Thanks to years of hard work by LGBT activists, people in certain corners of the world feel more comfortable about coming out than ever before. A recent survey found that 43 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds don’t identify as gay or straight; while another piece of research has suggested that women are never heterosexual, only gay or bisexual.
And yet, dating a man who identifies as bisexual remains a taboo. A few taps of Google drags up countless pieces dissecting the question ‘would you date a bisexual guy?’ And Amber Rose, the public figure who is well-known for standing against slut-shaming and having a sex positive attitude, recently said she would not date a bisexual man. “Personally—no judgment—I wouldn’t be comfortable. I just wouldn’t be comfortable with it and I don’t know why,” she said during a Facebook Q&A. Meanwhile, a survey by Glamour magazine found that almost two-thirds of women “wouldn't date a man who has had sex with another man.”
But by seeing bisexuality as a deal-breaker, heterosexual women might not only be unwittingly dodging perfectly decent partners, but the best. Research has found that men who are bisexual - and feel comfortable being out - are better in bed - and the relationship develops - more caring long-term partners and fathers. Some women who took part in an Australian study even said they would never be able to go back to dating straight men at all. It turned out that straight men were the ones with more emotional and misogynistic baggage.
This is partly due to the fact that as these men tried to understand their sexuality, they also questioned the most negative aspects of masculine character traits: including aggression. They also were less likely to value unequal and traditional gender roles, according to Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, Senior Lecturer in Social Diversity in Health and Education at Deakin University and the co-author of the book Women in Relationships with Bisexual Men. To make their findings, she and researcher Sara Lubowitz studied 79 Australian women who had been with bisexual men.
“Their partners had had to question their masculinity and sexuality,” Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli tells The Independent. “Because of this, these men were far more sensitive and desired to establish an equitable relationship. They were far more respectful. They were keen fathers and wanted to set up equitable gender relationships in the home. Additionally, the men were far more aware of sexual diversity and desire, so these men were more willing to engage in less heteronormative sexual acts, such as liking anal penetration by their women partners. They were also up to explore novel sexual acts. Many women found themselves exploring BDSM, polyamory, and were themselves encouraged to explore same-sex relationships.
"We had some women who said that after dating a bi man, they could never go back to dating a straight man."
Despite these findings, says Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, such pairings are little understood, both academically and among the public.
Society, the media, counselling services, and schools tend to 'erase' their relationships by grouping bisexuality within the gay or straight binary; or forget altogether that bisexual men and their partners are of all ages, ethnicities, countries, classes, she explains.
She adds: “In most films, bisexual men have either been killed, suicided, or been killers. And been the HIV carriers into the straight world. Very few films, and only recently has film begun to explore polyamory and bisexuality, and women in relationships with bisexual men, in a more positive and varied light."
However, it would be a mistake to paint relationships between bisexual men and women as black and white utopias. When the men did not feel comfortable coming out, misogyny and violence continued to be issues. This was generally a response to “incredible stigmatisation, marginalisation, and discrimination for their bisexuality,” says Dr Pallotta-Chiarolli
“One example was of a man who basically married his female partner to cover his same-sex attractions,” says Dr Pallotta-Chiarolli. “He did, however, go overseas and brought his male partner back. He threatened her not to say anything to their religious and ethnic community, and she basically became their housekeeper and for the mother of his children.”
Women who found themselves in these situations were conflicted on two levels, the researchers found. As Dr Pallotta-Chiarolli explains: “One: This is what I’m experiencing right now. It’s not right. I’m feeling violated. I have no empowerment as a woman. My husband is displacing his anger and taking it out me. But then the second level is: I can understand why he has mental health issues because he also has experienced incredible pain and suffering for his same-sex attractions.”
The lack of diverse sex education, which includes LGBT stories, is partly to blame for these issues between women and bisexual men and why this pairing is poorly understood, says Dr Pallotta-Chiarolli.
As a result, if a man’s partner discovered his bisexuality by mistake - for instance by finding gay porn or a condom in his pocket - women generally responded in one of three ways. By breaking up with the partner immediately; ending the relationship because of an unrelated issue; or communicating and navigation the situation.
“The final third went on to continue their amazing relationship. But communication was always the key. Some of the women who were devastated when they found out would think to themselves, ‘I have to weigh that against the fact that he’s been the most sensitive, loving, and caring partner and father. And he’s been great in bed.’ Suddenly, they had to ask themselves if it’s worth giving up this amazing man simply because he has desires and wants to have relationships with other men. Instead, is there something they can do, somehow incorporating all of who he is into the relationship? Some women would say, ‘As long as I have veto power, you can see men,’ meaning she can tell him not to date guys she thinks have a bad vibe. Other women would say, ‘Do what you want, as long as you stay who you are with me. I just don’t want to hear about it.’
“Another older feminist independent woman said to her partner, ‘You’ve been so awesome to me. We have grandkids. We’ve lived an amazing life. You've fallen in love with this other guy now, and I think you deserve to go live with him for a while. Just come and visit me periodically.’”
And even among men who were out and active members of the LGBT community, misogyny lingered. In one case, a bisexual man made it clear he would be seeing other men but banned her from dating anyone else and confined her to their home to take care of their children.
“It became more about gender roles and misogyny. That’s what contributed to an unhealthy relationship,” she says.
Some couples found that while their relationship was stable, that they struggled to find acceptance in others.
“Some bi men and their partners felt they no longer belonged and were discriminated against by gay men and lesbians. Some women who had been loved by gay men were now hearing comments like, ‘You’d better lock your boyfriends away, the female predator is here’,” says Dr Pallotta-Chiarolli.
Dr Pallotta-Chiarolli and her co-author Sara Lubowitz hope that their research will help people reconsider what they think they know about bisexuality, and approaching their own relationships with more openness regardless of their sexual orientation.
“You don’t have to go into a relationship with silly, heteronormative assumptions,” she says. “You go in and design the relationship for yourselves. What are the rules? Where do we have sex? Is the bedroom a sacred space or can others come into bed with us? Is it a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy? Are we going to do gendered monogamy - meaning the man could only date other men and the woman other women? Do I have veto power? How are we dealing with STIs? Bisexual men were more open to designing a relationship that works for them, rather than a straight man who would come in with certain assumptions of what that relationship should be.
She adds: "You always end up getting more than what normative society sets as what a relationship should be.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies