By Lauren Cutler
Sexual violence prevails throughout society and it affects every demographic and every community - including the LGBTQ+ community. As communities, they face higher rates of poverty, stigma, and marginalisation, putting those in the community at greater risk of sexual violence. Continuously, LGBTQ+ communities face higher rates of hate-motivated violence: most commonly sexual assault and rape.
Society functions in a way that serves to further the marginalisation, under-representations and invisibility of LGBTQ+ people. In this blog, I explore the hyper-sexualisation of bisexual people, particularly bisexual women. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey, nearly half of bisexual women have experienced rape at one point in their lifetime (1).
Bisexuals are hyper-sexualised as a way of demeaning them; their own sexuality makes bisexual people more of a target for negative coverage, similar to the discourse around OnlyFans women. Their sexuality is fetishised, used as a reason to disbelieve their coming forward of sexual violence, as a justifiable reason to being sexually violated, and, as a target for hatred. All because their bisexual identity is misunderstood and hated due to not fitting norms and regulations of strict binaries.
Bisexual women’s hyper-sexualisation occurs at the intersection of sexism and bi-negativity. When we talk of hyper-sexualised bisexuality, this includes the sexualisation, fetishisation and the objectification of someone because of their bisexual identity. Bisexuals are framed as people whose sexuality is prioritised over all other aspects of their identity - they are sex objects. Their identity does not go beyond being seen as universally sexually available people. These stereotypes reinforce portrayals of bisexuals as ‘raunchy’ and as only needed to fulfil sexual fantasies and desires, for example threesomes. In porn, a bisexual only exist to arouse you.
The pornified depiction of bisexuality consolidates stereotypical notions of female attractiveness. Bisexuality has become socially stigmatised where bisexual women’s attractiveness is based on the white male gaze. Those who either do not wish to, or cannot fit with idealised and heterosexist notions of attractiveness can then become targets to hatred because they are compared against an ideal, pornified type of bisexuality. Here, bisexuality is denied and the normalcy of heterosexuality is reaffirmed.
We must highlight the necessity of intersectionality here; bisexual women of colour endure increased sexualisation as well as racial dehumanisation and exoticism. If we look back at the blog about What we can learn about Race and Gender-Based Violence from Megan Thee Stallion, we can understand Megan to be hyper-sexualised by the media. Women of colour are hyper-sexualised by men as a way of demeaning them, in Megan's case, she owns her sexuality and uses it as a way of empowering herself and other women. This made her more=because men (and some women) hate how she owns her sexuality.
The image of Black women as promiscuous, always willing and ready to engage in sex is one example of this hyper-sexualisation of women of color, which has been used to delegitimise sexual violence against Black women: “She//. can't be raped if she is always willing.” Although not a bisexual woman, Megan’s story was belittled, just like those of many bisexuals in their fight against sexual violence. This combined hypervisibility and invisibility of bisexual women of colour ensure their experience of racialised gender and sexual stereotypes.
A woman's bisexual identity is diminished in line with the straight male sexual fantasy repertoire and these women are viewed as sexual playthings. This contemporary rendering of bisexuality in women can also be seen in the idea of “straight girls kissing” or “performative bisexuality”.
In media representations, including decades of tradition in pornography and, more recently, popular culture, bisexuality in women is less about two women making love and more about serving the straight male viewers' sexual fantasy. Released in 2013, Blue is the Warmest Colour, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche shocked critics as it included long and graphic sex scenes, in which the film essentially became an advertisement designed to address all the sexual acts women can engage in with women. The film received LGBT and feminist criticism for the perceived dominance of the male gaze and lack of female gaze, explained by the fact that this is a cinematic example of how narrative about queer people, as directed and portrayed and produced by straight people, is portrayed in a way that would be stimulating to a viewer with little expectation for queer intercourse (2).
A close female friend of mine once spoke about her feelings of objectification and experience of being fetishised at a club when she was flirting and dancing with a girl and they kissed. The girl pulled away and asked that they “move over there so that her boyfriend may watch”. I have heard other similar stories of my friends feeling completely humiliated and used for sexual fantasies by people they don’t know in order for females to attract the straight male gaze. These women have intentionally, and with harmful consciousness kissed bisexual or lesbian women, who were otherwise attracted to them and unaware of the hidden motivations, in order to turn on the men they were ‘really’ interested in. The using of women's same-sex sexual behavior to serve men's pleasure further re-inforces the hyper-sexualization of bisexual women and in turn, may increase their vulnerability to sexual violence.
The Dehumanisation of Bisexuality
A woman's bisexual identity is frequently believed as an act for the attention of men, and they then may be more likely to blame the survivor for the assault. This could look like:
| “You were being affectionate with another woman, but also flirting with guys. What did you think would happen?”
Or, their coming forward is perceived as a lie which could look like:
| “Is this another attempt for you to get attention, like when you kissed that girl?”
As a result, survivors may experience increased self-blame and self-doubt, and further question their sexuality and identity as bisexual.
Bisexuals are often perceived as being greedy, unwilling to “choose a side,” addicted to sex, generally promiscuous, and incapable of monogamous commitment. Such stereotypes are used by perpetrators to excuse their motivation to act with hostility toward bisexual women.
Stereotypes can further incite immense hostility within relationships with bisexuals. Academic research (3) has revealed that intimate partner violence is more likely to increase when it involves both jealousy and a bisexual partner. Instead of acknowledging jealousy as a dangerous stereotype driving the violence, a person’s bisexuality is used as a scapegoat for a partner's insecurity, and is drawn upon as a credible reason for partner violence. Jealousy is a destructive emotion within relationships, and can create unhelpful patterns of behaviours and intrusive thoughts. When jealousy is excused as a suitable reaction to bisexuality, perpetrators of sexual violence can view bisexuals as ‘untrustworthy’.
Have you ever heard in passing that someone would be “fearful that bisexuals would be unfaithful romantic partners and would leave their relationship for someone of a different gender” Or perhaps have you heard someone say they could “never date a bisexual because they would have to worry about them looking at all genders”? These reactions to bisexuality within partner relationships are common to bisexual women’s experiences where their perpetrators displayed extreme jealousy and ‘fear’.
This jealousy, rather than a natural and healthy emotional response to a real or imagined threat of losing your partner, is in fact caused by envy, low self-esteem and a self- projection of lack of trust. By questioning a bisexual person’s legitimacy in the relationship, their trustworthiness, their sexual so-called adventurousness, is a form of emotional abuse and gaslighting. This has led to many bisexuals experiencing pressure to prove their sexual attraction and commitment in relationships, sometimes leading to the experience of sexual coercion (3).
This epidemic of sexual violence in the LGBTQ+ community is something we must all work together to address. Sexual violence can first be noticed by hearing what perpetrators say, so if you hear hostility in regard to bisexuality, notice this and question it. Bisexuality is not the cause of sexualisation, people viewing others as hyper-sexual because of their sexuality is the problem. Unless you are wanting to enter a relationship with them, is it really your concern?
Speak to your LGBTQ+ friends about how their feelings, and see what you can do to support them and openly discuss how you can be part of the drive to end the hyper-sexualisation of all members of LGBTQ+ community to help end sexual violence.
1-866-331-99474 (24/7) or Text “loveis” 22522
National Hotline (1-888-843-4564) or National Youth Talkline (1-800-246-7743)
Dyar, C., Feinstein, B. A., Zimmerman, A. R., Newcomb, M. E., Mustanski, B., & Whitton, S. W. (2020). Dimensions of sexual orientation and rates of intimate partner violence among young sexual minority individuals assigned female at birth: The role of perceived partner jealousy. Psychology of Violence, 10(4), 411–421.
Inspired readings and education for this blog:
Laurel B. Watson, Raquel S. Craney, Sydney K. Greenwalt, Marcella Beaumont, Cassandra Whitney & Mirella J. Flores (2021) “I Was a Game or a Fetish Object”: Diverse Bisexual Women’s Sexual Assault Experiences and Effects on Bisexual Identity, Journal of Bisexuality, 21:2, 225-261, DOI: 10.1080/15299716.2021.1932008
A Microsoft PowerPoint Link: Biphobia and the hypersexualisation of bisexuality