By Mike McMahan, LPC
Kudos to actress Bella Thorne for opening up about her sexuality. The fact that this seems to be pretty much non-controversial shows how far we, as a society, have come in accepting LGBTQ role models. I believe society will benefit as a whole from this kind of openness—especially LGBTQ youth.
As a whole, there seems to be some confusion and skepticism about bisexuality. Many of us have heard comments such as “all women are bisexual” or “bisexual means they aren’t totally out of the closet” or “that means they’re just experimenting.” I have heard them both in my professional and personal life. All of these statements reflect different levels of misunderstanding.
Earlier this year, the National Health Statistics Reports published an article based on Department of Health and Human Services stating that “5.5% or women and 2.0% of men stated they were bisexual.” The higher rate of women who identify as bisexual may reflect a level of comfort with female same-sex attraction and sexual activity that does not extend to males. Whether pornography has contributed to this or simply reflects the phenomenon is likely open to debate. Either way, the statistics refute the idea that “all women are bisexual.” That said, like so many things in the world of psychology, the answer may not be so clear cut. Another study suggests that, in fact, women have a different physical response to sexual arousal. “Men who identify as heterosexual become aroused when watching films of women but not men. Gay men tended to be aroused by films of men. This is very different with the women in her research. No matter how they identified in terms of their sexual orientation, they were more likely to show the same pattern of arousal to men, women, and both.” Therapist Isaac Archuleta makes some interesting points about the bisexual experience. He comes from a personal perspective on the matter and has written openly about his experiences.
Many mental health experts believe that sexuality exists on a spectrum, which makes it difficult to say with a degree of scientific precision who is “gay” or “straight.” In my personal work with clients, I go with how they self-identify. If someone tells me they are bisexual, I accept that at face value. On the other hand, if a woman tells me “I’m straight, but I like to hook up with girls occasionally,” I accept that at face value as well. There is no benefit for the client if I respond “you’re not straight, you’re bisexual.” If the same female client mentioned above said “I think I’m straight, but I like to hook up with girls occasionally and I’m not sure what to call myself or what to think,” that would be an entirely separate matter. I would want to explore with her how she would like to self-identify, how much she would want to share with the world at large, her family and so forth. In short, the area of sexual identity may not be clear cut for a number of people.
These issues can be difficult for young people, which led to the creation of the “It Gets Better” project, which features people talking about the challenges of growing up LGBTQ, and the way that young people’s lives may improve once they get through youthful challenges. One of the key purposes of the project is to reduce the appalling number of suicides among LGBTQ youth.
However bisexuality is defined, Bella Thorne deserves credit for addressing the issue head-on. Somewhere out there is a young woman struggling with these very issues and she is undoubtedly comforted by the fact that she has an ally to look up to.
Mike McMahan, LPC, is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture