Bisexual people are individuals with emotional, and/or sexual attractions toward people of more than one sex or gender. Bisexuality is a enduring sexual orientation, like homosexuality or heterosexuality.
Today, researchers understand that sexual orientation is more complex than sexual behaviors alone. The Religious Institute defines sexual orientation as an individual’s enduring romantic, emotional, or sexual attractions toward other persons. Sexual orientation is a complex relationship among sexual attractions, behaviors, and self-identity.1 “Heterosexual,” “homosexual,” and “bisexual” are examples of specific sexual orientations. Sexual orientation refers to feelings and identity, not just behavior. Individuals do not always express their sexual orientation through their sexual behaviors.
The Kinsey scale, developed in the 1940s by the pioneering sexuality researcher Alfred Kinsey, posits a continuum for sexuality orientation from “0” (for people whose orientation is exclusively toward persons of the other sex) to “6” (for people whose orientation is exclusively toward persons of the same sex). The Kinsey scale created a wide berth for persons whose sexual behaviors lay somewhere between 0 and 6.
Several decades later, building on the work of Dr. Kinsey and his colleagues, Dr. Fritz Klein developed a more nuanced two-dimensional model of sexual orientation, now known as the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid. It was first published in his book, The Bisexual Option, in 1978. The Klein Grid is designed to expand on Kinsey’s work in several ways. First, it accounts for the fact that a person’s sexual orientation may change over time, and asks people to rate their past, present, and ideal orientation on each factor. The Klein Grid includes seven variables that use a 1 to 7 rating criteria similar to the Kinsey scale, ranging from exclusive “opposite” sex attraction to exclusive same sex attraction. The 21 boxes are rated, and then can be viewed as a complex individual picture that cannot be reduced to a single number on a one-dimensional scale.
Given the complexities, it’s difficult to estimate the size of the bisexual population. In 2002, the National Survey of Family Growth found that nearly 13 percent of women and nearly 6 percent of men said they were attracted to both men and women, but only 2 percent specifically identified as bisexual. (By comparison, 1.8 percent identified as gay/lesbian.) Miller, Marshall, Amy Andre, Julie Ebin and Leona Bessonova. Bisexual Health: Introduction and Model Practices for HIV/STI Prevention Programming. (Washington: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, 2007), 3.
Bisexuality often gets erased in the rush to apply gender-based labels. A bisexual woman married to a man is assumed to be heterosexual; a bisexual man in a committed relationship with another man is assumed to be gay. There are also the myths and stereotypes that bisexuals must endure – that they are promiscuous or unable to form committed relationships; that all people are really bisexual (but won’t admit it); that bisexuality is a phase; or that bisexuals are just confused homosexuals. Stereotyping is one of the most pernicious aspects of biphobia (the fear or hatred of bisexual persons).
It would be easy for bisexuals to surrender to invisibility and biphobia were they less-attuned to the unique blessings of their sexuality. “A great many of us find that our bisexuality deepens our spirituality,” says Rev. Susan Craig, a Presbyterian minister. “When it’s time for us to fall in love, our ‘time to embrace,’ we don’t know if it will be with a woman or a man. And so we experience the Spirit’s movement in our lives, ‘blowing where it chooses… but [we] do not know where it comes from or where it goes.’” [John 3:8]
Bisexual people may bring unique spiritual gifts to their communities of faith, such as a deeper understanding of diversity in creation, an attuned sensibility to the ambiguities and paradoxes of faith, and an innate ability to build bridges and engage the “other.” The LGBT rights movement, both secular and religious, is just beginning to address issues specific to bisexuals, and to fully embrace the gifts of bisexual people. The first step for religious communities may be to create an environment where bisexuals feel comfortable being, and sharing, who they are.