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The Affirming Power of Research for Bi+ People

By Eva

Bisexual people deserve to be included in sexual health research. To be fair, as a research lab coordinator for a queer men’s sexual health lab, a researcher by training, and bisexual gal myself, I might be a bit biased, but I doubt it. It’s no secret that academia has a deep history of violence against LGBTQ+ people – from conversion therapy-fueling research on the “source” of queerness to only removing homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1972. Even recent research spearheaded by LGBTQ+ people themselves often dismisses, miscategorizes, or erases bi+ people. Nonetheless, I believe that research can be a powerful force for good in the lives of bi+ people and that bi+ people deserve to be a part of this research. 

For many LGBTQ+ people and youth, it is common to grow up without an understanding of your community’s history or even a community of your own at all. This is especially the case for bi+ people, for whom if LGBTQ+ history is even mentioned at all, the B in LGBTQ+ is often subsumed into the L or the G. With biphobia and bi-erasure persisting in 2020, reading about thousands or even dozens of bi+ people’s experiences in the form of surveys or interviews can be incredibly validating. It can feel like – I’m not alone! My experiences are really happening! There are people who care about making bi+ people’s lives better! 

With this, in honor of #BiHealthMonth, the BRC reached out to the CRUISElab (the aforementioned queer men’s sexual health lab) to partner in sharing some research on bi+ men’s health. I decided to share one of the research papers from one of our lab’s studies, Cruising Counts, which explored queer guys’ experiences using the Internet to learn about sexuality and find sexual partners.

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How Bisexual-Identified Men Use the Internet to Seek Sex with Other Men in Ontario: Factors Associated with HIV/STI Testing and Condom Use

Authors: Rusty Souleymanov, Sophia Fantus, Nathan Lachowsky, David J. Brennan & Andre Ceranto

When we think about queer guys’ experiences using the Internet, research has found that guys who sleep with guys were among the first adopters of the Internet – especially to find sexual partners. With this, the researchers of this study focused on the sexual health of bi+ men who seek sexual partners online. There has been some previous research indicating that bi+ men may be less likely to get tested for HIV or that they may be more likely to have sex with a partner whose HIV status they don’t know. But overall, research in this area is lacking and previous findings are relatively inconclusive. 

To better understand bi+ men’s sexual health, the researchers drew from findings from the Cruising Counts study, which collected data in the form of surveys from over 1,000 queer men in Ontario (the most populous province in Canada). The final sample of bi+ men from the Cruising Counts study was over 400 individuals. 

So, what did they find? From this study, bi+ men were significantly more likely to use digital platforms like Squirt or Craigslist to find sex, and less likely to use the popular hook-up app Grindr. They were also less likely than other guys who are into guys to receive sexual health information online. In terms of STIs and HIV, they were less likely than other queer guys to get tested for STIs in the past 12 months, but more likely to report any male partners in the past 6 months. Interestingly, the bi+ men in the study were more likely to use condoms during their last anal sex experience with a man. Lastly, the only significant predictor of not using condoms was any alcohol or drug use by a partner. So, for example, there was no difference in terms of condom use between those who met on Grindr vs. Squirt.

What does this mean? Why would bi guys be more likely to practice positive sexual health behaviors like condom use, but not get tested regularly? One potential explanation is biphobia from healthcare providers. While LGBTQ+ people are often urged to get tested, it’s often forgotten that a doctor’s office is not always the safest or most affirming place for queer people, including bi+ men. They may worry: is the doctor going to make judgmental comments? Shoot down a request for testing? Will they even believe I’m bi at all? Furthermore, biphobia within the LGBTQ+ community may leave bi+ men feeling less inclined to reach out to LGBTQ+ organizations for support around finding affirming healthcare. 

In terms of bi+ men’s decreased likelihood of receiving sexual health information online, many of the same roadblocks apply here as well. Many organizations for queer men’s health have created digital resources around sexual health in the past decade, and these are invaluable in sharing information that most queer youth do not get in high school. However, few of these resources are created specifically with bi+ men, who have unique experiences and sexual health needs, in mind. Writers like Zachary Zane are doing a great job in bringing bi+ men’s sexual health and experiences to the forefront, and I strive to create sexual health resources for bi+ women, but more resources are undoubtedly needed to serve our community. 

Overall, this paper is an important contribution to the area of queer and bi men’s health. We need more research on bi+ people’s experiences to better advocate for increased and improved bi-inclusive training for healthcare practitioners and bi-focused sexual health resources. Although this study is quantitative (looking at big groups of data) and may feel less personal than interviews with bi+ men, I hope that just reading about a study that includes 400 rad bi+ men navigating their sexual health led by a team of researchers who are invested in learning about bi+ men’s health is something that bi+ men can connect with. This paper is one piece of the bi research puzzle, but it certainly isn’t all of it. 

To read the full paper: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15299716.2018.1544959

Eva is a sex researcher, online sexuality educator, and professional bi person. She is currently the lab coordinator for the CRUISElab, a research lab and leader in the field of queer men’s health research at the University of Toronto, Canada.

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