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Common wisdom about bisexuality states that either bisexuals do not really exist or that everyone is actually bisexual. Although contradictory, these two popular myths reflect the dominant thinking about bisexuality at different times and among different observers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Sex researchers have often sought to explain (or explain away) bisexuality, seeing it as a transitional stage for individuals who will eventually identify as heterosexual or homosexual, or subsuming it under the category of homosexuality, based on the belief that bisexuals are simply in denial about their "true" selves. Even authorities who argued that humans were bisexual by nature typically rejected bisexuality as a distinct sexual identity.

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But as sexologists encountered more and more people who had been involved with both women and men throughout their lives, it became increasingly difficult to deny the existence of bisexuality. Not until the 1970s and 1980s, though, did researchers and scholars begin to survey bisexuals themselves. This growing body of literature has helped counter many of the stereotypes about bisexuals.


Early sexologists considered sexual object-choice to be a determinant of gender; being attracted to a man made one a woman and vice-versa. The first researcher to publish widely on male same-sex desire, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, theorized in the mid-1860s that what he called "" resulted from a "female soul in a male body." Other sexologists agreed, arguing that individuals who engaged in same-sex relationships had an "inverted" gender identity.

It naturally followed then that individuals who were attracted to men and women were considered "psychosexual ." They desired both males and females because they were both male and female. Accordingly, the term "bisexuality" was first used in the mid-nineteenth century to describe people whom we would identify today as intersexed.

The work of Sigmund Freud shifted "bisexuality" from a biological to a psychological concept in the early twentieth century. Based on erroneous theories about embryonic hermaphroditism, Freud proposed that all human beings were born with an unconscious bisexual disposition. Through the course of normal childhood development, individuals repressed their "homosexual side," thereby assuming a heterosexual identity and achieving psychological "maturity." Thus, while Freud recognized the potential to be attracted to both women and men, he maintained that actually being bisexual was a neurosis.

Freud influenced popular understandings of bisexuality for much of the first half of the twentieth century, but his was not the only voice on the topic. Freud's associate Wilhelm Stekel agreed that everyone had an innate bisexual predisposition. However, diverging from his mentor, Stekel contended that this initial bisexual potential led naturally to having relationships with women and men. He felt that both homosexuality and heterosexuality were symptoms of a neurosis, since being exclusively attracted to one sex required sublimating a basic part of oneself. "There are no monosexual persons!," he emphatically argued.

Bisexuality in Research on Sexuality

Despite the attention given to bisexuality in the work of Freud, Stekel, and a number of other psychoanalysts, scientific research on sexuality largely ignored the issue. Historically, most researchers failed to consider bisexuality a specific sexual identity. They combined the responses of individuals who expressed a desire for both women and men with the data from those who were exclusively attracted to others of the same sex or excluded bisexuals from their studies altogether.

The research of Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues in the late 1940s and early 1950s was groundbreaking for its recognition of the inadequacy of reducing the diversity of human sexual experience to a heterosexual/homosexual binary.

Finding that 28% of women and 46% of men had responded erotically or were sexually active with both women and men, Kinsey's studies awakened other researchers and the American public to the prevalence of bisexuality and challenged the distinction psychoanalysts made between the normal and the pathological.

Kinsey, however, was reluctant to use the word "bisexuality" to describe this behavior because of the term's historical usage to refer to the physical or psychological combination of the feminine and masculine. But as a result of Kinsey's research, the earlier senses of bisexuality were largely displaced by the modern meaning of being attracted to both women and men.

Some scholars have since challenged Kinsey's methodology and data (while he interviewed more than 11,000 women and men, he limited his samples to whites). But his conception of human sexual behavior as a continuum from heterosexuality to homosexuality, rather than a dichotomy--what has become known as the Kinsey scale--has had a lasting influence on how sexuality is perceived.

Building on Kinsey's attempt to qualify sexual experience, other researchers have devised instruments for assessing sexual orientation that rely on multiple factors. The best known of these scientific tools, the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid (KSOG), was developed by psychiatrist Fritz Klein in 1978.

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