Bisexual and pansexual women experience a unique system of prejudices beyond homophobia. We are marginalized in both straight and queer communities. We are seen as indecisive, greedy, promiscuous, dishonest, confused, and even sexually indiscriminate. And many of these assumptions are informed by the cultural hypersexualization of bi+ women.
The media, and pornography, in particular, are partially to blame. We are rarely portrayed as romantic characters; when we are, we’re either cheating, secretly lesbians, or taking a temporary hiatus from heterosexuality. This contributes to the perception that we are tourists in the LGBTQ community, making it hard for us to be integrated there, and it informs a certain skepticism about bi+ identities. It enables people to doubt our existence. And it positions questionable morality as a trait intrinsic to our character.
More frequently, however, bi+ women are represented as sexual beings. Whether this is as participants in a threesome or a sensationalized makeout session for male entertainment, we become objects that cater to the male gaze. Studies indicate that media objectification of women has a negative impact on our mental and physical health. When you also consider that bi+ women are more prone to depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal ideation than gay, lesbian, and heterosexual people, it becomes clear what our further objectification accomplishes. We learn to construct our identities through this lens. And quite naturally, men learn to observe us as objects in everyday life.
Bi+ women become things that are acted upon. Our sexuality no longer belongs to us. Instead, people think it exists to elicit attention or in service of male desires, even in the abstract. The discovery that I am a bisexual woman becomes something they can harness for themselves. It is why men who don’t even know me feel comfortable asking me to make out with other women or soliciting me for threesomes. It’s difficult for people to conceptualize that the romantic and sexual attractions of bi+ women exist independent of the male gaze. So while not every bisexual or pansexual woman is interested in a threesome, people assume that our sexual identity exists for the purpose of one.
Even the language of “unicorn hunting” is dehumanizing. Bi+ women (“unicorns”) are often positioned as a gift that a woman offers her boyfriend, much like a new watch or concert tickets. It reduces us to props within the couple’s experience. And if we only exist in that dynamic as an object, interchangeable with one of their sex toys, our needs are rarely being considered. The central focus of these exchanges is the pleasure of the couple and on our sexuality as a performance.
Outside of the bedroom, the hypersexualization of bi+ women has way greater consequences. When we are reduced to objects, we become commodities that men can do whatever they want to, making it easier to justify harm against us. A national report conducted by the CDC revealed that bi+ women are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence, rape, and sexual assault than lesbian and heterosexual women. Trans women and gender non-conforming individuals who identify as bisexual are at even further risk. And the United Nations published a report that noted, on a global level, that bisexual women are “especially at risk of acts of sexual or intrafamily and domestic violence.”
Negative stereotypes about bi+ women suggest that we aren’t good people, that perhaps we deserve it when we experience violence. Many bisexual women who experienced domestic violence reported that their partners used their sexual identity to justify their behavior. And negative stigma also means additional barriers to justice, if we choose to report. We are met with greater skepticism when we share our stories and struggle with internalized biphobia and shame. According to the CDC, bi+ women receive less positive social reactions than lesbian and heterosexual women when they report sexual assault. And the Movement Advancement Project reported that bi+ women who reported crimes to the police are three times more likely to experience police violence.
And yet, our hypersexualization is often portrayed as cultural acceptance. Objectification is mistaken for celebration. It particularly stings when people accuse us of having bisexual (or “straight passing”) privilege because it is almost as if we should feel grateful for being fetishized. But if we are only celebrated in sexual scenarios, we are not truly being embraced — the ways in which we can be used for sexual gratification are. And heralding bisexuality and pansexuality as more privileged identities ignores the sexual and domestic violence that bi+ women face in heterosexual partnerships.
We have to change the way we perceive bisexuality and pansexuality. Rather than positioning it in between two polarities, we need to look at it as its own unique group under the LGBTQ umbrella. And through that lens, we must acknowledge how hypersexualization uniquely affects bi+ women and combat that. It is important for people to realize that we exist beyond the unicorn trope. We are not abstract, fantasy creatures. We make up more than half of the LGBTQ community. And we are human beings.
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