THE BLOG
01/28/2016 12:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Bisexuality and Promiscuity in Fact and Fiction

When I began thinking about the bisexuality theme in my new novel, I realized that I had a lot of gay friends but none of them identified as bisexual. Through a friend of a friend I met a young openly bisexual woman who agreed to talk with me. I learned a lot that day, but the most powerful insight was that bisexuals (whether male or female) tend to be misunderstood by both the gay and straight communities. Many people assume that bisexuality is simply a form of "youthful experimentation" and at some point the individual will make a choice. The most surprising and intriguing aspect of this assumption is that last word: choice.

Only the most virulent right-wing conservatives would maintain that homosexuality is a choice. Yet many people who fully understand that homosexuality is an inherent trait feel free to equivocate on whether someone can truly be born bisexual. Which brings me back to "choice." The word implies selection -- the purposeful selection of one option over another -- and the logical inference is that people are born straight or gay but choose to be bisexual.

When I was young -- and that means back in the 60s and 70s when homosexuality was still widely viewed as aberrant and sinful -- I remember thinking that I more readily understood bisexuality than homosexuality. As a young straight male, I could see how two men could be attracted to each other and I had no problem with it. What I could not understand, however, was how those same two men could not also be attracted to a woman. I viewed sexuality as a "yes-and" rather than an "either-or." My view has long since changed about homosexuality, but I'm surprised that bisexuality remains the ugly stepchild of both the gay and straight communities.

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The new sexual attitudes study released by the CDC on Jan 7 has received a lot of press with most headlines focused on the finding that the number of Americans identifying as bisexual has increased significantly since the previous poll. In the 2011-13 poll, 5.5 percent of American women aged 18-44 identified as bisexual compared to 3.9 percent in the 2006-10 survey. The percentage of American males identifying as bisexual similarly increased to 2.0 percent from 1.2 percent. The more interesting aspect from my perspective is that 16.9 percent of the women surveyed admitted to having some level of attraction to both men and women. The corresponding percentage of men admitting to bisexual attraction was 5.8 percent. That means, for both men and women, three respondents admitted to bisexual tendencies for every one that identified as bisexual.

Certainly part of the quantitative disparity between bisexual attraction and bisexual identity is due to one's current circumstances. A woman who is in a monogamous relationship with a man would probably identify as heterosexual even if she had been and continued to be attracted to women. Conversely, a woman who was in a monogamous relationship with another woman would likely identify as homosexual despite being attracted to men. All of this gets back to my original premise that bisexuality is often defined (or demeaned) as a choice. The bisexual who commences a monogamous relationship is no longer deemed bisexual; instead she takes on the sexual preference of her partner -- gay or straight. The logic appears to be that unless one is currently acting on his/her bisexual urges he/she can justly be labeled straight or gay.

This all strikes me as a giant load of reeking bullshit. A redhead who marries a blond doesn't become blond. If you're a redhead at birth, a redhead you'll always be. Sure you can dye your hair, but you're still a redhead.

Here's what I think (and I do not profess to be an expert at anything let alone sexual identity). I think a large percentage of people view bisexuality as a euphemism for promiscuity. As a result, bisexuals fear being regarded as whorish sex maniacs ready to hop on the next train that comes along regardless of which direction it's traveling. And that is why I -- and probably you as well -- know so few bisexuals. Here in 2016, even with the SCOTUS imprimatur of marriage equality, I suspect many bisexuals remain in the closet.

In Still Counting, the straight male character asks the bisexual female character "How do you decide whether you're going to date a man or woman?" She responds like this: "The same way you decide whether to date a blond or brunette. It just happens." He then expresses uncertainty about how he could compete with another woman, and she stops him dead in his tracks with this: "All I can say to alleviate your paranoid insecurity is that I have always been and always will be monogamous. I was born that way too."

What do you think? Am I right? Am I a load of reeking bullshit?