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What it’s like to talk to your doctor about sexual health when you’re bisexual

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There’s a misconception that bi people are just going through a phase — but what if our doctors believe it too?

“Are you sexually active?”

I’d been dreading this question since losing my virginity to a female friend a few weeks earlier, not long after my 16th birthday. Somehow, the harsh fluorescent lights in my doctor’s examination room made this query seem even more menacing.

“Yes,” I said, but there was an ellipsis in my voice. A hesitation. An unspoken “but . . . ”

“You’re using condoms, right? So you don’t get pregnant?” she prompted, and I didn’t know what to say, because we weren’t. We didn’t need to. It was the wrong question.

“Uh, I’m not having sex with a guy,” I managed to stammer.

My doctor peered at me over her wire-rim glasses, “Oh,” she replied.

There are a lot of things a teenager might be nervous to disclose to their doctor — a marijuana habit, some worrying mental health symptoms, a secret relationship their parents don’t know about. While we should all feel free to tell our doctors what’s really going on with us, it’s particularly egregious that so many of them are still in the dark about something so basic as sexual orientation, making these already-difficult situations even more challenging.

The day of my first difficult conversation about my sexual health, my doctor didn’t give me any medical advice on the sex I was having. She didn’t suggest my partner and I use dental dams or latex gloves. She didn’t suggest we get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). She didn’t ask whether my partner was cis or trans. She didn’t ask what sexual orientation I identified as (bisexual, for the record). She didn’t even ask me if I had any questions for her. She just moved on to the next part of our checkup.

I didn’t recognize these as problems at the time; I was too young and nervous to question the approach of my all-knowing doctor. Everything I later learned about safer sex — with the other cis girl I was seeing at that time, and with other partners later on — I learned from the internet. And while the internet can be a great resource for such information, doctors should be a better one.

Bisexuals are told all the time — both implicitly and explicitly — that we’re not queer enough to align ourselves with queerness, or that we’re too queer to align ourselves with straightness. I still find it hard to push back against these stereotypes today, at 25.

These presumptions are particularly upsetting in medical situations, where many of us already feel nervous and unempowered and, for many queers, apprehensive. The medical system has oftentimes failed us and our queer foreparents: inequitable health care access due to poverty, doctors’ lack of knowledge about LGBT identities and sexuality and the pathologization of queerness are just a few examples.

Two years later, in a different relationship with a person of a different gender, I returned to my doctor. I was a girl on a mission.

“I’m seeing someone new and I’d like to get an IUD,” I told my doc, with all the bravery and resolve I could muster as a meek 18-year-old still coming to terms with her sexuality.

“I thought you were a lesbian?” she replied coolly, barely looking up from her computer screen.

“No, I’m bisexual,” I clarified, my voice only shaking a little.

Medically speaking, it shouldn’t actually matter what word(s) I use to define my sexual orientation; my doctor should want to know, instead, what sexual activities I am participating in. I could’ve been a lesbian having sex with a man (they do exist!). I could’ve been having sex with a trans woman or a nonbinary person who had the ability to get me pregnant. There was no reason for my doctor to assume I was a lesbian in the first place, nor that a risk of pregnancy during sex meant my existing sexual orientation was being challenged.

I was reminded of a story I had read online. An American photographer I followed, Brigid Marz, wrote on Flickr that she and her girlfriend went to a hospital to get treatment for her flu symptoms. A staff member asked Brigid if there was any chance she might be pregnant, and she laughed, indicated her girlfriend, and said no. She’d dated and had sex with men before, but not recently enough that she could be pregnant. Months later, she received a $700 medical bill, $300 of which was for a pregnancy test she’d neither authorized nor needed.

“I am so sick of being treated differently just because I have boobs,” she wrote, but I would argue she was treated differently because she is non-monosexual – she is neither completely straight nor completely gay. Our medical system seems to assume everyone is one or the other, sometimes even when we’re loudly asserting otherwise.

In the end, my doctor refused to prescribe me an IUD on the basis that I was “just casually dating” and should wait until I was “in a serious relationship” before committing to a long-term birth control method that reflected my relationship status. She prescribed me the pill instead — the hormonal content of which exacerbated my mental health conditions for years, something the non-hormonal copper IUD may not have done.

What rankled me was that I was in a serious relationship at the time. My doctor may have assumed my relationship was casual because I was now with a man and I was previously with a woman, or she may have simply thought I was too young for the IUD — but I think it was because of negative stereotypes about bisexual people.

Bi folks’ relationships and attractions are often written off as “just a phase” or “just for fun.” We’re told we don’t know what we really want or who we really like — or, worse, that we’re intentionally playing with partners’ hearts, never intending to pursue commitment or depth in our relationships.

In my experience, this is about as true for bisexual people as it is for straight or gay people — some folks are looking for serious relationships and some just aren’t — but this assumption weighs most heavily on bisexuals. Whether or not my doctor was consciously aware of the stereotypes she was affirming that day, it’s clear to me that my relationship would not have been written off as “casual” if I identified as straight or gay.

If I could go back and talk to myself when I was a shy and shaking 16-year-old in my doctor’s office, I’d tell her to advocate for herself. I’d tell her to ask the questions she wanted answered, and double-check the answers on Scarleteen later. I’d tell her it was okay if she didn’t even know what questions to ask.

I’d tell her to be unashamed of her burgeoning bisexual identity, because it’s nothing to feel shifty about. But mostly, I’d wish I didn’t have to tell her all these things. Her doctor shouldn’t have made her doubt all this in the first place.

Complete Article HERE!

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Seven things you didn’t know about bisexual health

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by Helen Parshall

Bisexual Health Awareness Month is dedicated to raising awareness about the startling disparities that the bisexual community faces in terms of both physical and mental health. When compared against statistics for both heterosexual populations and their lesbian and gay peers, startling trends emerge in both social, economic, and health inequities.

Here are seven things you probably didn’t know about bisexual health:

  1. HRC’s 2014 report, Supporting and Caring for Our Bisexual Youth, found that when compared to their lesbian and gay peers, bisexual, queer and pansexual youth were more likely to experience being excluded and harassed, less likely to have caring adults to turn to if they felt sad and less likely to report feeling happy.
  2. The Movement Advancement Project’s 2016 report, Invisible Majority: The Disparities Facing Bisexual People and How To Remedy Them, found significantly lower rates of graduation and college attendance among bisexual students. Bisexual-identified people were approximately 47 percent less likely to enroll in college than respondents who identified as straight.
  3. Pew Research Center found in its 2013 Survey of LGBT Americans that while 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians say that “most or all of the important people in their lives know of their sexual orientation” only 28 percent of bisexual people report being out.
  4. According to the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC), 45 percent of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide, followed by bisexual men (35 percent), lesbians (30 percent), gay men (25 percent), and much lower rates for straight women and men.
  5. At the historic first White House Roundtable on Bisexual Issues in 2013, the Bisexual Resource Center shared that bisexual women are twice as likely to have an eating disorder than lesbians.
  6. In partnership with BRC, BiNetUSA and the Bisexual Organizing Project, HRC Foundation’s issue brief, Health Disparities Among Bisexual People, highlighted these disparities, which include higher rates of cancer, heart disease and obesity, and higher rates of HPV and other sexual health issues, likely stemming from a lack of access to preventative care and not being out to medical providers.
  7. The Williams Institute found that 39 percent of bisexual men and 33 percent of bisexual women reported not disclosing their sexual orientation to any medical provider, compared to only 13 percent of gay men and 10 percent of lesbians who chose not to disclose.

Complete Article HERE!

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Worried your partner might have a bisexual history? Why?

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Myths about LGBTQ sexual health need debunking – and healthcare professionals are part of the problem

‘You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality.’

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“Use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” was the drill from sexual health practitioners who came to speak at my comprehensive school in Kent. There wasn’t much detail or thought beyond, “Some of these boys are going to get some of these girls pregnant before they hit 16 – let’s try to get that down to a lower number than we had last year.”

Thankfully, when it comes to the subject of sexual identity, there’s now more guidance than ever trickling down into the societal subconscious in the west – hopefully in schools, but certainly during publicity rounds for films starring Kelly Rowland and Cat Deeley. While talking about Love By the 10th Date to the New York Post last week, Rowland espoused the importance of knowledge when embarking on a sexual relationship with another: “I can’t tell someone how to feel about dating someone who is bisexual or had a past gay experience, but it’s proper to ask [if they have] in today’s times.”

It is “proper” to ask? Maybe it’s unfortunate phrasing, or maybe not being able to hear the tone of voice in which the opinion was offered gives it negative impact, but the sentence rings faintly of suspicion and mild disapproval: “Please submit your history of sex with people of the same gender, and it will then be decided whether or not you are too risky to be intimate with.” That’s how it comes across to this particular someone who is “bisexual or [has] had a past gay experience”, anyway.

Bisexuality just continues to have a bad rep, even though it’s on the rise (according to CNN) … or then again, maybe it’s not on the rise (according to the Verge). Statistics on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and which groups of people are spreading them, are easily found (and quickly wielded by those mistrustful of anything beyond heteronormativity), but they can obscure a simple and universal truth that applies to all groups, whether those groups are on the rise or not. And that is: whatever genitalia you and your partner(s) have, you should protect yourselves (condom/dental dam/wash your hands and accoutrement between uses, thank you). Ignoring that fact in favour of “it’s the bisexuals, mostly” is the source of so much harm.

You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality, because it goes beyond the myths of promiscuity, greed and dishonesty still held by some – biphobia also has an impact on physical health. Here in the UK, if you’re a man who’s had sex with another man in the last 12 months, you can’t donate blood (though that stance is currently being reviewed). Women who have sex with women are less likely to get a smear test, because many of us don’t realise we need to – we’re forgotten by the healthcare system, or our needs are misunderstood.

“Gay and bisexual women are at lower risk for HPV,” we confidently tell each other, “we don’t need a smear test.” A lot of us have heard that from our doctors, as well. It was only after seeing a leaflet about the issue from lgbthealth.org.uk during this month’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week that I realised this was just ignorance.

In 2008, Stonewall released findings that one in 50 lesbian and bisexual women had been refused a smear test, even when they requested one. The 2015 survey on training gaps in healthcare, Unhealthy Attitudes, found that three in four patient-facing staff had not received any training on the health needs of LGBTQ people. Many women get variations of the “use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” mantra from our doctors to this day, if we don’t declare our gayness or bisexuality as we walk through the surgery door. Sometimes even a declaration is ignored by an uncomfortable practitioner. Straightness is still automatically assumed, unless you’re lucky enough to have a doctor who doesn’t see heterosexuality as the default for everyone they treat.

According to that 2015 Stonewall study, a third of healthcare professionals felt that the NHS and social care services should be doing more to meet the needs of LGBTQ patients, which is encouraging. Knowledge is wanted – needed – to undo the harmful myths that block help and prevent education. And that is what is “proper” (to quote the star of Freddy vs Jason and Love By the 10th Date) – fighting ignorance and biphobia, rather than continuing to be suspicious of sexual histories that might have featured people of the same gender. Whatever and whoever is in our sexual pasts, we must protect each other, and stay informed. That’s healthy.

Complete Article HERE!

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Negative Attitudes Slow Acceptance of Bisexuality

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By Rick Nauert PhD

Bisexual_by_DevilsLittleSister

Although positive attitudes toward gay men and lesbians have increased over recent decades, a new study shows attitudes toward bisexual men and women are relatively neutral, if not ambivalent.

Researchers at Indiana University Center for Sexual Health Promotion say their study is only the second to explore attitudes toward bisexual men and women in a nationally representative sample. Investigators define bisexuality as the capacity for physical, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to more than one sex or gender.

The study is also the first to query attitudes among a sample of gay, lesbian and other-identified individuals (pansexual, queer and other identity labels), in addition to those who identify as heterosexuals.

The study, led by Dr. Brian Dodge, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Health Science and associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, was recently published in PLOS ONE.

The nationally representative sample was taken from the Center for Sexual Health Promotion’s 2015 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior.

“While recent data demonstrates dramatic shifts in attitude (from negative to positive) toward homosexuality, gay/lesbian individuals, and same-sex marriage in the U.S., most of these surveys do not ask about attitudes toward bisexuality or bisexual individuals,” Dodge said.

“And many rely on convenience sampling strategies that are not representative of the general population of the U.S.”

The study looked at five negative connotations, found in previous studies, associated with bisexual men and women — including the idea that bisexuals are confused or in transition regarding their sexual orientation, that they are hypersexual and that they are vectors of sexually transmitted diseases.

The research showed that a majority of male and female respondents, more than one-third, were most likely to “neither agree nor disagree” with the attitudinal statements.

In regard to bisexual men and women having the capability to be faithful in a relationship, nearly 40 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.

Those who identified as “other” had the most positive attitudes toward bisexuality, followed by gay/lesbian respondents and then heterosexuals.

Age played a factor in the results, with participants under the age of 25 indicating more positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women. Income and education also played a role: Higher-income participants were more likely to report more positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women, in addition to participants with higher levels of education.

Overall, attitudes toward bisexual women were more positive than attitudes toward bisexual men.

“While our society has seen marked shifts in more positive attitudes toward homosexuality in recent decades, our data suggest that attitudes toward bisexual men and women have shifted only slightly from very negative to neutral,” Dodge said.

“That nearly one-third of participants reported moderately to extremely negative attitudes toward bisexual individuals is of great concern given the dramatic health disparities faced by bisexual men and women in our country, even relative to gay and lesbian individuals.”

Bisexual men and women face a disproportionate rate of physical, mental, and other health disparities in comparison to monosexuals — those who identify as exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual, Dodge said.

Although research has not determined the cause, Dodge said that negative attitudes and stigma associated with bisexuality could play a role.

Data from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior shows that approximately 2.6 percent of adult men and 3.6 percent of adult women in the U.S. identify as bisexual.

For females, that number is more than double the number of women who identify as lesbian, 0.9 percent. When it comes to adolescents, 1.5 percent of male adolescents (age 14 to 17) and 8.4 percent of female adolescents identify as bisexual.

Dodge said he hopes the results emphasize the need for efforts to decrease negative stereotypes and increase acceptance of bisexual individuals as a component of broader initiatives aimed at tolerance of sexual and gender minority individuals.

“After documenting the absence of positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women in the general U.S. population, we encourage future research, intervention, and practice opportunities focused on assessing, understanding, and eliminating biphobia — for example, among clinicians and other service providers — and determining how health disparities among bisexual men and women can be alleviated,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why more and more women are identifying as bisexual

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By Megan Todd

This is the pro-LGBT rights image that saw an Italian woman suspended from Facebook after the social media site claimed it violated rules on 'nudity and pornography'

This is the pro-LGBT rights image that saw an Italian woman suspended from Facebook after the social media site claimed it violated rules on ‘nudity and pornography’

The Office of National Statistics has released its latest data on sexual identities in the UK, and some striking patterns jump out – especially when it comes to bisexuality.

The number of young people identifying as bisexual has apparently risen by 45% over the last three years. Women are more likely to identity as bisexual (0.8%) than lesbian (0.7%), whereas men are more likely to report as gay (1.6%) than bisexual (0.5%). That last finding chimes with other studies in the UK and the US – but why should this be?

Women’s sexuality has historically been policed, denied and demonised in very particular ways, and for a woman to be anything other than passively heterosexual has often been considered an outright perversion. Lesbians have historically been seen as a more dangerous breed, a direct challenge to patriarchal structures, perhaps explaining why women may be more likely to self-identify as bisexual. Some research into women’s sexuality has also suggested that women take a more fluid approach to their relationships than men.

But then there’s the more general matter of how much sexual labels still matter to people – and here, the ONS findings really start to get interesting.

Among young people aged between 16 and 24, 1.8% said they identified as bisexual – exceeding, for the first time, the 1.5% who identified as lesbian or gay. In total 3.3% of young people identified as LGB, a significantly higher proportion than the 1.7% of the general population who identified as such. (Just 0.6% of the over-65s did).

In a society that still tends to see the world in often false binaries – man/woman, gay/straight, white/black and so on – how can we explain such a difference?

A pessimistic view of why more young people are identifying as bisexual rather than as gay or lesbian might be that conservative, rigid and polarised understandings of what gender is still hold sway. This, in turn, might also have an impact on attitudes to sexuality, where an investment in a lesbian or gay identity may be more frowned upon than a bisexual one – which in many people’s minds still has a “friendly” relationship with heterosexuality.

And yet it’s clear that identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual carries less stigma for the younger age group than it does for their elders.

 

Older generations grew up in a time where any orientation besides heterosexuality was taboo, stigmatised and often criminalised. The lesbian and gay movements of the 1970s and 1980s, inspired by the US’s Civil Rights movement, were often staunchly radical; the concept of the political lesbian, for instance, was a very prominent and powerful one. At the same time, both heterosexual and lesbian and gay communities were also marked by misunderstandings and distrust of bisexuality (in a word, biphobia).

But in the UK at least, gay and lesbian identities have lost a good deal of the political charge they once carried. Once “peripheral”, these sexual categories are well on the way to being normalised and commercialised. Many in the community remember or identify with a more radical era of political lesbianism and gay activism, and many of them are dismayed that non-heterosexuals’ current political battles for equality and recognition are often focused on gaining entry to heterosexual institutions, especially marriage.

Bisexuals march at Pride in London.

Bisexuals march at Pride in London.

But that doesn’t mean people have become more rigid in the ways they think about themselves. So while many in society will be the victims of homophobic and biphobic hate crime, things have improved, at least in terms of state policies.

This, alongside the now extensive reservoir of queer thought on gender and sexual fluidity, and the increasing strength of trans movements, may explain why the younger generation are taking labels such as bisexual, lesbian and gay in greater numbers than their seniors. That celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevigne and Anna Paquin have come out as bisexual in recent years can’t have hurt either.

Beyond labels?

The ONS survey raises empirical questions which are connected to those of identity. It specifically asked questions about sexual identity, rather than exploring the more complicated links between identity, behaviours and desires.

The category “bisexual” is also very internally diverse. Many would argue that there are many different types of bisexuality and other sexual identities which the ONS survey does not explore.

This much is made clear by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle (NATSAL), which has taken place every ten years since 1990 and is perhaps the most detailed picture we have of what people do (or don’t do) in bed. It suggests that the number of people who report same-sex experience is much higher than the number of people who identify as gay or bisexual.

Laud Humphreys’ infamous 1970 book Tearoom Trade, a highly controversial ethnographic study of anonymous sex between men in public toilets, showed us that plenty of people who seek out and engage in same-sex sexual contact do not necessarily identify as exclusively gay or even bisexual – in fact, only a small minority of his respondents did.

However far we’ve come, there’s still a social stigma attached to being lesbian/gay/bisexual. That means the statistics we have will be an underestimate, and future surveys will need a much more complicated range of questions to give us a more accurate picture. If we ask the right ones, we might discover we live in a moment where people are exploring their sexualities without feeling the need to label them.

But are we headed towards a point where the hetero/homo binary will collapse, and where gender will play less of a role in sexual preference? Given the continued privilege that comes with a heterosexual identity and the powerful political and emotional history of gay and lesbian identities and movements, I don’t think so.

Still, it seems more people may be growing up with the assumption that sexuality is more complicated than we have previously acknowledged – and that this not need not be a problem.

Complete Article HERE!

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