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social sciences

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The KSOG measures sexual attraction, sexual behavior, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference, heterosexual/homosexual lifestyle, and self-identification. Individuals rate themselves on each variable for their past, present, and ideal futures using the Kinsey scale, resulting in a twenty-one category profile of sexual orientation.

The Klein grid has been popular among bisexual activists, as well as sex educators and therapists, because it recognizes the complexity of sexuality, including the fact that aspects of sexual orientation can change over time and that sexual self-identification is not necessarily reflected in current sexual experience.

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In the last decade, significant scientific and media attention has been given to studies that seek to find a biological cause for sexual orientation. Most of this research looks for genetic or physiological distinctions between lesbians or gay men and heterosexuals, such as Simon LeVay's study of the size of particular nuclei in the hypothalamus and Dean Hamer's examination of familial DNA differences. Bisexuality is rarely addressed or considered a distinct sexual identity in this work, because doing so would likely blur the clear-cut distinctions researchers hope to make, if not cast doubts on their findings altogether.

Bisexual Identity Development

Like most research on sexuality, models of lesbian and gay identity development have often ignored or dismissed bisexuality. These models characterize the coming out process as a movement that typically involves recognizing one's same-sex attraction, finding other lesbians and gay men, accepting oneself, becoming immersed in the lesbian and gay community, and finally, integrating sexuality into one's self-identity.

While bisexuals may share some of these experiences, they are rarely included in theories of sexual identity development. A number of models do mention bisexuality, but only in the context of forestalling the formation of a positive lesbian or gay identity. For example, the most frequently cited theory, Vivienne Cass's Model of Homosexual Identity Formation, considers bisexuality to be a way to deny one's "true" sexuality. Individuals struggling to accept being lesbian or gay may perceive themselves as bisexual for a time, because they can hold onto the possibility of future other-sex relationships.

Few researchers have specifically considered bisexual identity development. Based on studies of bisexual women and men in San Francisco in the 1980s, Martin Weinberg, Colin Williams, and Douglas Pryor devised a four-stage model to describe the coming out process for bisexuals: initial confusion, finding and applying the label, settling into the identity, and continued uncertainty. This last stage, which they saw as unique to the experiences of many bisexuals, resulted from the relative lack of a bisexual community for social validation and the persistent pressure bisexuals receive from parts of the lesbian and gay community to identify as lesbian or gay instead.

Other theorists have rejected the appropriateness of linear stage models. Paula Rodríguez Rust, one of the foremost researchers on bisexuality, argues that the process of coming out is shaped by multiple dimensions, including not only sexual attraction and behavior, but also political commitments, emotional ties, and community involvement. In studying self-identified bisexual women and lesbians, Rust found that the majority of both groups had been involved in other-sex relationships and were attracted to both women and men, but interpreted and labeled their experiences in different and often conflicting ways.

The process of coming out as bisexual is also complicated by the need to cope with both and biphobia. Examples of biphobia include the assumption that a same-sex couple is lesbian or gay and a mixed-sex couple is heterosexual, that bisexuals are confused or indecisive about their sexuality, that they spread HIV/AIDS to other groups, and that by nature they are equally attracted to women and men and cannot live monogamously. Because bisexuals are often stigmatized by lesbians, gay men, and heterosexuals, many are reluctant to disclose their bisexuality.


Research on bisexuality, as well as the visibility of bisexual groups and individuals, since the 1970s has begun to challenge the negative perception of bisexuals. While bisexuals continue to be excluded from many studies of sexuality or grouped unquestionably with lesbians and gay men, it is increasingly difficult for researchers to contend that bisexuality is not a distinct sexual identity. The greater attention being given to the lives and experiences of bisexuals can only lead to a more accurate and complete understanding of sexual orientation.

Brett Genny Beemyn

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literature >> Overview:  Bisexual Literature

Although Western culture's reliance upon binary systems of classification and identification has meant the practical erasure of bisexuality, as such, from literary and cultural analysis, bisexual experiences appear in many literary works from ancient times to the present.

social sciences >> Overview:  Bisexual Movements

Although bisexuals have played an important part in the glbt movement for equality, they often had to hide their bisexuality; more recently, however, the bisexual movement has been accepted as part of the larger glbt movement and bisexual organizations now flourish.

social sciences >> Overview:  Homosexuality

The term "homosexuality," coined in 1869, with "heterosexuality" as its opposite, has led to a binary concept that oversimplifies the complexity of human sexual behavior.

social sciences >> Overview:  Mixed-Orientation Marriages

Mixed-orientation marriages--those in which one partner is straight and the other is gay or lesbian--often end in divorce, but such an ending is not inevitable.

social sciences >> Overview:  Passing

Generally defined as seeking or allowing oneself to be identified with a race, class, or other social group to which one does not genuinely belong, passing is a complex and layered issue in queer culture.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation indicates erotic attraction, whether toward people of the same gender (homosexual), the opposite gender (heterosexual), or both (bisexual).

social sciences >> Overview:  Straight Men Who Have Sex with Men (SMSM)

Straight men who have sex with men do so for a number of reasons, but in general such activity is about physical release and sexual behaviors, not about attraction or desire for another man.

social sciences >> BiNet USA

BiNet USA is the oldest national bisexual advocacy organization in the United States, attempting to serve as a voice of bisexual and pansexual people.

social sciences >> Freud, Sigmund

The founder of psychoanalysis and the discoverer of the unconscious, Sigmund Freud initiated a fundamental transformation in the self-understanding of Western men and women, including especially the role of sexuality.

social sciences >> Kinsey, Alfred C.

The most important sex researcher of the twentieth century, Alfred C. Kinsey contributed groundbreaking studies of male and female sexual behavior in America.

social sciences >> Sinema, Kyrsten 

After serving several terms in the Arizona state legislature, Kyrsten Sinema ran successfully for the United States House of Representatives in 2012, becoming the first openly bisexual person elected to that body.

social sciences >> Ulrichs, Karl Heinrich

Nineteenth-Century German activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was both the first modern theorist of homosexuality and the first homosexual to "come out" publicly.

social sciences >> Wolff, Charlotte

The life of German-British medical practitioner, psychologist, and writer Charlotte Wolff spanned nearly a century of almost unimaginable changes in the status of both women and glbtq people.


Angelides, Steven. A History of Bisexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Fox, Ron C. "Bisexuality in Perspective: A Review of Theory and Research." Bisexuality: The Psychology and Politics of an Invisible Minority. Beth A. Firestein, ed. Thousand Oaks, Cal.: Sage Publications, 1996. 3-50.

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

Haeberle, Erwin J., and Rolf Gindorf, eds. Bisexualities: The Ideology and Practice of Sexual Contact with Both Men and Women. New York: Continuum, 1998.

Rodríguez Rust, Paula C. Bisexuality in the United States: A Social Science Reader. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Storr, Merl, ed. Bisexuality: A Critical Reader. New York: Routledge, 1999.


    Citation Information
    Author: Beemyn, Brett Genny  
    Entry Title: Bisexuality  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 9, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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