On bisexuality and mental health

CW: sexuality, self-harm, suicide, mental health

This may be new information to some people, or something they already know, but first off I just wanted to say: I identify as bisexual. For me, this means attraction to two or more genders.

I am also currently in a monogamous marriage with a cisgendered (“cisgender” is defined as when a person’s gender corresponds with their given sex at birth), heterosexual man. And here are some things I want you to know about bisexuality and mental health.

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Research has shown that bisexual individuals are at greater risk of having depression, anxiety, self-harming behaviours and suicidality than individuals who identify as straight, gay or lesbian (see here). Recent findings from one Australian study (https://www.latrobe.edu.au/news/articles/2019/release/study-looks-at-bisexual-mental-health) suggest that one in four bisexuals have attempted suicide; close to 80% of bisexual individuals have considered self-harm or suicide; and over 60% of bisexuals rated their psychological distress as “high” or “very high”. So, why are bisexuals suffering with poor mental health?

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For one, biphobia exists, and it takes many forms. There are harmful myths about people who identify as bisexual. Some of the most common “beliefs” include:

  • Bisexuals should are “greedy” and should instead just “pick a side”
  • Bisexuals are “just going through a phase”
  • Bisexuals are “confused”
  • Bisexuals are claiming to be bisexual just for attention
  • Bisexuals always cheat on their partners
  • Bisexuals exist purely for threesomes
  • The term bisexual excludes transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals, therefore bisexual people are transphobic (because “bi” means “two”)

All of these statements can cause damage and perpetuate stigma. These statements paint an inaccurate picture of what it means to be bisexual. In turn, this has a negative effect on the mental health of those who identify as such. The unnecessary perceived “shame” of being bisexual prevents many people from coming out to their closest family members and friends; research suggests that bisexual people are far less likely to be open about their sexual identity than those who identify as homosexual. 

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The identities of bisexual, pansexual, and non-monosexual individuals are often erased; for example, people may assert that I’m a heterosexual woman because of the current relationship that I am in. If I were instead in a relationship with another woman, people may assume that I was homosexual. These assumptions can often be frustrating, as it feels like we effectively have to “come out” over and over again. It also feels that we have to constantly “prove” our sexuality is real and valid, which again has a detrimental impact on mental health and our perceptions of identity.

For those of us in mixed-gender relationships, we may be told that we have the privilege of being in “straight-passing” relationships. In one sense, I agree with this; it is true that heterosexual relationships historically, and often presently, are seen as “the norm”, and therefore more “acceptable” than other types of relationships. We also know that people in same-gender relationships experience more hatred than people in mixed-gender relationships. On the other hand, this narrative of being “straight-passing” again erases bisexual and other non-monosexual identities, and can make us feel like we are not valid or welcome in the LGBTQ+ community. Again, we feel that we have to “prove” that our sexual orientation is legitimate.

It can be very tiring, stressful and harmful to our mental health when it feels that our identities are not respected or believed by other people. So please, educate yourselves, and #DoBetterBiUs

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This is only a very short piece on what it means to be bisexual, and how it affects mental health – there is so much more that could be said here. I encourage everyone to do some more reading around the subject, for example:

Busting harmful myths about bisexuality

Bisexual women at a higher risk for violence

My sexuality is not just about sex

Bisexuality and mental health

The mental health repercussions of identifying as a bisexual woman

What it’s like to be out but not out-out as a bisexual

Isn’t it easier, being bisexual?