Bisexual Women in Relationships: Searching for Media Support
People do not understand bisexuality, and society and media do not support it.
Posted Nov 20, 2019 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
Much of my early research and clinical focus was on the social discourse pertaining to female bisexuality — specifically, in female, same-sex couplehoods where infidelity was present on the part of the bisexual partner.
The choice to focus my research on the experiences of lesbian women in relationship with bisexual women came from a personal place and a desire to increase my understanding and depth of empathy towards my bisexual sisters: In addition to my professional discipline as a psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist, I identify as a lesbian woman married to a woman who identifies as bisexual.
As for many, coming out as a lesbian woman in my early twenties, I had limited knowledge of the bisexual community. This common lack of understanding fuels a lack of acceptance within the LGBTQIA+ community and contributes to the larger dominant discourse pertaining to bisexuality.
During my personal growth early on in my training as a therapist, I was acutely aware of the stigma and messages about bisexuality. It became clear that a lack of acceptance, education, and societal shaming fueled these beliefs. Even today, although proud of my efforts in decreasing such stigmatization and encouraging awareness both in and outside of my therapy office and the LGBTQIA+ community, I feel shame in having supported such damning stories.
The Role of Media
The impact of media on these same-sex relationships was a recurring theme in conversations I engaged in over the months I spent with the participants in my initial research. These lesbian partners in committed relationships with female bisexual partners discussed media often when sharing about their partners’ infidelity.
These women quickly reminded me of my own privilege as a lesbian woman, while highlighting that while there are strong lesbian women portrayed in the media, where were strong bisexual leading ladies? More so, how was their absence impacting the couples presenting in my office, often in conflictual relationships?
Using a transcendental phenomenological model, I utilized a purposeful sampling to collect a sample size of 10 participants. The rationale behind choosing a sample size of 10 was to create a rich, thick (in-depth) description of the phenomenon being studied, from which to extract substantial data.
I specifically employed a criterion sampling method to identify potential participants with the goal of most authentically representing the experienced phenomenon. I sought women, 18 years of age or older, who identified as lesbians, and who had or were in a relationship with a bisexual woman who had been unfaithful through an act or acts of infidelity, while in said relationship. The definition of infidelity was at the discretion of each individual participant and could range from anything from; kissing, touching, an emotional connection, intercourse, or online sex.
Participants must have been or were in a relationship with a bisexual woman with whom they experienced infidelity with for one year. I interviewed participants who resided in Southern California. I felt it was important for the study to focus on a sample pulled from one geographical location in order to highlight specific commonalities among these participants, and to inform the therapeutic practices of those marriage and family therapists practicing in the region.
The overarching beliefs from participants in my study were that people do not understand bisexuality, and that society and the media do not support bisexuality. More so, the participants explored the influence this lack of understanding, support, and presence had on how they conceptualized their partner’s infidelity and also their shame in being in partnership with a bisexual woman.
Many of the participants shared on the concept that “people don’t trust what they don’t know.” One twenty-something lesbian related her experience when she came out as bisexual years prior, and her family’s expressed confusion, which led to their disapproval of her bisexual identity. Years later, when she came to identify as a lesbian, her parents expressed relief at her lesbian identification: Finally, they understood!
Another participant spoke of the lack of acceptance of bisexuality in society when she stated, “It’s not socially acceptable to be bi. The message bisexual women receive is to choose either be with a woman or a man. Who knows? Maybe lesbians perpetuate this, too.”
The influence of dominant discourse on society’s lack of support of bisexual women became an undeniable theme in this research.
Further exploration in both my research and clinical practice has emphasized the role of media in the lack of attention given to the bisexual community. American media has become comfortable with and often portrays gay and lesbian characters. While these portrayals have become trendy and mainstream in 2019, there are no popular, award-winning shows featuring a bisexual, female character in a healthy relationship. As one of the study’s participants stated, “It’s like bisexuality doesn’t exist in the media. It’s like it’s not something you can talk about in the same sentence as commitment.”
This proven lack of societal presence and support in the media is critical to continued discussion of maintained narratives by both partners in these couplehoods. It has become an opportunity to acknowledge the deep influence the lack of positive media portrayal has on how the lesbian partners I work view their partner and the greater bisexual community.
It has also led way to exploring internal biphobia and a deeper, more connecting conversation about femininity, shame, and what it means to be a woman in couplehood with another woman.