By Codi Coday, President of PAVES (Polysexual Alliance for Visibility, Education, and Support)
(Content Warning: sexual assault, corrective rape)
Bi+ people, especially bi+ women, are often oversexualized because of our sexual orientation. Just signing into a dating website as a bi+ woman for a few minutes proves this to be true. Immediately, we are bombarded by couples asking for threesomes and men demanding that we let them watch us hook up with women.
Bi+ people struggle with others not seeing our sexual orientation as real or legitimate. People also tend to believe bi+ people are more promiscuous, more likely to cheat, incapable of monogamy, and greedy. A lot of these problems and misconceptions arise from the pervasive oversexualization of bisexuals.
Bisexuals Are People, Not Objects
When people are reduced to their orientation, race, or gender with the sole purpose of using them to fulfill someone’s sexual desires, they are being treated as a sex toy – not a human being. Frankly, objectifying people is not and cannot be supportive. When people fail to see the entire person attached to an identity, they fail them. It is impossible to support someone when you treat them as an object or need-fulfillment machine.
Double Standards Are Sexist
I often see women say things like, “My boyfriend is so supportive of my sexuality. He lets me do whatever I want with women as long as he can watch.” In reality, this isn’t supportive at all.
There are primary two reasons why this happens and both are unsavory. First, he may allow her to have sexual interactions with another woman because it turns him on. Don’t be fooled. He isn’t doing her a service, as he may try to convince her; he is “allowing” this behavior for purely selfish reasons. He is thinking about his sexual gratification, not her well being.
Secondly, he may allow same sex interactions because he doesn’t see them as a real threat. In this case, he is proving he doesn’t think same-sex relationships are as valid or valuable as heterosexual relationships. That is a huge red flag, proving he isn’t truly supportive. In both cases, selfishness and bigotry are at work rather than support, acceptance, and love.
Bisexual Identities Are Not A Sexual Tool
Many people think that sexualizing bi+ people means that they are supportive of our orientation. This is similar to when men oversexualize, for example, Asian or trans women and then claim they aren’t actually racist or transphobic. (Hint: they are.) If a part of someone’s identity is only supported in sexual circumstances, it isn’t truly supported.
For example, there are many people who oversexualize transgender people, but who do not support their rights. They aren’t supporting transgender individuals; they are supporting transgender people to be used for their sexual gratification only. This leaves transgender people vulnerable to violence. The oversexualization of bi+ people perpetuates violence like this as well.
Increased Corrective Rape & Sexual Violence
Corrective rape is a problem for bi+ people. Corrective rape is when someone is raped due to their sexual orientation, in order to “correct” their behavior. These rapes often occur as an effort to conform to heterosexuality and common gender norms. Men are not the only ones who commit corrective rape, but they are the most common perpetrators. Bi+ women are more likely to spend time with or date men, end up in abusive relationships without a support network, and experience social isolation. This means that bi+ people are especially at risk for corrective rape.
According to a National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence study, “61% of bisexual women reported experiencing rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.” Comparatively, 17% of straight women and 13% of lesbians have experience one of the above. Likely, these terrifying statistics are at least due in part to the oversexualization of bi+ people.
Bi+ people are used and seen as sexual objects rather than human beings with choices and opinions. Too often when people can’t control bisexuals they use rape, violence, and intimidation. Because of bi+ antagonism and misconceptions that bi+ people are slutty, unreliable, selfish, indecisive, dishonest, and more likely to cheat, a lot of bisexuals don’t report these crimes. Sadly, when bisexuals do report crimes to the police, “they are three times more likely to experience police violence than people who are not bisexual,” according to the Movement Advancement Project. That likelihood is increased if they are also trans, a person of color, and/or disabled.
Bisexuality Gets Conflated With Sex
One of the biggest reasons people hate bi+ people is because they conflate bisexuality with sex. In reality, bisexuality has no more to do with sex than being straight or gay does.
However, with the way that people often respond to someone coming out as bi+, they might as well be graphically describing a threesome. We often hear comments like, “Keep your sex life private! I don’t want to hear about that!” when we have only mentioned our sexual orientation and nothing about sex. Gays, lesbians, and straight people are usually able to discuss their sexual orientation without these comments – bisexuals should be no different.
Being out as a bi+ person means explaining over and over again that bisexuality is not the same as promiscuity. No, we aren’t more likely to cheat. No, we aren’t greedy. No, I don’t want a threesome with you and your girlfriend. No, we aren’t more likely to have STIs. No, you cannot watch.
OKCupid, a popular dating website and app, flags only the term “bisexual” as possible inappropriate language. This just goes to show that the oversexualization of bi+ people is everywhere – individuals, companies, media, advertisements. This oversexualization of bi+ people that reaches far and wide certainly isn’t support. Supporting bisexuals means not seeing them as sexual objects, treating bisexuality as a valid sexual orientation, and not conflating bi+ identities with sex.