Bisexuality Defined

(as defined by and excerpted from) 

Completely Queer: The Gay & Lesbian Encyclopedia
by Steve Hogan and Lee Hudson

As it is most commonly understood, bisexuality is the potential for attraction to both men and women. Bisexual activists, however, reject attempts to define "bisexuals," describing themselves instead as people who are attracted to individuals rather than to a person of a particular gender or biological sex. 

Since Freud, many people have come to believe that human beings begin their lives in a state of polymorphous perversity-- that is, with a desire (libido) for sexual pleasure that does not distinguish the object of desire by biological sex or gender. Freud himself was never satisfied with his explanations of how human beings were able to suppress desire for one sex and, in their conscious mind at least, feel attraction only for the other. Many other thinkers-- most notably Jonathon Ned Katz, Jeffrey Weeks, and Michael Foucault, but also Gore Vidal, and Lillian Faderman-- have asserted that society and culture artificially create the categories of "homosexuality" and "heterosexuality.

Speaking for many, Faderman wrote: "I truly believe that bisexuality is the natural human condition." But this and similar contentions are controversial in some quarters because they seem to imply that "monosexuals" ľas bisexual activists call exclusively gay, lesbian or straight individuals-- exhibit an un-natural condition. Yet there is no question that many cultures throughout history, including Western European culture in the Middle Ages, believed that all sexually mature persons were capable of having sex with both women and men, even when same-sex relations were considered a sin "against nature." Some cultures have actually made sex with both men and women compulsory or at least socially advantageous (see Greece); many others, including contemporary Japan and Latin America, have tolerated discreet same-sex relations (especially between men) provided participants follow the dictates of compulsory heterosexuality-- i.e., marry, and attempt to procreate.

All these facts lead most sexologists to distinguish between bisexual behaviorand bisexual desire, considering the latter a better indication of a bisexual orientation than the former. Looked at as behavior, bisexuality is common: according to the Kinsey Reports, 33 percent of adult men and 11 percent of adult women had sex to orgasm with members of both sexes-- although a 1994 University of Chicago study reported figures of less than half the Kinsey incidence for both women and men. Defined solely as desire, bisexuality may be as common as 50 percent (Kinsey), or as rare as 1.5 percent among women and virtually non-existent among men. The last figures come from studies conducted at the National Institutes of Health by geneticists Dean H. Hamer, hypothesizer of a "gay gene," and lesbian scientist Angela Pattatucci. Hamer and Pattatucci designed a study that focused on feelings of sexual and romantic attraction-- rather than behavior-- as expressed by interviewees. In 1996, they reported that, according to the specifications of their study, men not only were seldom significantly attracted to both sexes, they also almost never exhibited signs of a change in sexual orientation over time. Women, on the other hand, were a little more likely to change orientations over the course of adult life-- although Pattatucci noted that women whose desires qualified them as bisexual were statistically no less stable in this orientation than their lesbian or straight counterparts. 

Pattatucci also speculated that the variation between men and women in rates of bisexuality may be the result of a (perhaps cultural) gender difference. Men, she believes, are more "bimodal," likely to think in either/or, yes/no terms, while women are much more likely to consider contributing factors, and to answer "it depends" when queried on matters as complex as sexuality.

Copyright  © 1998 Steve Hogan and Lee Hudson. All rights reserved.

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