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Sexual orientation defined as sexual involvement with members of both sexes concurrently (within the period of one year) or any sexual attraction to or involvement with members of both sexes at any time in one's life.

There is no single accepted definition of bisexuality. Some define it narrowly as sexual involvement with members of both sexes concurrently (within a twelve-month period or less). Others define bisexuality more broadly as any sexual attraction to or involvement with members of both sexes at any time in one's life. However, few people qualify as bisexual in its narrow definition. A comprehensive study, "Sex in America," conducted in 1992 by the University of Chicago, found that less than 1% of either males (0.7%) or females (0.3%) had engaged in sexual activity with both males and females within the previous year. While no statistics exist on the numbers of Americans who fit the broad definition of bisexuality, estimates range from the millions to tens of millions.

Sigmund Freud believed that bisexuality was a "disposition" common to all humans. He contended that every individual has a masculine and feminine side, and that each side is heterosexually attracted to members of the opposite sex. Most people, however, according to Freud, repress one side, becoming either hetero- or homosexual. Alfred Kinsey posited a scale for human sexuality ranging from zero, representing exclusive heterosexual behavior, to six, representing exclusive homosexual behavior. Between the two poles is a spectrum of bisexual activity.

Dr. Fritz Klein, a noted psychiatrist, has expanded on Kinsey's work, creating the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, which takes into account seven different variables and the passage of time in defining one's sexual orientation. Klein's variables provide a more detailed look at one's sexuality, examining preferences in attraction, behavior, fantasies, emotional involvement, social involvement, lifestyle, and self-identification. Klein also allows for sexual development over time, an important element missing from Kinsey's work.

Martin S. Weinberg, Colin J. Williams, and Douglas W. Pryor, in their book Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality, have developed a simplified version of Klein's grid, exploring only three, rather than seven, variables: sexual feelings, sexual activities, and romantic feelings. Sexual feelings include attraction, fantasies, arousal, etc. Sexual activities are actual behaviors such as kissing, fellatio, and intercourse. Romantic feelings are the experience of "falling in love." Self-identified bisexuals can be more or less hetero- or homosexual in each of these categories.

Some studies of fraternal and identical twins show that identical twins are more likely to be bisexual than are fraternal twins, suggesting a genetic basis for bisexual predisposition. These studies have yet to be tested adequately to be considered conclusive, however. The fact is that without a single accepted definition of bisexuality, no single conclusion can be reached concerning its origins.

Debate over why people are hetero-, homo-, or bisexual is a fairly recent phenomenon. Identification by sexual preference only began in the 19th century, and before then, it was rarely discussed. Today, however, there is tremendous pressure for a person to declare a sexual preference. The idea of bisexuality is threatening to some people because sexuality is no longer clearly defined between homosexuality and heterosexuality.

Bisexuals are often accused of being "homosexuals in disguise." As a result, they often feel confused about their sexuality. They are considered "too gay" to be straight, and "too straight" to be gay. Few resources exist to help bisexuals understand themselves. Homosexual support groups may reject them if they reveal their heterosexual sides; heterosexuals may reject them if they reveal their homosexual feelings. Many bisexuals remain in the closet, hiding their gender-encompassing feelings from others, and sometimes even from themselves. Others lead dual lives, expressing their homosexual sides with one group of friends, while reserving their heterosexual selves for a totally separate social circle.

Life, and love, can become quite complicated for a bisexual person. The pressures can be tremendous, creating a great deal of stress and pain. A 1989 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report determined that 30% of teenage suicides occur among gay and lesbian youths, but the number of bisexual victims is unknown. Fortunately, however, a movement has begun in recent years to promote a greater acceptance and understanding of bisexuality. More studies are being done specifically on bisexuality or that include bisexuality as a distinct category.

Unfortunately, concern over the spread of AIDS has caused another backlash against bisexuality, based on the assumption that all bisexuals are promiscuous. Most bisexuals are monogamous for all or part of their lives, and those who engage in promiscuous behavior are not necessarily at greater risk of contracting AIDS. It has been suggested that of women who contract AIDS through sexual intercourse, only 10-20% were infected by bisexual males.

Dianne K. Daeg de Mott

Further Reading

Bass, Ellen, and Kate Kaufman. Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth—and Their Allies. New York: HarperPerennial, 1996.

D'Augelli, Anthony R., and Charlotte J. Patterson. Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities Over the Lifespan: Psychological Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. "The Gap Between Gay and Straight." Time 141, no. 19, May 10, 1993, p. 76.

Garber, Marjorie. Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Gelman, David. "Tune In, Come Out." Newsweek 122, no. 19, November 8, 1993, pp. 70-71.

Hutchins, Loraine, and Lani Kaahumanu, eds. Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out. Boston: Alyson Publications, 1991.

Klein, Fritz, M.D. The Bisexual Option, 2nd ed. New York: The Haworth Press, 1993.

Leland, John. "Bisexuality." Newsweek 126, no. 3, July 17, 1995, pp. 44-50.

Rose, Sharon, et al. Bisexual Horizons: Politics, Histories, Lives. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1996.

Weinberg, Martin S., Colin J. Williams, and Douglas W. Pryor. Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Abacus to Courage