1 Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 56, No. 2, 2000, pp Bisexuality: A Contemporary Paradox for Women Paula C. Rodríguez Rust* State University of New York at Geneseo The cultural construction of lesbian and heterosexual women in late-nineteenth-century European cultures created both the possibility of conceiving the bisexual woman and the belief that bisexuality cannot exist. Social scientists have suggested several alternatives to dichotomous constructions of sexuality to facilitate the conceptualization of, and therefore empirical research on, bisexuality. This article reviews these alternatives and summarizes the current state of research on bisexuality, including research on situational homosexuality (behavioral bisexuality), recent national probability studies on sexual behaviors and identities in the United States, the meanings of bisexual self-identities among women, masculinist biases in methods of assessing and theorizing sexual self-identities, and prejudice against bisexuals. The article concludes with suggestions for future social scientific research on bisexuality. As we end the second millennium and begin the third, bisexuality is both uniquely conceivable and uniquely inconceivable in Western culture. This paradoxical position is the result of larger social and cultural factors that have shaped not only modern bisexuality but modern sexuality in general. Understanding bisexuality, therefore, is a key to understanding the cultural and historical factors that have affected not only bisexual but also lesbian and heterosexual women. In this article, I briefly describe the historical changes that produced the contemporary bisexual paradox, and I show how contemporary attitudes toward bisexuality result from this paradox. I then review social scientific efforts to reconceptualize bisexuality for the purposes of scientific study and summarize empirical research pertinent to bisexuality among women, including research on situational homosexuality, the prevalence of bisexual behavior and identity in the United States, the meanings of bisexual self-identities and the ways in which women use sexual *Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Paula C. R. Rust, Department of Sociology, State University of New York Geneseo, 1 College Circle, Geneseo, NY The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
2 206 Rust self-identities, racial and ethnic differences in patterns and meanings of bisexuality, and evidence of prejudice against bisexuals among heterosexuals and among lesbians and gay men (see also Rust, 1999, 2000). Historical Paradoxes Prior to the development of the concepts of the lesbian and the heterosexual woman as distinct types of people in the late nineteenth century, women in European and European-derived cultures were defined primarily by their familial relationships with husbands and children (Katz, 1995). Marriage served primarily economic and procreative functions rather than emotional functions, and women were expected to form their closest emotional bonds with other women (Smith-Rosenberg, 1975). Even if and when these bonds became sexual, women were not seen as lesbians because of their same-sex activities nor as a bisexual because of their simultaneous marriages to men, but as women because of their familial relationships with husbands and children. Thus, the tacit practice of bisexuality coexisted with the nonexistence of a concept of a (bi)sexual individual. The late-nineteenth-century shift toward viewing women and men as eroticized individuals produced not only lesbians and heterosexual women, but also the possibility of conceptualizing bisexuality as a combination of lesbianism and heterosexuality. The gendered nature of the distinction between lesbianism and heterosexuality was critical in producing this possibility. If the newly eroticized individual had not been classified according to the gender to which she was attracted, the idea that she could be attracted to both genders would be unnecessary and nonsensical. The paradox lies in the fact that the same nineteenth-century beliefs in the mutual exclusivity of womanhood and manhood and in the inescapable importance of gender that produced concepts of gendered eroticism also produced the belief that sexual attraction must be directed toward either men or women. If men and women are opposite genders, then attractions toward women and men must also be opposite attractions that cannot coexist simultaneously within a single individual. If one is attracted to a man, how can one simultaneously be attracted to a woman who is everything a man is not and nothing that he is? Ironically, therefore, the construction of lesbianism and heterosexuality pulled the rug out from under bisexuality. Whereas women in the nineteenth century might have enjoyed some freedom of bisexual expression in a culture that did not conceive of lesbians or heterosexuals, let alone bisexuals, the contemporary belief that lesbians and heterosexuals do exist has led to the possibility of conceptualizing bisexuality while also producing the belief that bisexuality cannot exist and thereby eroding the cultural space available for women s bisexual expression. The factors that have created this bisexual paradox are the same factors that have created contemporary lesbianism and heterosexuality. Understanding bisexuality
3 Bisexuality Paradox 207 among women, therefore, has the potential to shed light not only on the sexuality of bisexual women but also on the sexuality of lesbian and heterosexual women. Contemporary Cultural Attitudes Toward Bisexuality One of the greatest challenges facing bisexual women in contemporary Western culture is the belief that bisexuality does not exist. Women who claim to be bisexual are often told that they are denying their true sexuality, which must be either lesbian or heterosexual. Some young women who seek sexual experiences with other women are pegged as heterosexuals who are merely experimenting with women because lesbianism is chic. Other women, especially women who participate in lesbian communities but identify themselves as bisexual, are told that they are really lesbians who have not yet realized it because they are still coming out. If they continue to claim they are bisexuals, they are often accused of knowing they are really lesbians but purposefully denying it to avoid others prejudices or to avoid sharing the burden of struggling against heterosexism. Bisexuality is sometimes seen as a cop-out or a way to get the best of both worlds without having to commit oneself to a particular lifestyle or a particular partner (e.g., Esterberg, 1997; Rust, 1993). In addition to disbelief, bisexuals encounter many stereotypes about their sexuality. Because attractions to women and men are culturally constructed as contrary to each other, bisexuals are thought to be internally conflicted, emotionally or psychologically immature, or otherwise unstable. Bisexuals are also stereotyped as needing both male and female sex partners, as incapable of monogamy because they cannot be satisfied by only one partner, and as very sexually active. The cultural logic is as follows: A heterosexual s partner must be other-sex because s/he cannot be satisfied by a same-sex partner, and a lesbian or gay man s partner must be same-sex because s/he cannot be satisfied by an other-sex partner. Therefore, bisexuals must need both other-sex and same-sex partners to satisfy, respectively, the heterosexual side and the lesbian/gay side of their sexualities. In truth, few bisexuals have both female and male partners simultaneously (Rust, 2000), and even fewer feel that they need both female and male partners to be bisexual (Rust, in press). Just as an individual who appreciates both blue and brown eyes might be satisfied with either a blue-eyed or a brown-eyed lover without feeling a need for both, many bisexuals do not feel that their bisexuality requires them to be sexually active with both women and men simultaneously. Reconceptualizing Sexuality to Create Space for Bisexuality How, then, might we conceptualize bisexuality? Social scientists, pointing out that dichotomous conceptions of sexuality have led to a neglect of bisexuality in sex research, have offered numerous alternative models of sexuality. As noted by
4 208 Rust Rothblum (this issue), the best known of these alternatives is the 7-point scale proposed by Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948), which ranges from exclusive heterosexuality, through degrees of bisexuality, to exclusive homosexuality. Other theorists have proposed using multiple Kinsey-type scales to represent, respectively, sexual attractions, sexual behaviors, sexual identity, and other aspects of sexuality (e.g., Bell & Weinberg, 1978; Shively, Rudolph, & De Cecco, 1978; Weinberg, Williams, & Pryor, 1994). The best-known modification of the Kinsey scale is the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, in which individuals rate themselves three times on each of seven dimensions of sexuality; the three ratings reflect the individual s past, present, and ideal selves (Klein, 1993; Klein, Sepekoff, & Wolf, 1985). Some theorists object to Kinsey-type scalar models because they construct homosexuality and heterosexuality as opposites. Shively and De Cecco (1977) suggested that the strength of one s desires for members of one s own and members of the other gender need not vary conversely to each other and that separate scales should be used to assess the strengths of an individual s homo- and heterosexuality. Storms (1978; see also Diamond, 1998) similarly suggested separate continua representing gynoeroticism and androeroticism, thus emphasizing the gender to which one is attracted rather than the relationship (same, other) of that gender to one s own gender. The Sell Scale of Sexual Orientation (Gonsiorek, Sell, & Weinrich, 1995) assesses homosexuality, heterosexuality (or androphilia, gynephilia), and bisexuality, thus recognizing bisexuality as a form of sexuality that might vary independently of homosexuality and heterosexuality rather than as a description of varying combinations of homosexuality and heterosexuality. Zinik (1985), drawing on Freud s concept of inherent bisexuality, proposed thinking of bisexuality as adaptive flexibility rather than as a sexuality composed of conflicting homosexual and heterosexual desires. As Coleman (1987; see also Coleman, 1998) pointed out, all these models define sexual orientation in terms of dichotomous biological sex or gender because they define sexuality in terms of attractions to men (who are assumed male) and/or to women (who are assumed female). Many theorists have questioned the central role of gender, particularly dichotomously constructed oppositional gender, in defining sexual orientation. Gender is neither oppositional, nor unidimensional, nor dichotomous and bears no necessary relationship to biological sex, which is itself not necessarily dichotomous (e.g., Fausto-Sterling, 1993; Freimuth & Hornstein, 1982; Lorber, 1996). First, women and men are not opposites; the genders share many human traits and coexisting attractions to women and men are, therefore, no more inherently contradictory than coexisting attractions to blue and brown eyes. Second, some people do not fall neatly into culturally constructed categories of womanhood and manhood (e.g., cross-dressers, gender blenders, and transgenderists) nor biological sex (intersexed individuals), and not all men are male and not all women are female (e.g., transgenderists and preoperative
5 Bisexuality Paradox 209 transsexuals). Given that gender is not dichotomous and not related simply to biological sex, a sexual classification system based on a simplistic dichotomous distinction between male men and female women is not viable; what, for example, are we to call a male-to-female transsexual who is attracted to men both before and after surgery? What should we call a male cross-dresser who approaches his female sex partner dressed in a teddy? What should we call his female partner? Furthermore, biological sex and gender are not the only characteristics that might be relevant to sexuality. As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argued, it is amazing that of the very many dimensions along which the genital activity of one person can be differentiated from that of another... precisely one, the gender of object choice, emerged from the turn of the century, and has remained, as the dimension denoted by the now ubiquitous category of sexual orientation (1990, p. 8). Few heterosexuals are attracted to all members of the other gender; nongender characteristics play a role in determining which members of the other gender a given heterosexual will find attractive. For heterosexuals and homosexuals that is, monosexuals biological sex and gender are deal breakers, but any given monosexual might also have other nonnegotiable requirements: intelligence, muscularity, libido strength, or compassion, for examples. Why should biological sex and gender be privileged in our conceptions of sexuality to the exclusion of other possibly relevant characteristics? This question is doubly incisive with regard to bisexuality. For bisexuals, gender is not a deal breaker; other personal characteristics might be more important. Yet, conceptualized within a genderbased dichotomous sexual classification system as a combination of heterosexuality and homosexuality, bisexuality is constructed in terms of the one characteristic that does not define it: gender. Ross and Paul (1992) have suggested replacing or supplementing the Kinsey scale with a scale representing degrees of importance of gender, with gender-exclusive forms of sexuality (heterosexuality and homosexuality) at one end of the scale and bisexuality at the other end of the scale. Social Scientific Research on Bisexuality Disbelief in the existence of bisexuality has led to neglect of bisexuality in scientific research (MacDonald, 1983). Researchers have usually either ignored bisexuality altogether, lumped bisexual subjects with lesbian and gay male subjects, or excluded them from study. Many researchers fail to discuss their conceptualizations of sexual orientation or to actually assess any dimensions of their subjects sexualities, relying on subjects self-reported identities or recruitment settings to classify subjects into sexual orientation categories (Sell & Petrulio, 1996). As Rothblum (this issue) points out, even researchers who acknowledge the complexity of sexuality and use multidimensional scalar models for assessing the sexualities of their subjects often thwart the purpose of these scalar models by using scale scores only to classify their subjects into heterosexual and lesbian/gay
6 210 Rust groups or to exclude those falling in the middle range. The result is a paucity of information about bisexuals and poor-quality information about lesbians and gay men, among whom have been included many bisexuals (MacDonald, 1983). But It s Not Bisexuality Research on sexuality, especially during the 1960s through the 1980s, sometimes included bisexuality under the guise of situational homosexuality. For example, some studies have documented the family-style relationships, sometimes including sexual activity, that occur among female prison inmates (e.g., Giallombardo, 1966; Ward & Kassebaum, 1965). Women s prison subculture distinguishes between the lesbian and the jailhouse turnout ; the turnout is a woman who was heterosexual prior to incarceration and became involved in sexual activity with another woman while in prison. The turnout s sexual activity is typically explained as a reaction to the single-sex environment; thus, she is cast as really a heterosexual who engages in situation-specific lesbian behavior, using her female partner as a substitute for the male partner she would prefer. Critics have argued that it is only the dichotomous belief that there are only two essential sexualities that make the assertion that the turnout is truly heterosexual seem reasonable (Rust, 2000; see also De Cecco & Shively, 1983/1984). Rust (2000) pointed out that the reasons turnouts engage in sex with other women in prison the search for familiar family-type relationships, a sense of identity and self-worth, affection, and connection to others are similar to the reasons women engage in heterosexual activity outside prison. Outside prison, the fact that women s heterosexual activities might be motivated in part by such needs does not detract from the belief that these women are, indeed, heterosexual; why then should it be used to dismiss women s same-sex activities in prison? Similarly, among female prostitutes whose clients are male, recreational (unpaid) sex with female partners has been constructed by previous researchers as situational homosexuality. For example, James (1976), noting that the prevalence of same-gender activity appeared to be higher among prostitutes than among nonprostitute women, argued that the asymmetry of prostitutes working relationships with men might encourage them to seek the mutuality of a lesbian relationship in their nonworking lives. Conversely, heterosexually married women and men who desire or engage in same-gender sexual activity have been conceptualized by many researchers as married lesbians and gay men, a descriptor that implies that the individual is really a lesbian or gay man who became involved in heterosexual marriage or sexual activity as a result of social pressures toward heterosexuality (e.g., Green & Clunis, 1989; Maddox, 1982). Many such studies were published in the 1980s, in response to the growing visibility of lesbians and gay men and fears that AIDS would spread to the heterosexual population through married gay men. Very few
7 Bisexuality Paradox 211 researchers recognized same-gender activity among married women as a form of bisexuality; for example, Coleman (1985) studied bisexual women in marriages, and Dixon (1985) studied bisexual activity among women who engaged in swinging, that is, partner swapping, with their heterosexual partners. How Common Is Bisexuality Among Women? For decades, the best data available regarding the prevalence of various forms of sexual behavior in the United States were the findings from the Kinsey reports published in 1948 and 1953 (Kinsey et al., 1948; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953), the source of the misunderstood and highly inaccurate statistic 10% of the population is gay. However, beginning in the late 1980s sexologists and social scientists succeeded in collecting reliable, representative data on sexual behavior in the United States. Since 1988, the annual national General Social Survey (GSS) has included questions on sexual behavior, and national surveys focusing specifically on sexual behavior, including the National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS) and the National AIDS Behavioral Survey (NABS), have been conducted (Fay, Turner, Klassen, & Gagnon, 1989; Rogers & Turner, 1991; and Smith, 1991, on GSS; Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994, on NHSLS; Binson et al., 1995, on NABS and GSS). In general, the results of these studies indicate that bisexual behavior is more common than exclusively same-sex behavior, especially if longer periods of time are considered (see also Rothblum, this issue). For example, the NHSLS found that since puberty, 3.3% of all women had had both female and male sex partners, whereas only 0.2% of women had had only female partners. In contrast, during the previous year, 0.3% of all women had had both female and male partners, whereas 1.0% had had only female partners (Laumann et al., 1994). GSS findings indicate that 5.6% of adults have been behaviorally bisexual since age 18 (Smith, 1991). National surveys have also found that, among women, bisexual attractions are much more common than exclusive attractions to women, that women are more likely to feel that they are capable of attraction to both women and men than to have had sexual contacts with both women and men, and that bisexual self-identity is much less common than bisexual feelings of attraction and bisexual behavior. For example, the NHSLS found that 4.1% of women reported some degree of attraction to both women and men, with about two thirds of these reporting they were more attracted to men than to women. Only 0.3% reported feeling attracted only to women. In comparison, 3.9% of men reported some degree of attraction to both women and men, and 2.4% of men reported being exclusively attracted to men, indicating that the preponderance of bisexual over exclusive same-gender attractions is much more pronounced among women than among men. Only 0.5% of women and 0.8% of men identified themselves as bisexual, far less than the
8 212 Rust percentage of each gender who reported feeling attracted to both women and men (Laumann et al., 1994). The Meaning of Bisexual Identity If scientific models of sexuality posit multiple independently varying dimensions of sexuality, how do individuals distill their own multidimensional and complex sexualities into sexual self-identities? This is a particular problem for bisexual individuals, whose feelings or experiences with both women and men make the development of a singular identity especially complex in a cultural milieu that privileges heterosexual and lesbian/gay identities. Do individuals who identify as bisexual do so on the basis of their behaviors, their feelings of attraction, or some other component of sexuality? For most women and men who identify as bisexual, bisexual identity reflects primarily their feelings of sexual attraction or capacities to fall in love with either women or men or both, regardless of whether these feelings are ever expressed through sexual behavior and regardless of the relative strength of these feelings for women and men (Rust, in press). For some self-identified bisexuals, the mere potential to feel attracted to either a man or a woman is enough to merit a bisexual identity; for others, bisexual identity reflects not only their potential to feel attracted to both women and men but also their willingness to act on these attractions by becoming sexually or romantically involved with either a woman or a man or their expectation that their lifetime monogamous partner could be either a woman or a man. Furthermore, the vast majority do not believe that one must be equally or identically attracted to women and men to identify as bisexual; some self-identified bisexuals describe themselves as more attracted to one gender than the other, and many describe their attractions to women and men as different from each other. For example, Rust (in press) quoted three self-identified bisexual women who wrote, [My] attractions/experiences are not balanced 50-50, but then again most of us know that s mostly a stereotype, I feel a greater physical attraction to men, but a greater spiritual/emotional attraction to women, and I am sexually attracted to both men and women. My more profound romantic feelings have occurred only with men. These individuals see no reason to fit themselves into a lesbian, gay, or heterosexual identity that would reflect only their feelings of attraction for one gender, thereby denying their feelings for the other gender altogether simply because those feelings are different or not as strong. Some individuals use bisexual identity to reflect their sexual behavior, that is, the fact that they have had sexual or romantic relations with both women and men, but many of these individuals assert that having sex with both women and men is not necessary for one to be bisexual (Rust, in press). They explain that their experiences with both women and men are an expression or evidence of their bisexuality, but that they would be bisexual even if they had not had sex with both women and
9 Bisexuality Paradox 213 men. Several of Rust s respondents pointed out that bisexuality is compatible with monogamy; those who reported that they had had sexual experiences with both women and men also generally reported that they had had these experiences serially over a period of time, often including lengthy monogamous relationships. They asserted that they did not cease being bisexual when they became monogamously involved with either a woman or a man any more than a heterosexual ceases being heterosexual during periods of celibacy. Some individuals adopt bisexual identities to reflect their political views, in particular their views on gender politics (Rust, in press). For example, some see bisexuality as a challenge to the importance of gender in defining sexuality, asserting that their bisexual identity is not a combination of attractions to women and to men but an attraction to people regardless of their gender. Others see their bisexuality as a refusal to participate in gender discrimination by refusing to eliminate half the members of the human race as potential sexual or romantic partners on the basis of their gender. A few see their bisexuality as a challenge to dichotomous thinking about sexuality and gender, that is, the view that one must be either lesbian/gay or heterosexual and that each individual person including oneself and one s partners must be either a woman or man. Women Use Sexual Self-Identity Differently Than Men: Findings of Inconsistencies Reconceptualized Research on women s and men s sexualities suggests that women s sexuality is more flexible than men s sexuality, that women s sexuality varies more over the life course, and that women are more likely than men to identify themselves in ways that are inconsistent with their sexual behaviors or feelings (see articles in this issue by Peplau & Garnets; Diamond & Savin-Williams). For example, high rates of previous and recent heterosexual behavior have been found among self-identified lesbians. Einhorn and Polgar (1994) reported that 53% of self-identified lesbians had had heterosexual contact since 1978, and a San Francisco Department of Public Health study (SFDPH, 1993) found that 25% of self-identified lesbians had had sex with a man during the previous 3 years. My own research (Rust, 1992) indicates that 90% of self-identified lesbians have had romantic or sexual relationships with men in the past, 44% have had serious heterosexual relationships or marriages, and 43% have been heterosexually involved since they came out as lesbians. Weinberg et al. (1994) found that one half of homosexual women compared to one third of homosexual men described their feelings as not exclusively homosexual. I also found that two thirds of self-identified lesbian women reported that 5% to 50% of their feelings of sexual attraction were toward men (Rust, 1992). Rothblum (this issue) reviews findings from several studies, including the NHSLS and her own research with Jessica Morris, showing a lower rate of
10 214 Rust intercorrelation among the dimensions of sexuality among women than among men. Additional findings are provided by Ellis, Burke, and Ames (1987), who found that rates of same-gender sexual behavior and rates of same-gender sexual fantasy were similar to each other among men (27% and 28%) but dissimilar among women (7% vs. 27%). Storms (1978) assessed gynoeroticism and androeroticism among college students, finding that women were less likely than men to score above the mean on both scales (23% versus 30%) but that among ambierotics women showed greater diversity than men in their choices of sexual identities, with 33.3% identifying as bisexual and 45.5% and 21.2%, respectively, identifying as heterosexual or gay (see also Golden, 1987; Schwartz & Blumstein, 1998). The greater flexibility and internal inconsistencies in women s sexualities are usually attributed by social scientists to gender socialization in several ways. One explanation is that Western culture allows women to be more emotionally expressive and intimate than men in their relationships both with other women and with men. Therefore, among women, sexual intimacy can be an outgrowth of socially acceptable emotional intimacy; this might give women greater freedom than men in exploring their affectionate feelings for members of their own gender and thereby contribute to the greater flexibility of women s sexuality. It might also enable women to become involved in sexual intimacy without adopting a lesbian identity I m not a lesbian, I m just in love with my best friend who happens to be a woman. In contrast, among men same-sex activity has greater and more immediate consequences because greater importance is attached to men s sexuality, to the role of active sexual desire in male sexual activity, and to active heterosexual desire as a component of masculinity, thus producing greater consistency between men s sexual behaviors and identities. Conversely, the greater social repression of women s sexuality might inhibit women from expressing their sexual desires through outright sexual behavior, thus leading to greater discrepancies between sexual feelings and sexual behaviors among women than among men. Discrepancies among sexual feelings, behaviors, and identities might also result from the ways in which women construct their sexual identities. Many theorists argue that men base their identities directly on the evidence of their sexual feelings and experiences, whereas women s identities are influenced by a myriad of social and political factors. The situational dependence of women s identities might be due to socialization that teaches women to draw their identities from their relationships with others and to seek sex in the context of emotional involvement, thus leading to greater variability in women s identities as these relationships change. Within sexual-minority communities, antipathy toward bisexuality and the politicization and desexualization of lesbian identity by the lesbian feminist movement of the 1970s means that for many women, the choice to identify as a lesbian or as a bisexual reflects one s personal politics at least as much as it reflects one s sexual feelings and behaviors. One s identity might, therefore, be inconsistent with one s actual sexual experiences.
11 Bisexuality Paradox 215 An alternative to these explanations, however, is that the difference between women and men lies not in the degree of flexibility or internal inconsistency in women s and men s identities, but in the definition of consistency or stability for women and men and in the ways in which women and men use self-identity. If sexual self-identity is understood as a reflection of one s individual self essential or otherwise then an individual whose sexual identity does not reflect her or his sexual behavior, such as a married person who identifies as heterosexual but also engages in same-gender sexual activity, is seen as lacking psychological integration. Often, this lack of psychological integration is attributed to lack of maturity (s/he s not out yet) or to psychological distress or pathology (denial resulting from internalized homophobia). But this understanding of sexual self-identity reflects men s, more than women s, ways of using sexual self-identity. If women are less likely than men to treat sexual identity as a unitary reflection of individual essence and more likely to use sexual self-identity to reflect their romantic, social, and political relationships with others as well as their sexual feelings and behaviors, then that which appears to be inconsistency from a masculinist point of view is, in fact, a different form of consistency. In other words, the allegedly greater flexibility and internal inconsistencies of women s sexualities are not a symptom of weaker psychological integration, greater tolerance of ambiguity, or women s socialization, but rather a symptom of masculinist definitions of sexuality that have been imposed on our understandings of women s sexualities. The methods typically used to assess sexual self-identities reflect this masculinist bias. In most research studies, respondents are asked to indicate their sexual self-identities by choosing one term (lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual) from a list of response options. Consistent with research findings that women use their sexual self-identities to reflect more varied aspects of themselves than men do, Rust (1999) found that women are more likely than men to use multiple self-identities concurrently. When asked about their current sexual identity and allowed to choose all that apply from a list of 21 identity terms, women with bisexual experiences or feelings chose, on average, 2.7 sexual identity terms compared to 2.4 among men. In the same study, 27% of women, compared to 20% of men, chose four or more identity terms. Among self-identified bisexual women, 27% simultaneously maintain a lesbian or gay identity, compared to only 13% of self-identified bisexual men. The usual method of asking respondents to choose which of the following forces a respondent with multiple sexual self-identities to fit herself into a masculinist framework by choosing only one of her identities to report. Not surprisingly, therefore, her answers to questions about other aspects of her sexuality her sexual feelings and behaviors, for example will appear inconsistent with her stated sexual self-identity, not because she lacks self-identities that reflect her attractions and experiences but because, forced to choose, she chose an identity that reflects a different aspect of herself.
12 216 Rust Rust (1999) has shown how methods of assessing sexual self-identity that reflect the ways in which women use sexual self-identities dramatically reduces the degree of inconsistency found among women. For example, among women who would answer yes to the question Do you identify as a lesbian? yes/no only 9% reported that their feelings of sexual attraction were exclusively toward women, whereas among women who would choose lesbian if given a choice between lesbian or bisexual identity, 20% reported exclusive attractions toward women, and among women who identify as lesbian and do not simultaneously identify as bisexual a population identifiable only if respondents are allowed to indicate multiple identities rather than being forced to select one 75% reported exclusive attractions to women. With regard to behavior, the three different methods of assessing sexual self-identity identified lesbian populations who reported, respectively, 25%, 12%, and 0% current heterosexual activity. In other words, methods of assessing sexual self-identity that reflect women s rather than men s use of sexual identity reduced findings of inconsistencies between women s sexual identities and sexual attractions from 91% to 25% and inconsistencies between women s sexual identities and sexual behaviors from 25% to 0%. Racial and Ethnic Differences Research on racial and ethnic differences among bisexual women is virtually nonexistent. The notion of an identity based on one s sexual preferences is a culturally specific idea, and the experiences of women from cultural backgrounds in which this idea is foreign will necessarily be different from the experiences of European American women who are, at this point in history, expected to develop identities based on their personal sexual preferences. Different racial and ethnic cultures also have different constructions of sexuality, different norms for sexual behavior, different attitudes toward women as autonomous sexual beings, and different levels of tolerance for sexual diversity that affect the experiences of individuals in those cultures. For example, cultures that place a strong emphasis on the family and the individual s responsibility to the family tend to conceptualize individuals in terms of their familial roles and memberships rather than their individual desires; adopting any sexual identity in such a context implies a rejection of one s family and, possibly, a rejection of one s ethnic culture and ethnic identity. For a woman in such a culture, the adoption of a lesbian or gay identity means risking loss of support from her ethnic community; the adoption of a bisexual identity would be doubly difficult. On the other hand, the same strong family ties that inhibit the development of individualized identities also help ensure that an individual who does transgress will not be rejected by her family. Thus, individuals from different racial or ethnic cultural backgrounds have different difficulties to confront and different resources with which to confront them (see, for example,
13 Bisexuality Paradox 217 Dworkin & Gutiérrez, 1992; Lim-Hing, 1994; Mason-John, 1995; Roscoe, 1988; Trujillo, 1991). On the other hand, some women of color find that the marginalization of their racial or ethnic identities in a society dominated by European American culture especially if they are bi- or multiracial prepares them for the marginalization of their bisexuality. As expressed by a bisexual woman of Asian and European ancestry, being multiracial, multicultural has always made me aware of nonbipolar thinking. I have always been outside people s categories, and so it wasn t such a big leap to come out as bi, after spending years explaining my [racial and cultural] identity rather than attaching a single label [to it] (Rust, 1996, pp ). Prejudice and Discrimination Against Bisexuals Discrimination against lesbians and gay men is well documented (see Herek, this issue); far less is known about the experiences of bisexuals. Ochs has argued that bisexuals experience both homophobia and biphobia. She asserted that [w]e don t lose only half our children in custody battles. When homophobia hits, we don t get just half fired from our jobs.... We, too, get discriminated against because we are gay (Ochs, 1990, p. 2) in other words, because of homophobia or, more accurately, heterosexism. In addition, Ochs (1996) argued the bisexuals experience an oppression as bisexuals, that is, biphobia or, more accurately, monosexism. Examples of monosexism include the belief that bisexuality does not exist and the pressure that bisexuals experience to identify as either heterosexual or lesbian/gay. Numerous books by and for bisexuals provide anecdotal evidence of these experiences (e.g., Geller, 1990; Hutchins & Ka ahumanu, 1991; Weise, 1992). There is also some social scientific documentation of prejudice against bisexuals. Istvan (1983) found that the degree of one s bisexuality is a factor in prejudice. When presented with descriptions of individuals with varying degrees of bisexuality, Istvan s subjects expressed as much dislike for bisexuals who were described as more than 50% homosexual as they did for exclusive homosexuals, but only slightly more dislike for bisexuals described as less than 50% homosexual than they did for exclusive heterosexuals. Eliason (1997) found that heterosexual college students rated bisexual women and men as less acceptable than lesbians and gay men, and Spalding and Peplau (1997) reported that heterosexuals believe that bisexuals are more likely to spread sexually transmitted diseases than heterosexuals, lesbians, or gays. Several researchers have documented the attitudes of lesbians and gay men, particularly lesbians, toward bisexuality. Among lesbians, the lesbian feminist construction of lesbian identity as a political identity cast bisexuality as a political cop-out. Blumstein and Schwartz (1977) presented some of the earliest descriptions of antagonism toward bisexuality in lesbian and gay communities, as did Ponse (1978). More recently, lesbians attitudes toward bisexual women have been
14 218 Rust studied and analyzed in historical context by Esterberg (1997) and Rust (1993; see also Bristow & Wilson, 1993; Gamson, 1995). Directions for Future Research Given the scarcity of research on bisexuality, the opportunities for future research on bisexuality are abundant. Areas that have been extensively studied with respect to lesbians and gay men social attitudes, legal rights, the experience and effects of prejudice and discrimination, coming out, issues among youth, issues within married couples, alternative relationships such as polyfidelity, partner preferences, personality traits including gender traits and cognitive styles, racial and ethnic differences, the development of political consciousness and the development of communities and subcultures need to be explored with respect to bisexuals. Regardless of which research topics are explored in future research, this research must avoid simplistic assumptions about sexual orientation. The complexity of sexuality, with its multiple dimensions and gender differences, requires more than hollow acknowledgment in introductory paragraphs. Researchers can no longer afford to assume subjects sexual orientations based on their recruitment strategies or even based on the measurement of only one or two dimensions of sexuality. An understanding of the complexity of sexuality must inform all stages of empirical research on sexuality, including research design, sample recruitment, assessment, data analysis, and above all theoretical conclusions. References Bell, A. P., & Weinberg, M. S. (1978). Homosexualities: A study of diversity among men and women. New York: Simon & Schuster. Binson, D., Michaels, S., Stall, R., Coates, T. J., Gagnon, J. H., & Catania, J. A. (1995). Prevalence and social distribution of men who have sex with men: United States and its urban centers. Journal of Sex Research, 32(3), Blumstein, P. W., & Schwartz, P. (1977). Bisexuality: Some social psychological issues. Journal of Social Issues, 33(2), Bristow, J., & Wilson, A. R. (Eds.). (1993). Activating theory: Lesbian, gay, bisexual politics. London: Lawrence & Wishart. Coleman, E. (1985). Bisexual women in marriages. Journal of Homosexuality, 11(1/2). Coleman, E. (1987). Assessment of sexual orientation. Journal of Homosexuality, 14(1/2), Coleman, E. (1998). Paradigmatic changes in the understanding of bisexuality. In E. J. Haeberle & R. Gindorf (Eds.), Bisexualities: The ideology and practice of sexual contact with both men and women (pp ). New York: Continuum. De Cecco, J. P., & Shively, M. G. (1983/1984). From sexual identity to sexual relationships: A contextual shift. Journal of Homosexuality, 9(2/3, Winter/Spring), Diamond, M. (1998). Bisexuality: A biological perspective. In E. J. Haeberle & R. Gindorf (Eds.), Bisexualities: The ideology and practice of sexual contact with both men and women (pp ). New York: Continuum. Dixon, J. K. (1985). Sexuality and relationship changes in married females following the commencement of bisexual activity. Journal of Homosexuality, 11(1/2),
15 Bisexuality Paradox 219 Dworkin, S. H., & Gutiérrez, F. J. (Eds.). (1992). Counseling gay men and lesbians: Journey to the end of the rainbow. Alexandria, VA: American Association for Counseling and Development. Einhorn, L., & Polgar, M. (1994). HIV-risk behavior among lesbians and bisexual women. AIDS Education & Prevention, 6(6), Eliason, M. J. (1997). The prevalence and nature of biphobia in heterosexual undergraduate students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26(3), Ellis, L., Burke, D., & Ames, M. A. (1987). Sexual orientation as a continuous variable: A comparison between the sexes. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 16(6), Esterberg, K. G. (1997). Lesbian and bisexual identities: Constructing communities, constructing selves. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Fausto-Sterling, A. (1993). The five sexes: Why male and female are not enough. The Sciences (March/April), Fay, R. E., Turner, C. F., Klassen, A. D., & Gagnon, J. (1989). Prevalence and patterns of same-gender sexual contact among men. Science, 243 (January 20), Freimuth, M. J., & Hornstein, G. A. (1982). A critical examination of the concept of gender. Sex Roles, 8(5), Gamson, J. (1995). Must identity movements self-destruct? A queer dilemma. Social Problems, 42(3), Geller, T. (Ed.). (1990). Bisexuality: A reader and sourcebook. Ojai, CA: Times Change Press. Giallombardo, R. (1966). Society of women: A study of a women s prison. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Golden, C. (1987). Diversity and variability in women s sexual identities. In the Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective (Ed.), Lesbian psychologies: Explorations and challenges (pp ). Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Gonsiorek, J. C., Sell, R. L., & Weinrich, J. D. (1995). Definition and measurement of sexual orientation. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior, 25(Suppl.), Green, G. D., & Clunis, D. M. (1989). Married lesbians. Women & Therapy [Special issue. Lesbianism: Affirming Nontraditional Roles], 8(1/2), Hutchins, L., & Ka ahumanu, L. (Eds.). (1991). Bi any other name: Bisexual people speak out. Boston: Alyson Publications. Istvan, J. (1983). Effects of sexual orientation on interpersonal judgment. Journal of Sex Research, 19(2), James, J. (1976). Motivations for entrance into prostitution. In L. Crites (Ed.), The female offender (pp ). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books. Katz, J. N. (1995). The invention of heterosexuality. New York: Dutton. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., & Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C. E., & Gebhard, P. H. (1953). Sexual behavior in the human female. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company. Klein, F. (1993). The bisexual option (2nd ed.). New York: Harrington Park Press. Klein, F., Sepekoff, B., & Wolf, T. J. (1985). Sexual orientation: A multi-variable dynamic process. Journal of Homosexuality, 11(1/2), Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lim-Hing, S. (Ed.). (1994). The very inside: An anthology of writing by Asian and Pacific Islander lesbian and bisexual women. Toronto, Ontario: Sister Vision Press. Lorber, J. (1996). Beyond the binaries: Depolarizing the categories of sex, sexuality, and gender. Sociological Inquiry, 66(2), MacDonald, A. P. Jr. (1983). A little bit of lavender goes a long way: A critique of research on sexual orientation. Journal of Sex Research, 9(1, February), Maddox, B. (1982). Married and gay: An intimate look at a different relationship. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Mason-John, V. (Ed.). (1995). Talking Black: Lesbians of African and Asian descent speak out. New York: Cassell. Ochs, R. (1990). Gay liberation is our liberation. In Thomas Geller (Ed.), Bisexuality: A reader and sourcebook (p. 2). Ojai, CA: Times Change Press.
16 220 Rust Ochs, R. (1996). Biphobia: It goes more than two ways. In B. A. Firestein (Ed.), Bisexuality: The psychology and politics of an invisible minority (pp ). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Ponse, B. (1978). Identities in the lesbian world: The social construction of self. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Rogers, S. M., & Turner, C. F. (1991). Male-male sexual contact in the U.S.A.: Findings from five sample surveys, Journal of Sex Research, 28(4), Roscoe, W. (Ed.). (1988). Living the spirit: A gay American Indian anthology. New York: St. Martin s Press. Ross, M. W., & Paul, J. P. (1992). Beyond gender: The basis of sexual attraction in bisexual men and women. Psychological Reports, 71, Rust, P. C. (1992). The politics of sexual identity: Sexual attraction and behavior among lesbian and bisexual women. Social Problems, 39(4), Rust, P. C. (1993). Neutralizing the political threat of the marginal woman: Lesbians beliefs about bisexual women. Journal of Sex Research, 30(3), Rust, P. C. (1996). Managing multiple identities: Diversity among bisexual women and men. In B. A. Firestein (Ed.), Bisexuality: The psychology and politics of an invisible minority (pp ). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Rust, P. C. (1999, June). Lesbianism and bisexuality: Cultural categories and the distortion of human sexual experience. Paper presented at the 25th International Academy of Sex Researchers annual meeting, Stony Brook, New York. Rust, P. C. (2000). Bisexuality in the United States: A social science reader. New York: Columbia University Press. Rust, P. C. (in press). Two many and not enough: The meanings of bisexual identities. Journal of Bisexuality 1(1). San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH). (1993). Health behaviors among lesbian and bisexual women: A community-based women s health survey. SFDPH, Prevention Services Branch, AIDS Office, San Francisco, CA. Schwartz, P., & Blumstein, P. (1998). The acquisition of sexual identity: Bisexuality. In E. J. Haeberle & R. Gindorf (Eds.), Bisexualities: The ideology and practice of sexual contact with both men and women (pp ). New York: Continuum. Sedgwick, E. K. (1990). Epistemology of the closet. Berkeley: University of California Press. Sell, R. L., & Petrulio, C. (1996). Sampling homosexuals, bisexuals, gays, and lesbians for public health research: A review of the literature from 1990 to Journal of Homosexuality, 30(4), Shively, M. G., & De Cecco, J. P. (1977). Components of sexual identity. Journal of Homosexuality, 3(1), Shively, M. G., Rudolph, J. R., & De Cecco, J. P. (1978). The identification of the social sex-role stereotypes. Journal of Homosexuality, 3(3, Spring), Smith, T. W. (1991). Adult sexual behavior in 1989: Number of partners, frequency of intercourse and risk of AIDS. Family Planning Perspectives, 23(3), Smith-Rosenberg, C. (1975). The female world of love and ritual: Relations between women in nineteenth-century America. Signs, 1(1), Spalding, L. R., & Peplau, L. A. (1997). The unfaithful lover: Heterosexuals perceptions of bisexuals and their relationships. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, Storms, M. D. (1978). Sexual orientation and self-perception. In P. Pilner, K. Blankstein, & I. Spiegel (Eds.), Advances in the study of communication and affect: Perception of emotion in self and others (pp ). New York: Plenum. Trujillo, C. (Ed.). (1991). Chicana lesbians: The girls our mothers warned us about. Berkeley, CA: Third Woman Press. Ward, D. A., & Kassebaum, G. G. (1965). Women s prison: Sex and social structure. Chicago: Aldine. Weinberg, M. S., Williams, C. J., & Pryor, D. W. (1994). Dual attraction: Understanding bisexuality. New York: Oxford University Press. Weise, E. R. (1992). Closer to home: Bisexuality & feminism. Seattle, WA: Seal Press. Zinik, G. A. (1985). Identity conflict or adaptive flexibility? Bisexuality reconsidered. Journal of Homosexuality, 11(1/2), 7 19.