Bisexuality pp 37-60 | Cite as

3 Defining Bisexuality: Challenges and Importance of and Toward a Unifying Definition

  • D. Joye SwanEmail author


This chapter seeks to demonstrate the extreme complexity of trying to define sexual orientation, in general, and bisexuality, in particular. The key issues presented in the chapter include, (1) why a standard definition of bisexuality is necessary; (2) a discussion of who should define bisexuality; (3) the factors to consider when deciding what variables are to be included in a definition of bisexuality; and (4) a proposed new definition of bisexuality built on a synthesis of the chapter materials. First the chapter discusses the pitfalls of a lack of a standard definition of bisexuality and the growing consensus that research must attempt to find a common definition of bisexuality. Second, the reader is presented with three constituencies that may all vie for the “right” to define bisexuality: society, the self, and science. Third, the pros and cons of at least seven variables which have each been considered in varying definitions of bisexuality are weighed. Finally, the chapter concludes by providing a new definition of bisexuality with a few, final caveats and thoughts.


Bisexuality Sexual orientation Definition of bisexual behavior Bisexual self-identity Affect Desire Fantasies 


  1. Altshuler, K. Z. (1984). On the question of bisexuality. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 38, 484–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baldwin, A., Schick, V. A., Dodge, B., van Der Pol, B., Herbenick, D., Sanders, S. A., et al. (2016). Variation in sexual identification among behaviorally bisexual women in the Midwestern United States: Challenging the established methods for collecting data on sexual identity and orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(5), 1337–1348. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Balsam, K. F., & Mohr, J. J. (2007). Adaptation to sexual orientation stigma: A comparison of bisexual and lesbian/gay adults. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54, 306–319. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barker, M., Richards, C., Jones, R., Bowes-Catton, H., Plowman, T., Yockney, J., et al. (2012). The bisexuality report: Bisexual inclusion in LGBT equality and diversity. Centre for Citizenship, Identities, and Governance and Faculty of Health and Social Care.Google Scholar
  5. Bauer, G. R., & Brennan, D. J. (2013). The problem with ‘behavioral bisexuality’: Assessing sexual orientation in survey research. Journal of Bisexuality, 13, 148–165. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bauer, G. R., & Jairam, J. A. (2008). Are lesbians really women who have sex with women (WSW)? Methodological concerns in health research on sexual minority women. Women & Health, 48, 383–408. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beaulieu-Prevost, D., & Fortin, M. (2014). The measurement of sexual orientation: Historical background and current practices. Sexologies, 24(1), 15–19. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berenson, C. (2002). What’s in a name? Bisexual women define their terms. Journal of Bisexuality, 2(2–3), 9–21. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berkey, B. R., Perelman-Hall, T., & Kurdek, L. A. (1990). The multidimensional scale of sexuality. Journal of Homosexuality, 19(4), 67–87. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Blumstein, P. W., & Schwartz, P. (1976). Bisexuality in women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 5, 171–181. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Blumstein, P. W., & Schwartz, P. (1983). Bisexuality: Some social psychological issues. In L. D. Garnets & D. C. Kimmel (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on lesbian and gay male experiences (pp. 168–183). NY: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. Brewster, M. E. & Moradi, B. (2010). Perceived experiences of anti-bisexual prejudice: Instrument development and evaluation. Journal of Counseling Psychology 57(4), 451–468.
  14. Callis, A. (2014). Bisexual, pansexual, queer: Non-binary identities and the sexual borderlands. Sexualities, 17(1/2), 63–80. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cass, V. C. (1990). The implications of homosexual identity formation for the Kinsey model and scale of sexual preference. In D. P. McWhirter, S. A. Sanders, & J. M. Reinisch (Eds.), Homosexuality/heterosexuality: Concepts of sexual orientation (pp. 239–266). NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Chandra, A., Copen, C. E., & Moser, W. D. (2011). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth. In National Health Statistics Reports, no 30. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  17. Diamond, L. M. (2003). What does sexual orientation orient? A biobehavioral model distinguishing love and sexual desire. Psychological Review, 110(1), 173–192. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Diamond, L. M. (2008). Female bisexuality from adolescence to adulthood: Results from a 10-year longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 44, 5–14. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Diamond, L. M. (2012). The desire disorder in research on sexual orientation in women: Contributions of dynamical systems theory. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 73–83. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Diamond, L. M. (2014). Gender and same sex sexuality. In D. L. Tolman & L. M. Diamond (Eds.), APA handbook of sexuality and psychology, Person-based approaches (Vol. 1, pp. 629–652). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Diamond, L. M., Dickenson, J. A., & Blair, K. L. (2017). Stability of sexual attractions across different timescales: The roles of bisexuality and gender. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(1), 193–204.
  22. Diamond, M. (1993). Homosexuality and bisexuality in different populations. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 22, 291–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dixon, J. K. (1984). The commencement of bisexual activity in swinging married women over age thirty. Journal of Sex Research, 20, 71–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Du Plessis, M. (1996). Blatantly bisexual: Or, unthinking queer theory. In D. E. Hall & M. Pramaggiore (Eds.), RePresenting bisexualities: Subjects and cultures of fluid desire. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Dyar, C., Feinstein, B. A., & London, B. (2014). Mediators of differences between lesbians and bisexual women in sexual identity and minority stress. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 2(1), 43–51. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Elder, W. B., Morrow, S. L., & Brooks, G. R. (2015). Sexual self-schemas of bisexual men: A qualitative investigation. The Counseling Psychologist, 43(7), 970–1007. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Esterline, K. M., & Galupo, M. P. (2013). “Drunken curiosity” and “gay chicken”: Gender differences in same-sex performativity. Journal of Bisexuality, 13(1), 106–112. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Firestein, B. A. (1996). Bisexuality: The psychology and politics of an invisible minority. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  29. Flanders, C. E. (2017). Under the bisexual umbrella: Diversity of identity and experience. Journal of Bisexuality, 17(1), 1–6. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Flanders, C. E., LeBreton, M. E., Robinson, M., Jing, B., & Caravaca-Morera, J. A. (2017). Defining bisexuality: Young bisexual and pansexual people’s voices. Journal of Bisexuality, 17(1), 39–57. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Freund, K., Scher, H., Chang, S., & Ben-Aron, M. (1982). Experimental analysis of pedophilia. Behavior, Research and Therapy, 20, 105–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Galupo, M. P. (2011). Bisexuality: Complicating and conceptualizing sexual identity. Journal of Bisexuality, 11(4), 5454–5549.
  33. Galupo, M. P., Mitchell, R. C., Grynkiewicz, A. L., & Davis, K. S. (2014). Sexual minority reflections on the Kinsey scale and the Klein sexual orientation grid: Conceptualization and measurement. Journal of Bisexuality, 14, 404–432. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Galupo, M. P., Ramirez, J. L., & Pulice-Farrow, L. (2017). “Regardless of their gender”: Descriptions of sexual identity among bisexual, pansexual, and queer identified individuals. Journal of Bisexuality, 17(1), 108–124. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gates, G. J. (2011). How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender? The Williams Institute, UCLA.Google Scholar
  36. Halperin, D. M. (2009). Thirteen ways of looking at a bisexual. Journal of Bisexuality, 9, 451–455. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hansen, C. E., & Evans, A. (1985). Bisexuality reconsidered: An idea in pursuit of a definition. In F. Klein & T. J. Wolf (Eds.), Bisexualities: Theory and research (pp. 1–6). New York: Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  38. Heath, L., & Euvrard, G. (2008). The development of the sexual responsiveness scale for adolescents and young adults: Putting a definition of sexual orientation to the test. South African Journal of Psychology, 38(4), 633–646. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Henry, G. W. (1955). All the sexes: A study of masculinity and femininity. New York: Rinehart.Google Scholar
  40. Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schnick, V., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, D. F. (2010). Sexual behavior in the United States: Results from a national probability sample of men and women ages 14-94. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(Suppl. 5), 255–265. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hollander, D. (2009). Heterosexual Latino men’s same-sex behaviour may put their partners at risk. Perspectives on Sexual & Reproductive Health, 41(2), 131–131. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Horowitz, J. L., & Newcomb, M. D. (2001). A multidimensional approach to homosexual identity. Journal of Homosexuality, 42(2), 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hunt, M. M. (1974). Sexual behavior in the 1970s. NY: Playboy Press.Google Scholar
  44. Israel, T., & Mohr, J. (2004). Attitudes towards bisexual women and men: Current research, future directions. In R. Fox (Ed.), Current research on bisexuality (pp. 119–134). New York: Harrington Park Press. doi:
  45. Katz-Wise, S. L., & Hyde, J. S. (2015). Sexual fluidity and related attitudes and beliefs among young adults with a same-gender orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(5), 1459–1470. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., & Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders.Google Scholar
  47. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C. E., & Gebhard, P. H. (1953). Sexual behavior in the human female. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders.Google Scholar
  48. Kitzinger, C., & Wilkinson, S. (1995). Transitions from heterosexuality to lesbianism: The discursive production of lesbian identities. Developmental Psychology, 31, 95–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Klein, F. (1993). The bisexual option (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  50. Korchmaros, J. D., Powell, C., & Stevens, S. (2013). Chasing sexual orientation: A comparison of commonly used single-indicator measures of sexual orientation. Journal of Homosexuality, 60(4), 596–614. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Krafft-Ebing, R. V. (1886). Psychopathia sexualis. New York: Rebman Company. Retrieved from
  52. Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  53. MacDonald, A. P. (1983). A little bit of lavender goes a long way: A critique of research on sexual orientation. Journal of Sex Research, 19, 94–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. MacDowall, L. (2009). Historicising contemporary bisexuality. Journal of Bisexuality, 9(1), 3–15. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Manley, M. H., Diamond, L. M., & van Anders, S. M. (2015). Polyamory, monoamory, and sexual fluidity: A longitudinal study of identity and sexual trajectories. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 2(2), 168–180. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. McGeorge, C., & Carlson, T. S. (2011). Deconstructing heterosexism: Becoming an LGB affirmative heterosexual couple and family therapist. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 37(1), 14–26. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. McLean, K. (2007). Hiding in the closet? Bisexuals, coming out and the disclosure imperative. Journal of Sociology, 43(2), 151–166. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mock, S. E., & Eibach, R. P. (2010). Stability and change in sexual orientation identity over a 10-year period in adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 641–648. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Moser, C. (2016). Defining sexual orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 505–508. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Morrow, G. D. (1989). Bisexuality: An exploratory review. Annals of Sex Research, 2, 283–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Mustanski, B., Kuper, L, & Greene, G. J. (2014). Development of sexual orientation and identity. In D. L. Tolman & L. M. Diamond (Eds.), APA handbook of sexuality and psychology: Vol. 1. Person-based approaches. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:
  62. Paul, R., Smith, N. G., Mohr, J. J., & Ross, L. E. (2014). Measuring dimensions of bisexual identity: Initial development of the bisexual identity inventory. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1(4), 452–460. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Peplau, L. A., & Garnets, L. D. (2000). A new paradigm for understanding women’s sexuality and sexual orientation. Journal of Social Issues, 56(2), 329–350. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pew Research Center. (2013). A survey of LGBT Americans: Attitudes, experiences and values in changing times. Retrieved from
  65. Rieger, G., Chivers, M. L., & Bailey, M. (2005). Sexual arousal patterns of bisexual men. Psychological Science, 16(8), 579–584. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E., Hunter, J., & Braun, L. (2006). Sexual identity development among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: Consistency and change over time. Journal of Sex Research., 43(1), 46–58. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Ross, L. E., Dobinson, C., & Eady, A. (2010). Perceived determinants of mental health for bisexual people: A qualitative examination. American Journal of Public Health, 100(3), 496–502. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Ross, L. E., Siegel, A., Dobinson, C., Epstein, R., & Steele, L. S. (2012). “I don’t want to turn totally invisible”: Mental health, stressors, and supports among bisexual women during the perinatal period. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 8(2), 137–154. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rupp, L. J., & Taylor, V. (2010). Straight girls kissing. Contexts, 9(3), 28–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Rust, P. (1995). Bisexuality and the challenge to lesbian politics. NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Rosenthal, A. M., Sylva, D., Safron, A. & Bailey, J. M., (2011). Sexual arousal patterns of bisexual men revisited. Biological Psychology 88(1), 112–115.
  72. San Francisco Human Rights Commission – LGBT Advisory Committee. (2011). Bisexual invisibility: Impacts and recommendations. Retrieved from
  73. Savin-Williams, R. C. (1998). “… And then I became gay”: Young men’s stories. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  74. Sell, R. L. (1997). Defining and measuring sexual orientation: A review. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26(6), 643–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Sell, R. (2007). Defining and measuring sexual orientation for research. In I. H. Meyer & M. E. Northridge (Eds.), The health of sexual minorities: Public health perspectives on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations (pp. 355–374). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Sell, R. L., & Pertrulio, C. (1995). Sampling homosexuals, bisexuals, gays, and lesbians for public health research: A review of the literature from 1990-1992. Journal of Homosexuality, 30, 31–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Shively, M. G., Jones, C., & de Cecco, J. P. (1984). Research on sexual orientation: Definitions and methods. Journal of Homosexuality, 9, 127–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Shuster, R. (1987). Sexuality as a continuum: The bisexual identity. In Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective (Ed.), Lesbian psychologies: Explorations and challenges. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  79. Storms, M. D. (1980). Theories of sexual orientation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38(5), 783–792.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Swan, D. J. (2017). A comparative study of couples in monogamous versus consensually nonmonogamous relationships. Manuscript in preparation.Google Scholar
  81. Swan, D. J., & Habibi, S. (2015). Heterosexuals do it with feeling: Heterocentrism in heterosexual college Students’ perceptions of female bisexuality and heterosexuality. Journal of Bisexuality, 15(3), 304–318. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Swan, D. J., & Habibi, S. (2017a). When is a bisexual really bisexual? Testing the “one and done” rule of male same-sex behaviour. Psychology of Sexualities Review, 8(2), 41–54.Google Scholar
  83. Swan, D. J., & Habibi, S. (2017b). If it doesn’t fit, you must omit: Evidence of cognitive dissonance reduction between sexual identity and fantasy and pornography use incongruence. Unpublished raw data.Google Scholar
  84. Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., & Wells, B. E. (2015). Changes in American adults’ sexual behavior and attitudes, 1972-2012. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(8), 2273–2285.–015–0540-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. van Anders, S. M. (2015). Beyond sexual orientation: Integrating gender/sex and diverse sexualities via sexual configurations theory. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 1177–1213. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Vrangalova, Z., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2012). Mostly heterosexual and mostly gay/lesbian: Evidence for new sexual orientation identities. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(1), 85–101. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Weinberg, M. S., Williams, C. J., & Pryor, D. W. (1994). Dual attraction: Understanding bisexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  88. Weinrich, J. D. (2014a). Multidimensional measurement of sexual orientation: Present. Journal of Bisexuality, 14(3–4), 373–390. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Weinrich, J. D. (2014b). Multidimensional measurement of sexual orientation: Ideal. Journal of Bisexuality, 14(3–4), 544–556. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Weinrich, J. D., Klein, F., McCutchan, J. A., & Grant, I. (2014). Cluster analysis of the Klein sexual orientation grid in clinical and nonclinical samples: When bisexuality is not bisexuality. Journal of Bisexuality, 14(3–4), 349–372. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Whalen, R. E., Geary, D. C., & Johnson, F. (1990). Models of sexuality. In D. P. McWhirter, & J. M. Reinisch (Eds), Homosexuality/heterosexuality concepts of sexual orientation (pp. 61–70). NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  92. Yost, M. R., & Thomas, G. D. (2012). Gender and binegativity: Men’s and women’s attitudes toward male and female bisexuals. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(3), 691–702.
  93. Zivony, A., & Lobel, T. (2014). The invisible stereotypes of bisexual men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 1165–1176. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Social SciencesWoodbury UniversityBurbankUSA

Personalised recommendations