGBT Survey found 84 percent of self-identified bisexuals in committed relationships have a partner of the opposite sex, while only 9 percent are in same-sex relationships.
As someone who has spent way too much time convincing people—gay and straight alike—that my bisexuality actually exists, that “for whatever reason” modifier of Savage’s has long vexed me. What is the reason? Because on the surface, the fact that 84 percent of bisexuals eventually wind up in opposite-sex partnerships could appear to support the notion that bisexuality is, as people so often insist, actually either “just a phase” or a stepping-stone on the path to “full-blown gayness.” Knowing that wasn’t true, I decided to investigate.
Some of my initial suppositions included internalized homophobia, fear of community and family rejection, and concerns over physical safety. Although being bisexual doesn’t necessarily mean you’re equally attracted to multiple genders, it does seem feasible that these sorts of concerns could push a person with fluid attractions in the direction deemed more socially acceptable.
Although there’s a dearth of research into whether these factors are actually prompting bisexuals to choose relationships that appear “straight” to the outside world, there’s no shortage of research revealing that bisexuals live under uniquely intense pressures within the LGBTQ community: In addition to facing heightened risks for cancer, STIs, and heart disease, bisexuals also experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, and are significantly more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors or attempt suicide than heterosexuals, gays, or lesbians. It isn’t difficult to imagine that for some, the promise of a bit more social currency and safety could be compelling reasons to seek out an opposite-sex partner, even unconsciously.
But there’s actually a much simpler, more obvious, and more likely explanation for the reason so many bisexuals wind up in opposite-sex partnerships: The odds fall enormously in their favor.
Americans have a well-documented tendency to drastically overestimate the percentage of queer folks among us. Polls have revealed that while most people believe LGBTQ people make up a full 23 percent of the population, but the number is actually closer to a scant 3.8 percent. So not only is it statistically more likely more likely that a bisexual person will wind up with a partner of the opposite sex; it’s equally likely that they’ll wind up with someone from the over 96 percent of the population who identifies as straight.
As anyone currently braving the world of dating knows, finding true love is no easy feat. There likely aren’t a ton of people on this planet—let alone within your geography or social circles—whose moral compass, sense of humor, Netflix addictions, dietary restrictions, and idiosyncrasies sync up with yours closely enough to make you want to hitch your wagon to them for the long-haul (and the internet is making us all even picker). Add to that the fact that due to persistent biphobia, a large number of gay men and lesbians still flat-out refuse to date bisexuals, and it becomes even more apparent that the deep ends of our relatively narrow dating pools are, for bisexuals, overwhelmingly populated by straight people—folks who, for bi women at least, are also more likely to boldly swim on over and ask us out.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that although plenty of bisexuals enjoy monogamy, not all people in committed relationships choose to be monogamous. Bisexuals in committed, opposite-gender relationships (including marriages) may very well have arrangements with their partners that allow them to enjoy secondary relationships with members of the same gender.
That said, we have to remember that even within monogamous opposite-sex relationships, if one or both parties identify as bisexual, that partnership doesn’t invalidate anyone’s bisexual identity—after all, we’d never tell a gay man practicing abstinence that he “wasn’t really gay” just because he wasn’t currently sleeping with men.
Ultimately, a relationship with a bisexual in it isn’t ever really “straight” anyway—by virtue of the fact that there’s at least one person in there queering the whole thing up. At our best, bisexuals are queer ambassadors: We’re out here injecting queer sensibilities into the straight world, one conversation and one relationship at a time.
Bisexuality and homosexuality in Ancient Greece is (relatively) well-documented and understood, but same-sex love and romance in Ancient China is a little more complex and speculative.
Still, there is recorded documentation of same-sex relationships in each of Ancient China’s many dynasties, and there are many things we know about how bisexuality manifested itself during those times. Similar to Greece, there wasn’t a strict divide between “gay,” “straight,” and “bisexual,” and in Ancient Chinese times, it’s believed that same-sex relationships were more commonplace.
To increase your knowledge of queer history, here’s some factoids about bisexuality and homosexuality from the time of Ancient China. (Unsurprisingly, many of the historic accounts of homosexuality take the form of stories/myths, so we’ll share some of those too.)
Ancient Chinese Terminology
Let’s start with some Classical Chinese terminology, which is quite fascinating. There were two common phrases for men who engage in same-sex relationships in Classical Chinese, which are sometimes (though not often) used today: “The passion of the cut sleeve” (斷袖之癖) and the “divided peach” (分桃).
Modern Chinese slang is equally as interesting, with Baboon (狒狒) being the literal translation of what Westerners call a bear-chaser and monkey (猴子) being the literal translation of what Westerners call a twink. 0 is also a symbol for bottom (0 is supposed to reference an anus) and 1 is a reference for top (1 being a symbol of the penis). So naturally, .5 means vers.
The History of the Cut Sleeve and Same-sex Relationships and Intimacy among Emperors of the Han dynasty.
We can probably guess your response when you first read the term “the cut sleeve,”(Is it a euphemism for a circumcised penis?! What does it mean?!) but there’s actually a heartwarming story that explains it. Emperor Ai of the Han Dynasty who ruled from 7 to 1 BC took the throne when he was 20. He was very much known for his homosexual, proclivities, we’ll call them. One morning, Ai’s lover Dong Xian was still asleep in bed, lying on Ai’s robes. Instead of waking Dong Xian, Ai cut off his sleeve to let his lover continue to sleep peacefully.
But Emperor Ai wasn’t the only emperor of the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) that had same-sex sexual relationships. The Han records show that nearly every emperor that ruled during the Han Dynasty had same-sex lovers (10 of the 13) in addition to their wives and female concubines.
After the Han Dynasty, ancient Chinese people were more tolerant of same-sex relationships, assuming it didn’t get in the way of eventually marrying (a woman) and starting a family.
The Tears of Lord Long Yang
Another passionate same-sex love story comes from Lord Long Yang who was lovers with the King of Wei. The two men were fishing, and together they caught an impressively large fish. Then, they happened to catch an even bigger fish, so the king threw away the first one. Suddenly, Long Yang broke out into tears. When the King asked him what was wrong, Long Yang replied that he was afraid he would be treated like the first fish. When the king found someone newer and more impressive, he’d be thrown away too. Moved, the King of Wei issued a decree stating that “Whoever shall dare speak of beauties in my presence will have his whole clan extirpated [destroyed].”
(Isn’t that adorable? I mean, possessive and nuts, but also adorable?) Anyway, that’s why “Long Yang” is a another reference to same-sex love in China.
In Classical Chinese, the pronouns he, she, and it were written with the same gender-neutral character, tā (他). If only English learned from Classical Chinese, instead of differentiating gender with obnoxious pronouns…
Because of this, there’s more ambiguity with regards to same-sex relationships occurring in classical Chinese texts. Many stories can be read as either homosexual or heterosexual depending on the reader’s desire. Also, many ancient writings were written by men with a female voice (or persona), further complicating as to whether the work was intended to be heterosexual or homosexual.
The switch of attitudes against same-sex relationships in the 19th century
Ancient Chinese attitudes towards same-sex couples were pretty relaxed (assuming it didn’t interfere with heterosexual marriage and procreation), but of course, that’s not the case with China today. It’s unclear what exactly caused the attitude shift toward same-sex couples, but many scholars credit modern China’s homophobia/biphobia and disapproval of same-sex relationships to the country’s adoption of Western viewpoints of homosexuality.
In the 19th century, the idea of the “modern homosexual” was born in the West, and with it, the birth of the “modern heterosexual” whose behaviors and sexual activities were opposite of the modern homosexual. It’s believed China picked up some of the new Western perspectives concerning homosexuality in the 19th century, which dichotomized sexuality, eventually demonizing same-sex relationships.
Women are three times as likely as men to be bisexual, according to a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday.
Of the 9,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 44 interviewed for the survey, 5.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men identified as bisexual. While the percentage of bisexual males only increased .8 percent from a similar survey conducted a few years ago, the percentage of bisexual females witnessed a 40 percent increase.
But both genders are showing a shift in general sexual attraction. When the 18 to 24-year-old segment was asked if they were attracted to only the opposite sex, 75.9 of women and 88.6 percent of men said yes.
“I’ve never seen that figure below 90 percent,” Ritch Savin-Williams, a professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University and author of several books on sexual orientation, told NJ Advanced Media referencing the male statistics. “There’s a progression away from straightness, if you will.”
But Dr. Savin-Williams clarifies this progression: there are not more people identifing personally as bisexual than before, rather these trends have always existing but bisexuals now feel more liberated to expose their sexuality.
“I never take this as a change in actual sexuality,” Savin-Williams said of survey shifts. The percentage increases reflect a new willingness to vocalize their sexuality, rather than a larger trend within American sexuality. “I always think of it as reflecting permission – that women now have greater permission to say they have some sexual attraction to other women.”
Savin-Williams’ perspective is widely shared amongst his peers.
Debby Herbenick, associate professor at Indiana University and author of the book “Sex Made Easy” told CNN that as awareness about bisexuality grows, it is easier for people to identify and then label themselves as bisexual.
Greater acceptance of causes affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities within the past few years is also evident in the data. When breaking down the overall statistic of female bisexuality, 7.8 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 24 identified as bisexual, compared to 5.4 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 34 and 4 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 34. The same gradual decline of bisexual identifiers as age increases is also present for men.
Casey Copen, a demographer at the CDC National Center for Health Statistics and lead author of the study, said the larger rates of female bisexuality is consistent with past trends. Women have consistenly reported higher same-sex contact compared to men. And over the last few decades, women attracted to the same gender have identified less as lesbian and more as bisexual.
Overall, experts praise the CDC report for the specific nature of its questions. The survey differentiated between sexual attraction, sexual behavior, and sexual orientation, allowing respondents to answer with their relative level of attraction for each gender.
The report “makes clear that sexual orientation labels have a range of meanings for the people who use them,” says the Human Rights Campaign. “This finding underscores the fact that identities, while important, rarely tell the whole story of our experiences with sexual orientation.”
Location: Des Moines, IA
I work with this really terrific girl, who’s around 10 years younger than I am. Lately, even though I am happily married, I find myself awkwardly attracted to her. I am actually masturbating while fantasying about her. Like I said, I am married to a great guy and I don’t want to hurt him, but I have to get advice on this. I’m so confused.
Anytime there is a noticeable change in one’s eroticism, regardless at what stage of life it happens, the shift can be a bit disconcerting. Here you are, a mature, confirmed, card-carrying straight married lady who has an unanticipated crush on a much younger female coworker. That can’t be sitting very well in your buttoned down world there in the heartland, huh?
I suppose you could view this as a major problem or you could accept this as a gift. That’s right, a gift. This surprising event, even at your seriously advanced age of 38, indicates to me that you’re still growing. Personally, I think that’s wonderful. The fates have gifted you with this sweet, young sexy female muse. You can either reject the fates and deny yourself, or embrace this opportunity to explore the yet uncharted areas of your sexuality.
Even if you never act on your same-sex sexual impulses, I think it’s safe to say you are finally encountering your latent bisexuality. Don’t be too surprised by that; most all of us are naturally bisexual in one fashion or another. Unfortunately, our sex-negative society discourages and disallows these very natural tendencies. So when they pop up, as often they do, we are usually unprepared to acknowledge them, let alone accept and welcome them. Will you cave to the pressures of the popular culture, or buck the social trend? I’m in no position to guess. All I know is that this relatively benign sexual adventure could be an opportunity to expand your sexual options.
Like I said, there are several ways to proceed. You could deny yourself the adventure and sublimate your desires. I don’t recommend this, because it rarely works. Healthy, natural feelings like the ones you’re having can fester and embitter the one practicing the self-denial. Another option is to go with the fantasy, enjoy it for what it is worth. Keeping your bisexual proclivities fantasy material allows you to remain safe and pretty much maintains the status quo. Then there’s the option of pursuing your fantasy and making it a reality. Obviously, this option carries the greatest potential for disrupting your life.
If you choose the path of keeping your bisexual urges a fantasy, you might want to pursue them to see if you are attracted to other women. You could do this through reading some hot lezzi-themed erotica, or checkin’ out some swell (authentic) Sapphic porn. If you discover you are not interested in other women, but that you only have a jones for your charming coworker of yours; you may be a situational bisexual. Regardless if you are a “real” bisexual or a “situational” bisexual, imagine the fun you’ll have with your little secret. My only caution would be to treat your coworker the way you would treat any other coworker you might have a crush on — the best thing to do is; do nothing. Workplace flings, of any stripe, rarely turn out happily. And of course, you also have your marriage to consider. Fantasies are fine as long as they don’t fuck up your real-life relationships.
One other thing, don’t automatically assume your husband would be put off by your newly awakened sexual tastes. That is if you ever get around to telling him. It might actually be a big turn-on for him too. Most straight guys get off on the idea of two women together. Some husbands encourage their wives’ occasional bisexual encounters for this very reason. Your husband may even be interested in a threesome with you and another woman somewhere down the line. Again I advise that it not your coworker, though.
In the end, this is an exciting time for you, Shauna. Is it challenging? You betcha! But it’s also very rewarding.
In the last two decades, dozens of scientific papers have been published on the biological origins of homosexuality – another announcement was made last week. It’s becoming scientific orthodoxy. But how does it fit with Darwin’s theory of evolution?
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s hit song Same Love, which has become an unofficial anthem of the pro-gay marriage campaign in the US, reflects how many gay people feel about their sexuality.
It mocks those who “think it’s a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion – man-made rewiring of a predisposition”. A minority of gay people disagree, maintaining that sexuality is a social construct, and they have made a conscious, proud choice to take same-sex partners.
But scientific opinion is with Macklemore. Since the early 1990s, researchers have shown that homosexuality is more common in brothers and relatives on the same maternal line, and a genetic factor is taken to be the cause. Also relevant – although in no way proof – is research identifying physical differences in the brains of adult straight and gay people, and a dizzying array of homosexual behaviour in animals.
But since gay and lesbian people have fewer children than straight people, a problem arises.
“This is a paradox from an evolutionary perspective,” says Paul Vasey from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. “How can a trait like male homosexuality, which has a genetic component, persist over evolutionary time if the individuals that carry the genes associated with that trait are not reproducing?”
Scientists don’t know the answer to this Darwinian puzzle, but there are several theories. It’s possible that different mechanisms may be at work in different people. Most of the theories relate to research on male homosexuality. The evolution of lesbianism is relatively understudied – it may work in a similar way or be completely different.
The genes that code for homosexuality do other things too
The allele – or group of genes – that sometimes codes for homosexual orientation may at other times have a strong reproductive benefit. This would compensate for gay people’s lack of reproduction and ensure the continuation of the trait, as non-gay carriers of the gene pass it down.
There are two or more ways this might happen. One possibility is that the allele confers a psychological trait that makes straight men more attractive to women, or straight women more attractive to men. “We know that women tend to like more feminine behavioural features and facial features in their men, and that might be associated with things like good parenting skills or greater empathy,” says Qazi Rahman, co-author of Born Gay; The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation. Therefore, the theory goes, a low “dose” of these alleles enhances the carrier’s chances of reproductive success. Every now and then a family member receives a larger dose that affects his or her sexual orientation, but the allele still has an overall reproductive advantage.
Another way a “gay allele” might be able to compensate for a reproductive deficit is by having the converse effect in the opposite sex. For example, an allele which makes the bearer attracted to men has an obvious reproductive advantage to women. If it appears in a man’s genetic code it will code for same-sex attraction, but so long as this happens rarely the allele still has a net evolutionary benefit.
There is some evidence for this second theory. Andrea Camperio-Ciani, at the University of Padova in Italy, found that maternal female relatives of gay men have more children than maternal female relatives of straight men. The implication is that there is an unknown mechanism in the X chromosome of men’s genetic code which helps women in the family have more babies, but can lead to homosexuality in men. These results haven’t been replicated in some ethnic groups – but that doesn’t mean they are wrong with regards to the Italian population in Camperio-Ciani’s study.
Gay people were ‘helpers in the nest’
The fa’afafine of Samoa dislike being called “gay” or “homosexual”
Some researchers believe that to understand the evolution of gay people, we need to look at how they fit into the wider culture.
Paul Vasey’s research in Samoa has focused on a theory called kin selection or the “helper in the nest” hypothesis. The idea is that gay people compensate for their lack of children by promoting the reproductive fitness of brothers or sisters, contributing money or performing other uncle-like activities such as babysitting or tutoring. Some of the gay person’s genetic code is shared with nieces and nephews and so, the theory goes, the genes which code for sexual orientation still get passed down.
Sceptics have pointed out that since on average people share just 25% of their genetic code with these relatives, they would need to compensate for every child they don’t have themselves with two nieces or nephews that wouldn’t otherwise have existed. Vasey hasn’t yet measured just how much having a homosexual orientation boosts siblings’ reproduction rate, but he has established that in Samoa “gay” men spend more time on uncle-like activities than “straight” men.
“No-one was more surprised than me,” says Vasey about his findings. His lab had previously shown that gay men in Japan were no more attentive or generous towards their nieces and nephews than straight, childless men and women. The same result has been found in the UK, US and Canada.
Vasey believes that his Samoan result was different because the men he studied there were different. He studied the fa’afafine, who identify as a third gender, dressing as women and having sex with men who regard themselves as “straight”. They are a transgender group who do not like to be called “gay” or “homosexual”.
Vasey speculates that part of the reason the fa’afafine are more attentive to their nephews and nieces is their acceptance in Samoan culture compared to gay men in the West and Japan (“You can’t help your kin if they’ve rejected you”). But he also believes that there is something about the fa’afafine way of life that means they are more likely to be nurturing towards nieces and nephews, and speculates that he would find similar results in other “third gender” groups around the world.
If this is true, then the helper in the nest theory may partly explain how a genetic trait for same-sex attraction hasn’t been selected away. That hypothesis has led Vasey to speculate that the gay men who identify as men and have masculine traits – that is to say, most gay men in the West – are descended from men who had a cross-gendered sexuality.
These figures may not be high enough to sustain genetic traits specific to this group, but the evolutionary biologist Jeremy Yoder points out in a blog post that for much of modern history gay people haven’t been living openly gay lives. Compelled by society to enter marriages and have children, their reproduction rates may have been higher than they are now.
How many gay people have children also depends on how you define being “gay”. Many of the “straight” men who have sex with fa’afafine in Samoa go on to get married and have children.
“The category of same-sex sexuality becomes very diffuse when you take a multicultural perspective,” says Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Hawaii. “If you go to India, you’ll find that if someone says they are ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ then that immediately identifies them as Western. But that doesn’t mean there’s no homosexuality there.”
Similarly in the West, there is evidence that many people go through a phase of homosexual activity. In the 1940s, US sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that while just 4% of white men were exclusively gay after adolescence, 10% had a three-year period of gay activity and 37% had gay sex at some point in their lives.
A national survey of sexual attitudes in the UK last year came up with lower figures. Some 16% of women said they had had a sexual experience with another woman (8% had genital contact), and 7% of men said they had had a sexual experience with a man (with 5% having genital contact).
But most scientists researching gay evolution are interested in an ongoing, internal pattern of desire rather than whether people identify as gay or straight or how often people have gay sex. “Sexual identity and sexual behaviours are not good measures of sexual orientation,” says Paul Vasey. “Sexual feelings are.”
It’s not all in the DNA
Qazi Rahman says that alleles coding for same sex attraction only explain some of the variety in human sexuality. Other, naturally varying biological factors come into play, with about one in seven gay men, he says, owing their sexuality to the “big brother effect”.
This has nothing to do with George Orwell, but describes the observation that boys with older brothers are significantly more likely to become gay – with every older brother the chance of homosexuality increases by about a third. No-one knows why this is, but one theory is that with each male pregnancy, a woman’s body forms an immune reaction to proteins that have a role in the development of the male brain. Since this only comes into play after several siblings have been born – most of whom are heterosexual and go on to have children – this pre-natal quirk hasn’t been selected away by evolution.
Exposure to unusual levels of hormone before birth can also affect sexuality. For example, female foetuses exposed to higher levels of testosterone before birth show higher rates of lesbianism later on. Studies show that “butch” lesbian women and men have a smaller difference in length between their index and ring fingers – a marker of pre-natal exposure to testosterone. In “femme” lesbians the difference has been found to be less marked.
Brothers of a different kind – identical twins – also pose a tricky question. Research has found that if an identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the sibling will have the same sexual orientation. While that’s a greater likelihood than random, it’s lower than you might expect for two people with the same genetic code.
William Rice, from the University of California Santa Barbara, says that it may be possible to explain this by looking not at our genetic code but at the way it is processed. Rice and his colleagues refer to the emerging field of epigenetics, which studies the “epimarks” that decide which parts of our DNA get switched on or off. Epimarks get passed on to children, but only sometimes. Rice believes that female foetuses employ an epimark that makes them less sensitive to testosterone. Usually it’s not inherited, but occasionally it is, leading to same-sex preference in boys.
Dr William Byne, editor-in-chief of the journal LGBT Health, believes sexuality may well be inborn, but thinks it could be more complicated than some scientists believe. He notes that the heritability of homosexuality is similar to that for divorce, but “social science researchers have not… searched for ‘divorce genes’. Instead they have focused on heritable personality and temperamental traits that might influence the likelihood of divorce.”
For Qazi Rahman, it’s the media that oversimplifies genetic theories of sexuality, with their reports of the discovery of “the gay gene”. He believes that sexuality involves tens or perhaps hundreds of alleles that will probably take decades to uncover. And even if heterosexual sex is more advantageous in evolutionary terms than gay sex, it’s not only gay people whose sexuality is determined by their genes, he says, but straight people too.