Bisexuality

Bisexuality is a sexual orientation which refers to the romantic and/or sexual attraction of individuals to others of both genders (socially) or sexes (biologically). Most bisexuals are not equally attracted to men and women and may even shift between states of finding either gender or sex exclusively attractive over the course of time. However, some bisexuals are and remain fairly static in their level of attraction throughout their adult life.

In the mid-1940s, Alfred Kinsey devised the Kinsey scale in an attempt to measure sexual orientation and activity. The 7-point scale has a rating of 0 ("exclusively heterosexual") to 6 ("exclusively homosexual"). Bisexuals cover most of the scale's values (1-5), which range between "predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual" (1) to "predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual" (5). In the middle of the scale (3) is "equally heterosexual and homosexual". Although Kinsey's methodology has come under criticism, the scale is still widely used in describing the phenomenon of bisexuality.

Although observed in a variety of forms in human societies and elsewhere in the animal kingdom throughout recorded history, the term bisexuality (like the terms hetero- and homosexuality) was only coined in the 19th century.

Description

Bisexual people are not necessarily attracted equally to both sexes. Because bisexuality is often an ambiguous position between homosexuality and heterosexuality, those who identify, or are identified, as bisexuals form a heterogeneous group.

Others view bisexuality as more ambiguous. Some people who might be classified by others as bisexual on the basis of their sexual behavior self-identify primarily as homosexual. Equally, otherwise heterosexual people who engage in occasional homosexual behavior could be considered bisexual, but may not identify as such. For some who believe that sexuality is a distinctly defined aspect of the character, this ambiguity is problematic. On the other hand, some believe that the majority of people contain aspects of homosexuality and heterosexuality, but that the intensities of these can vary from person to person. Some people who engage in bisexual behavior may be supportive of homosexual people, but still self-identify as heterosexual; others may consider any labels irrelevant to their positions and situations. In 1995, Harvard Shakespeare professor Marjorie Garber made the academic case for bisexuality with her 600-page Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life in which she argued that most people would be bisexual if not for "repression, religion, repugnance, denial...premature specialization."

Some bisexuals make a distinction between gender and sex. Gender is defined in these situations as a social or psychological category, characterized by the common practices of men and women. For example, the fact that women wear skirts and dresses in Western society while men traditionally do not is a gender issue. Sex in this case is defined as the biological difference between males and females, prior to any social conditioning. Bisexuals in this sense may be attracted to more than one gender but only to one sex. For example, a male bisexual may be attracted to aspects of men and masculinity, but not to the male body.

Bisexuality is often misunderstood as a form of adultery or polyamory, and a popular misconception is that bisexuals must always be in relationships with men and women simultaneously. Rather, individuals attracted to both males and females, like people of any other orientation, may live a variety of sexual lifestyles. These include lifelong monogamy, serial monogamy, polyamory, polyfidelity, casual sexual activity with individual partners, casual group sex, and celibacy. For those with more than one sexual partner, these may, or may not, all be of the same gender.

Terminology

The term bisexual was first used in the 19th century to refer to intersexed people. By 1914 it had begun to be used in the context of sexual orientation. Some bisexuals and sex researchers are dissatisfied with the term and have developed a variety of alternative or supplementary terms to describe aspects and forms of bisexuality. Many are neologisms not widely recognized by the larger society.

Modern Western prevalence of bisexuality

A 2002 survey in the United States by National Center for Health Statistics found that 1.8 percent of men ages 18-44 considered themselves bisexual, 2.3 percent homosexual, and 3.9 percent as "something else". The same study found that 2.8 percent of women ages 18-44 considered themselves bisexual, 1.3 percent homosexual, and 3.8 percent as "something else". The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior, published in 1993, showed that 5 percent of men and 3 percent of women consider themselves bisexual and 4 percent of men and 2 percent of women considered themselves homosexual. The 'Health' section of The New York Times has stated that "1.5 percent of American women identify themselves [as] bisexual."

Sigmund Freud theorized that every person has the ability to become bisexual at some time in his or her life. He based this on the idea that enjoyable experiences of sexuality with the same sex, whether sought or unsought, acting on it or being fantasized, become an attachment to his or her needs and desires in social upbringing. Prominent psychoanalyst Dr. Joseph Merlino, Senior Editor of the book, Freud at 150: 21st Century Essays on a Man of Genius stated in an interview:

Dr. Alfred Kinsey's 1948 work Sexual Behavior in the Human Male found that "46% of the male population had engaged in both heterosexual and homosexual activities, or "reacted to" persons of both sexes, in the course of their adult lives". The Kinsey Institute has stated that "Kinsey said in both the Male and Female volumes that it was impossible to determine the number of persons who are "homosexual" or "heterosexual". It was only possible to determine behavior at any given time". Kinsey's book, and its companion Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, have received vocal criticism for their findings and methodology. The New York Times called his research "conscientious and comprehensive" and Professor Martin Duberman called it "skillful" and "a monumental endeavor".

Despite common misconceptions, bisexuality does not require that a person be attracted equally to both sexes. In fact, people who have a distinct but not exclusive preference for one sex over the other can and often do identify as bisexual. A recent study by researchers Gerulf Rieger, Meredith L. Chivers, and J. Michael Bailey, which attracted media attention in 2005, purported to find that bisexuality is extremely rare, and perhaps nonexistent, in men. This was based on results of controversial penile plethysmograph testing when viewing pornographic material involving only men and pornography involving only women. Critics claim that this study works from the assumption that a person is only truly bisexual if he or she exhibits virtually equal arousal responses to both opposite-sex and same-sex stimuli, and have consequently dismissed the self-identification of people whose arousal patterns showed even a mild preference for one sex. Some researchers say that the technique used in the study to measure genital arousal is too crude to capture the richness (erotic sensations, affection, admiration) that constitutes sexual attraction. The study, and The New York Times article which reported it, were subsequently criticized as flawed and biphobic.PrideSource: Bisexual study, New York Times article cause furor Lynn Conway criticized the author of the study, J. Michael Bailey, citing his controversial history, and pointing out that the study has not been scientifically repeated and confirmed by any independent researchers."Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisted" J. Michael Bailey attacks the identities of bisexual men FAIR also criticised the study .

Dr. Fritz Klein claimed social and emotional attraction are very important elements in bisexual attraction. For example, a bisexual might be attracted to both feminine women and feminine men, but have little interest in masculine individuals. This individual, while they might be highly attracted to certain members of both sexes, would be unlikely to be attracted to most males in modern western society (who tend to be masculine). As this study employed 2-minute clips of standard heterosexual and homosexual pornography, the study would be blind to the this type of bisexual. One third of the men in each group showed no significant arousal. The study did not claim them to be asexual, and Rieger claimed their lack of response did not change the overall findings.

Bisexuality in history

In some cultures, historical and literary records from most literate societies indicate that male bisexuality was common and indeed expected. These relationships were generally age-structured as in pederasty or shudo. or gender-structured as in the Two-Spirit or bacchá practices. Most of the commonly cited examples of male "homosexuality" in previous cultures would more properly be categorized as bisexuality. Determining the history of female bisexuality is more problematic, in that women in most of the studied societies were under the domination of the males, and on one hand had less self-determination and freedom of movement and expression, and on the other were not the ones writing or keeping the literary record. Sappho, however, is a notable exception.

In 124 CE the bisexual Roman emperor Hadrian met Antinous, a 13- or 14-year-old boy from Bithynia, and they began their pederastic relationship. Antinous was deified by Hadrian when he died six years later. Many statues, busts, coins and reliefs display Hadrian's deep affections for him. Ancient Rome, Arab countries up to and including the present, China, and Japan, all exhibit patterns of analogous bisexual behavior. In Japan in particular, due to its practice of shudo and the extensive art and literature associated with it, the record of a primarily bisexual lifestyle is both detailed and quite recent, dating back as recently as the 19th century. Bisexual behavior was also common among Roman and Chinese emperors, the shoguns of Japan, and others.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the terms heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, and the concept of "sexual orientation" itself are all modern sociological constructs and may not be appropriate in historical contexts in which behavior might be considered homosexual but people were not labeled using such terms.

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek religious texts, reflecting cultural practices, incorporated bisexual themes. The subtexts varied, from the mystical to the didactic.

Ancestral law in ancient Sparta mandated same-sex relationships with youths who were coming of age for all adult men, so long as the men eventually took wives and produced children. The Spartans thought that love and erotic relationships between experienced and novice soldiers would solidify combat loyalty and encourage heroic tactics as men vied to impress their lovers. Once the younger soldiers reached maturity, the relationship was supposed to become non-sexual, but it is not clear how strictly this was followed. There was some stigma attached to young men who continued their relationships with their mentors into adulthood. For example, Aristophanes calls them euryprôktoi, meaning "wide arses", and depicts them like women.

In Ancient Greece it is believed that males generally went through a homosexual stage in adolescence, followed by a bisexual stage characterized by pederastic relationships in young adulthood, followed by a (mostly) heterosexual stage later in life, when they married and had children. Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king, is thought to have been bisexual, and to have had a male lover named Hephaestion.

Social status of bisexuality

Historically, bisexuality has largely been free of the social stigma associated with homosexuality, prevalent even where bisexuality was the norm. In Ancient Greece pederasty was not problematic as long as the men involved eventually married and had children. In many world cultures, homosexual affairs have been quietly accepted among upper-class men of good social standing (particularly if married), and heterosexual marriage has often been used successfully as a defense against accusations of homosexuality. On the other hand, there are bisexuals who marry or live with a heterosexual partner because they prefer the complementarity of different sexes in cohabiting and co-parenting but have felt greatly enriched by homosexual relationships alongside the marriage in both monogamous and "open" relationships.

Since the 1970s, there have been waves of bisexual chic, in which celebrities and other persons of some notoriety have embraced and advocated bisexuality. This has led to more acceptance of bisexuals in some regards; however, some have latched onto bisexual chic for publicity's sake, with varying degrees of sincerity and permanency. Such celebrities as David Bowie, Dave Navarro, Anne Heche and others have claimed bisexuality only to later renounce the idea.

The term "flex sex" developed in the late 2000s, regarding women that generally regard themselves as heterosexual, but who occasionally have sex with other women.Flex Sex! - Bisexual / Bicurious Chat

Some in the homosexual community accuse those who self-identify as bisexual of duplicity, believing they are really homosexuals who engage in heterosexual activity merely to remain socially acceptable. They may be accused of "not doing their part" in gaining acceptance of "true" homosexuality. Some homosexual people may also suspect that a self-described bisexual is merely a homosexual in the initial stage of questioning their presumed heterosexuality, and will eventually accept that they are homosexual; this is expressed by a glib saying in gay culture: "Bi now, gay later." These situations can and do take place, but do not appear to be true of the majority of self-described bisexuals. Nonetheless, bisexuals do sometimes experience lesser acceptance from homosexual people, because of their declared orientation. Bisexual experimentation is also common in adolescents of every sexual orientation.

Bisexuals are often associated with men who engage in same-sex activity while closeted or heterosexually married. The majority of such men-said to be living on the down-low-do not self-identify as bisexual.

Because some bisexual people do not feel that they fit into either the homosexual or the heterosexual world, and because they have a tendency to be "invisible" in public, some bisexual persons are committed to forming their own communities, culture, and political movements. However, since "Bisexual orientation can fall anywhere between the two extremes of homosexuality and heterosexuality", some who identify as bisexual may merge themselves into either homosexual or heterosexual society. Still other bisexual people see this merging as enforced rather than voluntary; bisexual people can face exclusion from both homosexual and heterosexual society on coming out. Psychologist Beth Firestein states that bisexuals also tend to internalize social tensions related to their choice of partners. Firestein suggests bisexuals may feel pressured to label themselves as homosexuals instead of occupying a difficult middle ground in a culture that has it that if bisexuals are attracted to people of both sexes, they must have more than one partner, thus defying society's value on monogamy. These social tensions and pressure may and do affect bisexuals' mental health. Specific therapy methods have been developed for bisexuals to address this concern.

Relatively few supportive bisexual communities exist, therefore there is not as much support from people who have gone through similar experiences. This effectively can make it more difficult for bisexuals to "come out" as such.

Bisexual symbols

A common symbol of bisexual identity is the bisexual pride flag, which has a deep pink stripe at the top for homosexuality, a blue one on the bottom for heterosexuality, and a purple one, blended from the pink and blue, in the middle to represent bisexuality.

Another symbol of bisexual identity that uses the color scheme of the bisexual pride flag is a pair of overlapping pink and blue triangles, the pink triangle being a well-known symbol for the homosexual community, forming purple where they intersect.

Many homosexual and bisexual individuals have a problem with the use of the pink triangle symbol as it was the symbol that Hitler's regime used to tag homosexuals (similar to the yellow Star of David that is constituted of two opposed, overlapping triangles). Because pink triangles were used in the persecution of homosexuals in the Nazi regime, a double moon symbol was devised specifically to avoid the use of triangles. This bisexual symbol is a double moon that is formed when the sex-specific attributes of the astrological symbol of Mars & Venus (representing heterosexual union) are reduced to the two circles open on both ends, thus symbolizing that bisexuals are open to either-sex unions. The color of the bisexual double moon symbol varies. The symbol is most often displayed with rainbow colors, signifying that bisexuals belong to the gay community. It also may appear with the pink-purple-blue colors of the bisexual pride flag. The double moon symbol is common in Germany and surrounding countries.

Bisexuality in animals

Many non-human animal species also exhibit bisexual behavior. This is, of course, common in hermaphroditic animals, but is also known in many other species. Examples of mammals include the bonobo (formerly known as the pygmy chimpanzee), orca, and bottlenose dolphin. Examples of avians include some species of gulls and Humboldt Penguins. Other examples occur among fish, flatworms, and crustaceans.

Many species of animals are involved in the act of forming sexual and relationship bonds between the same sex; even when offered the opportunity to breed with members of the opposite sex, they picked the same sex. Some of these species are gazelles, antelope, bison, and sage grouse.

In some cases animals will choose intercourse with different sexes at different times in their life, and sometimes will perform intercourse with different sexes at random. Homosexual intercourse can also be seasonal in some animals like male walruses, who often engage in homosexual intercourse with each other outside of the breeding season and will revert to heterosexual intercourse during breeding season.

In some cases bisexuality is actually a form of fitness favored by evolution. For example, in the absence of male whiptail lizards (Cnemidophorus), females reproduce by pairing up with each other. During the breeding season females will take turns switching between "male" and "female" roles as their hormones fluctuate. Estrogen levels are high during ovulation ("female" role) and much lower after laying eggs ("male" role). While in the "male" role, a female lizard will mount another in the "female" role and go through the motions of sex to stimulate egg-laying. The hatchlings produced are all female. This all-female species has evolved from lizards with two sexes, but their eggs develop without fertilization (parthenogenesis). Female whiptail lizards can lay eggs without sex, but they lay far fewer eggs than if they engage in sexual stimulation by another female.

Bisexuality in culture

Comparatively positive and notable portrayals of bisexuality can be found throughout mainstream media.

In movies such as: The Pillow Book (film); Alexander (film); The Rocky Horror Picture Show; Henry and June; Chasing Amy; Kissing Jessica Stein, The Fourth Man, Basic Instinct and Brokeback Mountain.

In popular music, many of the songs of The Smiths are commonly cited as classic examples. In the songs and stage presentation of Suzie Quatro and Joan Jett, there have been additional examples.

In notable graphic novels, Love and Rockets (1981 to 1996) subtly portrays bisexuality; Krazy Kat (1913 to 1944) is a comic-strip character whose love is not limited by sex; Alan Moore's Lost Girls (1991 to 2006) portrays bisexual versions of three famous literary characters; Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise (1993 to 2007) includes several bisexual characters.

Notable novels containing significant bisexual characters are:

Non-fiction scholarship, such as Marjorie Garber's Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (1995), Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae (1990) and Louis Crompton's Byron and Greek Love (1985), has uncovered previously hidden histories of bisexuality.

On the TV sitcom Will & Grace, the character of Karen Walker appears to be bisexual and-although married to a man-often kisses Grace and seems to have had many female lovers throughout her life. The character Jack Harkness of Doctor Who and Torchwood is from 51st century, in which mankind has become more open minded sexually since it's integration with alien cultures. He is often described as "omnisexual" by his fans, remarking on the question of sexual orientation "You people and your quaint little categories." Harkness is the first openly non-heterosexual character depicted in the long-running Doctor Who. Torchwood also features bisexual characters Toshiko Sato, and Ianto Jones. Rebecca Romijn portrayed a bisexual con artist in the film Femme Fatale.

In the sci-fi television series Babylon 5, characters including Susan Ivanova and Talia Winters are portrayed as bisexual or pansexual. There seems to be a general feeling in the show that it is accepted and common for people to follow their hearts wherever they may take them, ignoring sex. Other examples include the characters Marcus Cole and Stephen Franklin posing as a married couple, and series creator J. Michael Straczynski indicating that the station commander John Sheridan would have been propositioned by the male Lumati ambassador if Susan Ivanova had not been handling those negotiations.

In the 1996 Broadway musical turned movie Rent, Idina Menzel plays Maureen Johnson, a character who has a relationship with both Mark Cohen (Anthony Rapp [who is openly bisexual in real life]), and Joanne Jefferson (Tracie Thoms/Freddie Walker). In the musical, Menzel's character sings the following lines in the song "Take Me or Leave Me":

Ever since puberty, everybody stares at me,
''Boys, girls-I can't help it, baby''

In the television program "Bottom", Richie is shown consistently throughout the series to be trying to get a girlfriend but to be either secretly attracted to men or accidentally finding more luck with men. He maintains a facade of heterosexuality throughout this, although in the stage adaptations he is shown to be far more attracted to men but still also to women.

In the Fox television series, The O.C., Marissa Cooper (played by Mischa Barton ) has a same-sex fling with the character Alex, played by Olivia Wilde.

The high rated MTV series, A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila, is a bisexual reality show. Tila Tequila or Tila Nguyen, is the bisexual bachelorette, trying to find love from 16 straight males and 16 lesbians.

Media stereotypes about bisexuality

There are also negative media portrayals-references sometimes made to stereotypes or mental disorders. The television show Friends sported a short song about the topic that expresses a common prejudice on the subject:

Sometimes men love women,
Sometimes men love men,
Then there are bisexuals
''Though some just say they're kidding themselves''

On the HBO drama Oz, Christopher Meloni played Chris Keller, a bisexual sociopath who tortured, raped, and had numerous sexual encounters with various men and women whom he met. Desperate Housewives features Andrew Van De Kamp, Skins features Tony Stonem, both similarly bisexual sociopaths.

A Saturday Night Live joke ran thus:

''"A bisexual is a person who reaches down the front of somebody's pants and is satisfied with whatever they find." -- Dana Carvey as The Church Lady, Saturday Night Live''.

Movies in which the bisexual characters conceal murderous neuroses include Basic Instinct, Black Widow, Blue Velvet, Cruising, and Girl, Interrupted.

In one of his comedy routines, George Carlin admits to thinking about what a curse bisexuality must be: "Could you imagine wanting to fuck everybody you meet? Think of all the phone numbers you'd accumulate! You might as well just walk around with the White Pages under your arms."

See also

Further reading

General

Ancient Greece

By country

Modern Western

Film

Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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