My Photo

The Out Campaign

Atheist Blogroll

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 05/2005

« Are All Religions Equally Crazy? | Main | Atheists Do It Better: Why Leaving Religion Leads to Better Sex »



It strikes me that, when you have the stats broken out by sex as well as orientation, gay men substantially outnumber male bisexuals (the "double peak"), but I've yet to see a survey that even tried to be representative that had lesbians outnumber female bisexuals. So it might be that, with a good enough survey, you could get one, relatively broad peak.

Some possibilities as to why:

-Men somehow feel the social pressures you mentioned in a more pronounced way.

-It has something to do with the mechanisms involved. There are some potential biological influences on orientation which would only be relevant to men (woman's sexual orientation seems to be a more difficult nut to crack). Maybe some of these influences have an effect that is very much all-or-nothing.

-It may have something to do with those within-a-bell-curve difference generalizations about how men treat sex versus how women treat sex. If men's arousal is more strongly influenced by simple visual things like "How pleasant is it to stare at these body parts?" then maybe they develop stronger purely physical preferences.

On a barely related note, I think that ex-gay conversion therapy is the sort of thing that might very well fail even in a world where "change is possible". If you imagine, for a moment, a world in which biology governs what broad range of orientations a person can exhibit, people would generally feel some variation, or be influenced by their experiences. But if you add to that a very strong social pressure to be straight, then the people who are most likely to identify otherwise would be the subset of the population who are simply incapable of changing their orientation to that degree. Depending on the parameters and demographics involved, you could then have a world where something like 50% of people could significantly change their orientation, but only 3% of gay or lesbian people could change their orientation enough to have satisfactory relationships with the opposite sex. People who identified as queer would be self-selected as the very people who are most incapable of seriously changing their orientation, so it would often be possible to convert people into queers (basically just by removing that social conditioning), but usually not possible to turn them straight.

Of course, that world might not be this one, and it's possible that you're pretty much stuck with one Kinsey number (+/- 0.5) for your whole life. It doesn't matter too much to me anyway, since I figure my Kinsey 4-ish (3.8? 4 and 1/13? Pi plus one half?) is just great and gives me about as much choice as I'd ever want anyway. But it's food for thought.


Oh, and to answer the actual question listed at the end, I'm pretty sure that in a bi- and gay-friendly world, I would have figured out my orientation at about 10 or 11. At that age I didn't really think about bisexuality as a real thing. And being gay was sort of this weird thing that I didn't want to associate with, being already socially on the margins, so while I considered that I might be for a while, I found it easy to just hang on to my straight attractions and call myself straight.

In the end I didn't come out until 18 (despite gay fantasies and occasionally looking at gay porn well before that). So yeah, the lack of a socially recognized bi identity definitely slowed things down for me.


Beautiful piece Greta. It pretty much sums up the feelings I've had for the a long time. I identify myself as bi, but my interest leans more towards women. I'm in a committed relationship with a woman. The criticisms you listed coming from both straight and gay people about being bisexual have always offended me. I did a lot of soul searching when I first realized I had an interest in both sexes. I came to the conclusion I had more romantic feelings towards women and that my interest in men was more sexual in nature. In my mind this is a pretty solid conclusion, but other people have looked at it and told me that I was either a sexual fetishist or a closet gay person to afraid to come out. Luckily this didn't come from people close to me, they where more or less strangers. The people around me, and especially my girlfriend see it as something normal and accept it without hesitation. I hang out with punkrockers. They have always been more accepting of every orientation.
I read a study that was done recently here in the Netherlands where they interviewed teens about their sexual orientation. A lot of teens that identified themselves as straight also reported sexual fantasies about the same sex and it was the same with gay teens. So they were more leaning towards bisexuality but identified as one end of the spectrum. This is consistent with Greta's finding about a tendency to lean towards one end of the spectrum. However, another interesting thing that came out of that study was that more and more young people don't like to think in terms of gay, bi or straight. You identify yourself as who you are. Who you sleep with is just a part of it. Each individual is seen as unique. It doesn't really matter who you are attracted to, acceptance shouldn't depend on that. I think that's a very healthy way of looking at things. I think it would be wonderful if we didn't worry so much about sexual orientation. Just be who you are and accept others for who they are. I personally don't really define myself by my sexual orientation. I don't pick out my social environment with it. I'm just me and I have friends that are like me, but they don't have to be bi as well. I'm not saying the gay community is a bad thing, I think it's wonderful. But I would hope that in the future the lines between the gay and straight communities would blur and that sexual orientation will become something that's completely normal whatever it may be. I know I sound like a wishfull thinker, but if I read studies like the one above it does give me hope.


I think something that cannot be overlooked is that monogamy (or at least serial monogamy) is the culturally dominant pattern of relationships in western society. If you adopt exclusive monogamy as your pattern for relationships you are forced to choose one gender for romantic attachment, at least for the duration of each relationship.

While you might be attracted to the gender opposite to that of your partner, this would be somewhat suppressed during the course of the relationship, which might then be reinforced into your self-identity.

Kevin Zimmerman

Hi Greta,

I’m listening to the audiobook Sex at Dawn – have you read it?

In (secluded and largely no-longer-existent) societies without religion or homophobia, people still sorted into groups at either end of the sexual orientation spectrum. And there are other instances of double sorting. For example, there is no stigmatization (anymore) against being left-handed, yet most people are NOT ambidextrous (only 3%). Most people are either right handed (87%) or left handed (10%).

Just to clarify the Kinsey scale for other readers, Kinsey rated participants on a scale from 0, for those who had no experience or desire for sexual activity with their same sex, to 6, for those with no experience with or desire for sexual activity with those of the other sex.

I’m a 5 on the scale, “Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual.” Yet, I’m married to a woman and we have three children together. I’m not very involved in the gay community, and I lead a fairly heterosexual lifestyle, so in my case, at least, my everyday social and familial experience (straight) does not support my sexual orientation (gay).

Kevin Zimmerman


The social pressures to polarize that you talk about are real, but I think there may also be a biological tendency to polarize one's sexual attractions.

We don't really understand how sexual attraction develops. It's obviously strongly conserved by evolution and buried very deep; the urge to mate is older than brains.

I think what the brain adds to the mix is fetishizing. It takes a small attraction and amplifies it into an intense fascination.

This would tend to result in a bimodal distribution, clustered away from the middle.

But what can happen is that, especially as other social signifiers of gender get weaker (I can hear the "keep women in their place" fundies getting all excited about this already), is that ones fetishes can more easily cross gender lines.


Fluidly bisexual, polyamorous, BDSM switch. Can I just go with "greedy?"

I lean more towards the straight end of the scale, but I don't know if I still would in a different society. I tend to suspect that my decreased trust in men makes it more difficult to be attracted to them (yes, that's practically sexism, no I don't think it's right; it's a purely emotional response resulting from the guys in school hassling me, while the girls were easy to get along with -- and it's something I push against as much as I can). However, I also think that I would more likely be more attracted to men if I had more opportunity. I just don't seem to encounter many men who want to sleep with other men. Whether that's caused by society pushing on people to pick a side, I don't know.


I'm about 50/50 myself, but identify as lesbian for social reasons (and b/c my partner is female). Before we met, I had decided to not date men anymore. I was sick of the gender-based social & sexual roles. Plus, I simply felt queer.

That said, I think more men would be bisexual if the stigma/punishment for it weren't so high. I think women have a more fluid sexuality, but that men are just more sexual period. Even if they generally prefer women I don't think many of them would resist a little same-sex fun if the social stakes weren't so high and if they hadn't been indoctrinated to be 100% straight their whole lives.


While there is almost certainly at least some genetic contribution to sexuality (as there is with nearly all traits), I have not yet discovered any studies which clearly show it to be the predominant factor. Sexual behavior is primarily a function of the brain, and mental development is rather obviously influenced by a very long and complicated chain of environmental influences.

Designing an ethical experiment to test predispositions toward or against homo-and-bi-sexuality is extremely difficult and I suspect you will probably not see any in the near future. Unethical experiments, however, are very easy to come up with. I don't think the exact answers to these questions are important enough to be violating anyone's rights over them.

I will note, however, that much of the opposition to the idea that sexuality can be personally controlled and determined seems to come from those who think they can somehow be protected and/or institutionalized as a class via their genes. This is extraordinarily silly, of course. "I was born gay, therefore I deserve equal rights because there's nothing I can do about it." No, no. You deserve equal rights because you're a person, just like any other, and rights cannot be revoked on any basis, whether arbitrary or natural.

Saying that it would be morally legitimate to discriminate against others because sexuality is a choice is absurd on its face. That's little different than claiming it would be correct to discriminate against people on the basis that their favorite color is red. Why anyone would accept such a moronic argument is well beyond me.


I really enjoyed this piece.

I think, for me at least, you're spot on that the lack of "true" bisexuals is mostly cultural. I'm 23, and I did not publicly identify as bisexual until about a year ago (which is also around the same time I started publicly identifying myself as an atheist).

I've had a sexual attraction to both genders since I was at least 12 (?). In fact, the first relationship I had that turned sexual was with a girl friend of mine when I was 14/15 (we never admitted to each other that we wanted to be more than friends though), and at the time I had a boyfriend. It wasn't until a good friend of mine in my senior year told me she was bisexual that I started thinking I could see myself that way.

I was raised in a very religious home, and my mother staunchly believed (and still does) that gay is a choice. I bought into the idea because I truly thought I had to make a choice between my feelings for girls and my feelings for boys. It didn't occur to me that I could just like both equally.

As of now, most of my friends know I am bisexual, but I haven't really told my family. I almost came out to my sister (the more liberal one), but I only hinted at it. The minute I brought it up she said,"That's gross." Which is odd, because I know if my brother were to come out and says he's gay (hypothetical situation, he's not gay) then she would not respond that way. It was a little disheartening so I haven't even tried to tell the rest of my family.

I also feel like, if I told the rest of my family, it would cause unnecessary fighting. I have a boyfriend; I'm not in a relationship with a girl, so I think they would just be confused about why I'm telling them. My mother especially would not understand, and she would just say I'm in a phase.

Overall, coming out as bisexual has just been more complicated than it seems it's worth. Pretty much anytime I tell someone I'm bi I almost have to divulge my whole sexual history or they think I'm bullshitting them.

Very interesting piece. I love the way that you are not afraid to address these tough questions with a scientific approach.

Have you written on the perception of female homosexuality and bisexuality in contemporary society? I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on topics such as why is it that is seen as "cool" for girls to kiss, but not guys. Even though there seems to be more prejudice against actual gay and bisexual woman than men.


After a fair bit of reflection, I've concluded that my reluctance to identify as bisexual despite experiencing attraction to both women and men is down to a number of factors.
Volume. I like both, but I like men better than women, as a rule.
Practice. I fantasise about women, but I mainly sleep with men.
Convenience. Maybe it's trivial, but in a society that assumes straightness, it really is just easier to go with the flow.
Politics. This one is twofold. First of all, I feel like given how hard gay people struggle to get recognition in our society, lil ol' privileged me popping in and saying, "Girls are pretty, too" is a bit like white people saying, "I'm one-sixteenth First Nations." Even if it's true, the motivation behind claiming it feels dishonest, especially when I don't feel like the label of queer really applies.
Secondly, the fetishisation of female homosexuality really bothers me. It frustrates me that it seems like no matter what a woman's sexual inclination is, it gets recast through the male lens. Sleep with men? It's to please men. Sleep with women? It's to please men. This may be a backwards reason to identify as straight, but at least I don't get, "Oh, you're bi, huh? *drooling leer*" on top of the usual bullshit.


What often gets overlooked is the vast proportion of people we DON'T find attractive. At least nineteen out of every twenty people I encounter produce no desire in me whatsoever. So I already have a whole set of filters in operation screening out family members, people who are too young, too old, too ugly, too tall, too short: and there just aren't that many people left after that process. Then another filter cuts in: how many of these people would want to have sex with me? The answer is usually 'none', but on the off-chance that it isn't, I need to focus my attention on the one or two remaining people who might be remotely interested. And on the basis of maximal return for effort, that's probably a member of the opposite sex.

It's nice to imagine a world where getting laid is effortless and you can proposition anyone you want to, but most of us don't live like that. We have to take what we can get.


Very interesting. Similarly, bicultural, bi/multiracial, and agnostic individuals can also be perceived/despised as fence sitters in some circles. They also would seem to share some of the identity/affiliation issues you explore here.

David Harmon

An interesting article! While I don't know enough to claim an opinion on the "cultural" theory, I would like to point out that the "biological" option would almost certainly be developmental rather than genetic. That is, I still haven't seen anyone make a good case for even multivariate inheritance of sexual orientation.

My best-guess theory is that sexual "targeting" emerges from brain development, and this process has the potential to connect "mate selection" to recognition of either males or females, with the "unperturbed" pattern being to assign it to the opposite sex. In this theory, bisexuality is rarer because it involves a dual link, instead of just switching to the other sex's pattern. This would suggest that it's relatively difficult to feed mate-selection straight from species (rather than gender) recognition, which is... an open question. We just don't understand brain development that well!

Of course, this is complicated by the point that as per various animal studies, same-sex sexual activity is not limited to "mate selection", but can also have social functions in its own right! This suggests that whatever the proximate cause of variations in sexual orientation, the issue involved is not only common to most of the mammals, but many species from other orders!


I have difficulty imagining myself in a relationship with a man, let alone an exclusive one, but I think I would be more comfortable and willing to be open about my interest in sex with men (or, more precisely, in "sex involving more cocks than just mine") if it weren't for the ridiculous criteria the red cross uses to disqualify blood donors. Societal nonacceptance of gay relationships isn't something that figures in my life much; the only people I'm around who practice those tendencies are people whose approval I don't have any inclination to seek anyway.

I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on topics such as why is it that is seen as "cool" for girls to kiss, but not guys. Even though there seems to be more prejudice against actual gay and bisexual woman than men.

Sexual behavior between women which has the effect of titillating men imagining it, or that's done explicitly for the enjoyment of men viewing, is accepted; women who don't need a man in their life are not.


I identify very strongly as bisexual, because I like women too much to be straight and I like men too much to be a lesbian. This is mostly theoretical, since in my entire life I have been in a position to have sex with a total of three people, and I married the third.

My primary hobby is playing computer games, which is a very male-dominated area and most of the marketing is done with the assumption the target audience loves big-breasted women who wear very little clothes. I sometimes wonder if that could influence my preferences. Marketing, after all, is about presenting images to people and saying "hey, you. you want this. give us money." until they agree.

It's a bit of chicken-or-egg question: Do I have fantasies about Lara Croft because I played the games and the male-targeted marketing rubbed off on me, or was I convinced to buy the games because the marketing hit something in my tastes that I had in common with adolescent males?

Fnordian Slip

Good article and comments, but there's one issue missing that's tied to bisexuality in many peoples' heads that I'd like to raise: multiple partners.

People generally like to vastly oversimplify when they're categorizing things (and people), and categorization of sexual preference is no exception. To a lot of people, there is no grey area, there's only straight or gay, and it's based on nothing more than the gender of your boffin-partner today. To the over-simplifiers, "bi" *automatically* means "sleeping around", not "in a committed relationship". Because (they'd say) "of course" you couldn't have a committed relationship with 2 (or more) other people, or even simply honest, open, loving, and -un-committed relationships. Nope, makes the "normals" too uncomfortable. Better to reclassify the self-labeled "bi"s as straight or gay, based on their single partner of choice today. And if they commit to more than one partner, it "can't" be committed, it can only be "fooling around". And if they have no desire to commit to a specific partner (or set of), then they get stuck in the even easier category of "slut" (m or f), with no care for whether there's any open, honest integrity and principles in the way they actually act and treat their partners.

So "true" bi's get it coming and going. Straights are straights. Gays are gays. Bi's are either "really" straight (and confused), or gay (and confused), or just plain confused (and just need to "settle down"), or sluts (period). No room for any messy grey areas like committed multiple-partner relationships, or 2-person committed, yet open relationships where outside partners are mutually agreed to be permissible, or any thoroughly open and honest just plain "messing around" with multiple, like-minded, open and honest partners.

(And of course this is all a thoroughly separate issue from the already-mentioned point that peoples' circumstances can be totally at odds with their own self-knowledge of their own sexuality. Can't have that grey area either!)


Even if they generally prefer women I don't think many of them would resist a little same-sex fun if the social stakes weren't so high and if they hadn't been indoctrinated to be 100% straight their whole lives.

Have you read Christopher Hitchens' autobiography? He talks about this a little in the part about his time at boarding school as a teenager. Obviously "English boarding school in the 50s/60s" is a pretty specific situation but I think it reveals something anyway: teenage boys in a situation where they have no access to girls will, effectively, use each other as "stand-ins" for girls.

To answer the question at the end of the post... I'm somewhere around 1.5-2 on the Kinsey scale (mostly straight but still attracted to women sometimes). I think if society was less biphobic, and less centred on the Straight/Gay divide, I'd probably be a lot closer to the middle of the scale.


The issue is further complicated by the fact that sexual identity - especially homosexual sexual identity is subdivided in popular culture for reasons I don't understand. For example, there's an expectation that homosexuals stereotypically and strongly exhibit the traits of either their own gender or of the opposite one. Males are supposed to be either butch of effeminate. Females are supposed to be either butch or girly. My guess is that this is at least partly an artefact of cruising: for many people, it's a difficult and unfamiliar scene and there hasn't, historically, been many signposts. In the absence of gaydar, we have to advertise. And I suspect this contributes to the strange distrust of bisexual motives among gay and straight people. Bisexuals don't conform to heterosexual expectations and they don't conform to the probably-largely-culturally-inspired homosexual standards either.

I'm more inclined than you are, Greta, to suspect that everyone is basically bi given the right stimulus. Personally, my romantic preferences don't match exactly with my sexual ones. I'm perfectly open to the idea of sex with males, it doesn't squick me in the slightest and I sometimes masturbate to gay porn. But it's hard to imagine my having a romantic relationship with a male. This leads me to suspect that there's a significant cultural and socialelement at work.

I think there might be a genetic component to the double peak if hyper-stimulus plays a part. I haven't thought this through yet, but the desire for sex is very powerful, makes us do all sorts of strange things and might be 'manipulated' by stimulus in the same sort of way cuckoos are 'manipulated' into raising chicks of other species. Don't take this the wrong way: I'm not trivialising sexuality, the desire for sex with one or another or both genders or the reality of romantic love between each, any or all genders. I'm just saying that I have a suspicion that genetic factors might be able to account in part for the double peak.

At the moment it's just a guess, of course. I'm more inclined to suspect we're just asking the wrong question.

Yes, I most certainly would. I consider myself to be straight, but I have often found some men to be very attractive and have had a few fantasies about them. Of course, when I was a Christian I relegated these thoughts to the back and felt very guilty for them. Since then, I have still had a hard time accepting these things as more than just a fluke, which I think they are. I doubt that I would ever be squarely in the middle, but I'd be a lot closer to the middle than I am now (and I'm probably meandering that way as I put off the old Christian morality and let my view of the world open up more).


I think there's also some bit of simplification with the whole straight/gay/bi division. For one, it assumes only two genders, and for another, it assumes that gender is the primary determinant of attractiveness.

For example, for myself, I tend to be attracted not so much to specific genders/sexes but to certain traits, both of appearance and of personality. Many of those traits are found predominantly (whether due to nature or culture) in women. I don't like a lot of body hair, for example, and our society encourages women - but not men - to shave. I also find long hair attractive - again, a trait found more often in women than men due to our current culture. I find androgyny in general highly attractive. And our society punishes androgyny in men far more than in women.

Very few of the traits I find attractive are, in fact, biologically gendered. Short height is one that is, for biological reasons, more common in women than men, but not exclusively female. I do find breasts attractive, but they're actually fairly low on the scale of importance.

Thus, due to mostly (but not exclusively) cultural traits, the people I find attractive tend to be predominantly female. Yet, the label of "mostly lesbian" doesn't quite feel right to me because that implies that I'm attracted to those people because they're female, rather than because of those specific traits, with their femaleness being incidental.


I agree with Sean (who wrote on May 11th) about if society had been less homophobic,that I would have understood,and at a much earlier age, that I was bisexual!
As it was,I had to go through so much unnessary bullshit and carry around so much internalized homophobia for nothing!!!
(I am surprised that I am as relatively unscathed as I am,to be honest.) Fortunately,my wife has been so helpful,and so very understanding, in my comming out. She knows I love her,and that has given us both the necessary courage to integrate my sexual orientation into our relationship. Now, it's just "part of the landscape" for us (me,being bisexual,that is).
We talk about LGBT issues frequently. She initiates it,and so do I;without qualms. That's the way it ought to be.
As for sexual orientation goes,I am "attracted" to individual people,who sometimes happen to be "male",or "female." It's more to do with the person,more than the actual gender,as such. Society,itself, may be shifting in that direction;and you hear it in the media more and more all the time.
Things are changing for those of us in the LGBT category. In a recent article in USA Today(of all places!),gay,lesbian,and bisexual political candidates nation-wide are rapidly gaining legitimacy in the minds of even older,and typically more conservative, voters! For many younger voters,sexual orientation is even less of an issue! Reading that,I realized how much our society has changed,and I didn't feel as anxious about the future of our country. Michelle Bachman,and others like her,are on the loosing side! Religion is fighting the long retreat. It no longer controls the message! However, I do wish that things had been easier when I was growing up (even just a little bit would have been nice). Still, things are finally shifting;and what I see excites me about the future!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Subscribe/ Donate to This Blog!

Books of mine

Greta on SSA Speakers Bureau

  • Greta Christina is on the Speakers Bureau of the Secular Students Alliance. Invite her to speak to your group!

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz

Powered by Rollyo

Some Favorite Posts and Conversations: Atheism

Some Favorite Posts and Conversations: Sex

Some Favorite Posts: Art, Politics, Other Stuff