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Considerable gender, racial and sexuality differences exist in attitudes toward bisexuality

Nov. 12, 2013

Men who identify themselves as heterosexual are three times more likely to categorize bisexuality as "not a legitimate sexual orientation," an attitude that can encourage negative health outcomes in people who identify as bisexual, according to a study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington.

"The results from these analyses confirm what we have long suspected, that bisexual men and women experience unique and significant psychosocial stressors in comparison to our exclusively heterosexual and homosexual counterparts," said Brian Dodge, principal investigator and associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion. "Our IU team is thrilled that our research collaboration with Mackey Friedman, director of Project Silk, who I crossed paths with just last year at the 2012 APHA annual meeting, has helped to bring these findings to light."

bisexual symbol.

"The results from these analyses confirm what we have long suspected, that bisexual men and women experience unique and significant psychosocial stressors in comparison to our exclusively heterosexual and homosexual counterparts," said Brian Dodge, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.

The results of the survey, sponsored by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington and the National Institutes of Health, were discussed Nov. 5 at the 141st American Public Health Association annual meeting in Boston. Additional collaborators are Vanessa Schick, Gabriel Goncalves, Debby Herbenick, Randolph D. Hubach and Michael Reece, all of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.

Building on previous work assessing attitudes toward bisexual men and women, Friedman, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and his colleagues surveyed hundreds of adult college students for words that come to mind in relation to bisexual people, such as "confused," "different" and "experimental." The researchers then developed a 33-question survey and administered it to an online sample of 1,500 adults.

Overall, respondents were generally negative in terms of their attitudes toward bisexual men and women, with almost 15 percent of the sample in disagreement that bisexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation. However, women, white people and people who identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual had less bias and prejudice against bisexual people.

"Bisexual men and women face prejudice, stigma and discrimination from both heterosexual and homosexual people," Friedman said. "This can cause feelings of isolation and marginalization, which prior research has shown leads to higher substance use, depression and risky sexual behavior. It also can result in lower rates of HIV testing and treatment."

Of note, respondents who identified as gay or lesbian responded significantly less positively toward bisexuality than those identifying as bisexual, indicating that even within the sexual minority community, bisexuals face profound stigma. In addition, these findings indicate that male bisexuals likely suffer more stigma than female bisexuals.

When a bisexual person perceives that his or her sexual orientation is not recognized by peers, it can cause the person to feel socially isolated and unable to talk openly with friends, family and school mates.

"Having hard data to back up why a bisexual person might feel the need to be secretive about sexual orientation, something that can lead to higher depression and many other negative health outcomes, is very useful to people trying to fight stigma and marginalization," Friedman said.

"For example, this information can guide social marketing interventions and outreach to reduce that stigma, and improve rates of HIV prevention, testing and treatment within the bisexual community."

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