Bisexual Women and the Promiscuity Myth

Bisexuality is a frequently invisibilised, in addition to marginalised, sexual orientation. Bisexual men are assumed to be ‘secretly gay,’ while bisexual women are erased depending on the gender of their partners; a bi woman married to a man is straight, suddenly, for example. Or, if she’s single or dating, she’s promiscuous, and using her bisexuality as a cover for her promiscuity (no, this logic doesn’t make sense to me either).

The promiscuity myth fascinates and troubles me, because it speaks to a number of tropes about women and sexuality, as well as a deep lack of understanding about bi women. For it’s not just promiscuity and the idea that bi women have lots of serial sexual partners that people seem to fixate on, but the idea that a bisexual woman can’t be monogamous, that she’ll always be having sex with other people because of her sexual orientation. I’m not quite sure how and why people make this leap (‘bi’ means ‘two,’ not ‘at the same time’), but it says a lot about how people think about women.

Women in this society are expected to be meek, complacent, not sexual, and if they are, only within the carefully described boundaries of ‘legitimate’ relationships as defined by society. These relationships are, naturally, heterosexual in nature, with the man taking the dominant role and the woman taking the submissive one. Women who are outspoken about their sexuality are already deemed as suspect, even when they’re heterosexual. There is, society seems to believe, something wrong with women who are unafraid to voice sexual needs, who enjoy having sex, who don’t necessarily see their interests leaning in the direction of long-term romantic and sexual relationships.

Some heterosexual women are promiscuous because they enjoy it. And there’s nothing wrong with promiscuity, much though society seems to want to think so. The very word ‘promiscuity’ carries a hint of condemnation with it, a suggestion that there’s something suspect about people who frequently change partners or have multiple partners. We are warned in hushed tones that promiscuity causes the spread of disease, that women who are promiscuous are ‘broken’ in some way and looking for some sort of resolution to their daddy problems through sex.

In a society that hates women, and hates female sexuality, it would make sense for sexually active and comfortable women to be, naturally, condemned. And that goes double for bisexual women, who can’t just be happy with men like nice young ladies; they have to go around chasing women, too, and sometimes not even for the titillation of straight men who like to see girl-on-girl action. There’s something people seem to find almost offensive about the idea that bisexual women actually exist, that they have relationships with both men and women, that those relationships may be long-term, committed, and monogamous—or that bisexual women may be interested in a variety of partners, may enjoy dating and flirting with lots of people at the same time.

Speaking with bisexual women, I note that one of the most common attitudes they tell me they encounter is invisibility, erasure not just from society but also the queer movement, which can be oddly hostile to bisexual women. But a second common comment I hear about is the one suggesting that bisexual women can’t be monogamous, are highly promiscuous, will deceive and trick their partners as though emotion and sexuality are a big game for them. It positions them almost as sexual predators, in a strange sense attributing stereotypically masculine traits to bisexual women.

Why is it that bisexuality terrifies us so much, to the point that we feel the need to isolate and condemn women for their sexuality? What is it about bisexuality that makes people so deeply uneasy, and convinced that they know everything about a person on the basis of her sexual orientation? And why do we erase the bisexual experience by deciding that we know more about the orientation of bisexual people than they do, a classic denial of lived experience and insistence that the outsider knows best?

A bisexual woman who is monogamously married to a man is still bisexual. The nature of her sexual attraction hasn’t changed; she still finds women attractive even if she doesn’t pursue relationships with them because she’s in a monogamous partnership. If she’s in a relationship with another woman and the two are monogamous, she still finds men attractive, though again, it’s more of an aesthetic appreciation than an actionable attraction. Your sexuality isn’t dependent on who you are partnered to at any given time, but your overall experience of your own sexuality; thus, a woman who says she is bisexual is bisexual whether or not she is in a relationship, regardless of who she is dating.

And just like people of all sexual orientations (and asexual orientations), bisexual women run the gamut from poly women who find fulfillment in multiple complex and loving relationships to fiercely dedicated monogamous women who prefer to build rich personal relationships with a single person. The expression of bisexual sexuality is varied and diverse, because human sexuality is diverse; curious indeed that we should feel a need, as a society, to marginalise bisexual women by writing them off as ‘sluts’ who sleep around. As though there’s something wrong with being a slut, as though women who are promiscuous shouldn’t be trusted.

Is it perhaps because bisexual women don’t fit comfortable in boxes for people, refusing to perform for the satisfaction of society?