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Sex Stories

By Kait Scalisi, MPH

A common critique of research in general, and particularly sexual health research, is that it is so often gender normative and heteronormative. Too commonly, research fails to include individuals who identify as LGBTQ. A recent report from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) seeks to fill in some gaps in knowledge regarding bisexual youth.

The report is broad in scope and provides a fairly comprehensive look at the lived experiences of bisexual youth. Specifically, it seeks to answer four questions:

  1. Who are bisexual youth in terms of gender, race, education level, and where they reside (e.g., cities and towns, rural or suburban)?
  2. What are the issues facing bisexual youth, and how are those issues different from those facing their peers?
  3. How does bisexual identity affect young people’s well-being, and their relationships with family, school, and community?
  4. How can parents, educators, youth-serving agencies, and advocacy organizations better address the unique needs of bisexual youth?

The report is based on a survey of 10,000 LGBT youth aged 13-17. Of these youth, 40% identified as bisexual, queer, pansexual, or otherwise flexible in their sexuality. The report used a broad definition of bisexual because, “youth in all four of these categories share many of the same experiences, needs and concerns.” In addition, all four categories fit into this definition of bisexuality with which the authors framed the analysis:

“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted—romantically and/or sexually—to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.” —Robyn Ochs

The report does a nice job of looking at both overall statistics for this combined group and variations within groups. Unfortunately, beyond percentages, they fail to provide any information regarding whether the differences among and within groups are significant.

That being said, the report highlights the following results. Bisexual individuals:

  • Are more likely to be a racial minority, female, and in middle school.
  • Are less aware of safe spaces.
  • Receive lower levels of acceptance by family, peers, schools, and their larger community, including among LGBT groups.
  • Report lower levels of happiness and optimism regarding their potential to succeed.
  • Experience similar challenges to trans* folks, specifically high rates of poverty, mental health issues, domestic violence, and suicide.
  • Are less likely to be out to family, friends, and schools. This may relate to the unique struggles they face when coming out, including being told that bisexuality isn’t real or “just a phase,” or that they are merely promiscuous.

Interestingly, gay youth fare better on most metrics including being accepted by their family and community, having access to resources, and participating in LGBT activities.

The report also provides a plethora of ideas about how to be an ally to bisexual youth. Suggestions include:

  • Educate yourself on the community characteristics and unique challenges.
  • Be inclusive when teaching, particularly about bullying, harassment, and sexual violence.
  • Be inclusive in language. For example, use “LGBT” instead of “gay” rights.”
  • Hold yourself and those in your community accountable.

The report urges parents and caregivers to communicate acceptance of young people regardless of sexuality and gender identity, seek support from local support groups or advocacy organizations, and set clear expectations about how other should treat a bisexual.

The one item missing from the report’s suggestions is a call to, “be visible.” Since the report highlights the lack of knowledge of resources among bisexual youth, individuals and organizations with resources to offer should strive to make themselves more visible on issues of bisexuality, through the language they use, outreach efforts in which they engage, and programs and services they offer. The HRC report disappoints by offering what I see as surface-level suggestions to issues that are much deeper and broader than expected.

Other Sexual Health News This Week

It’s On Us, a Growing Movement to End Campus Sexual Assault (The White House)

Missouri’s First Same-Sex Marriage Case Heads to Court Today (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

CCSD Addresses Parents’ Sex Education Concerns (KLAS-TV, Las Vegas)

Attention Single Parents: Having a Baby May Not Ruin You Dating Life, After All (Metro US)

Here Is Why Trojan’s New Condom Survey Should Have Us All Worried (MTV)

Duke Researchers Release HIV Vaccine Breakthrough (The Chronicle, Duke University)

Important Dates

The following conference proposals are due in September. Click on each title for more information and to submit.

NASPA Violence Prevention Conference, September 26

2015 Southern California Sexual Health Summit, October 1