Although gay and lesbian issues are coming to be recognised in our world culture, bisexuality remains largely obscured. We need to better understand what safe sex means to young people and how they negotiate this in order to improve approaches to sexual healthcare that is inclusive of sexual difference.
“As soon as you say that you’re bisexual, no one’s ever just like ‘oh, cool’ and carries on the conversation,” Miki says, the frustration palpable in her voice. “Instead it’s always like… ‘Oh! That’s so sexy!’ or ‘Can we have a threesome?’ ‘Send me pics, send me video.’” Miki’s words take me back to my own high school years, when being bisexual meant that you were the kind of girl who made out with other girls at parties, while the boys looked on, enrapt in the spectacle.
Although gay and lesbian issues are coming to be recognized in contemporary world culture, bisexuality remains largely obscured from mainstream discussion and concern. Bisexuality can be understood as sexual attraction to both men and women, but young people are increasingly expanding their understandings of bisexuality to incorporate multiple genders beyond the male-female binary. Some even prefer to use the term “pansexual,” to voice attraction to all people regardless of gender identity.
Bisexual people have been found to experience some of the poorest mental health among the LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) community, with young women being especially vulnerable and unlikely to seek help. Bisexual people face a number of damaging stereotypes and social stigma, which might explain these poor levels of mental health. Overall, bisexual people have been stereotyped as promiscuous, confused, untrustworthy and inauthentic. While bisexual men have been pathologised as predatory or carriers for STIs, bisexual women are often accused of claiming a bisexual identity for attention, going through a “phase” or as putting on a performance to impress and attract men.
Many of the women interviewed had felt that their identities were invisible or erased, being neither “gay enough” nor “straight enough,” and because of this they often stayed silent about their specific experiences and health needs as bisexual women.
Bisexual and queer young women are more likely to experience unwanted or coerced sex with men at a younger age than their heterosexual peers, are more likely to experience sexual violence later in life and are more likely to have sex under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Despite these issues, bisexual women’s sexual health is still largely left out of health research, funding, promotion, policy and practice.
When was conducted an internet search for ‘bisexual safe sex,’ the only scholarly articles emerging were in relation to bisexual men. When bisexual women’s experiences have been mentioned they are usually incorporated as footnotes in studies on lesbians without much discussion of bisexual experience.
This research hopes to contribute to addressing this gap in discourse, by asking what ‘safe sex’ means to bisexual women, and how do they negotiate this with partners of different genders? Gaining a greater understanding of what safe sex means to young people and how they actually negotiate this will allow for improved approaches to sexual healthcare that is inclusive of sexual difference.