Times are tough. Many people claim to be depressed by the state of the world. But are bisexual women even more down in the dumps?
A new study shows that bisexual women are more likely than bisexual men to suffer from depression, stress and even binge-drinking. They may even be more likely to smoke and be victimized.
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, is the first to use three different dimensions of sexuality—identity, behavior and attraction—and link them to a variety of health outcomes.
The study used a national sample of 7,696 women and 6,716 men. The men and women were surveyed when they were enrolled in grades 7-12 and then again when they were between 24 to 32 years old. Respondents either self-defined as being “mostly gay” or “mostly straight,” along with straight, bisexual, gay or no sexual identity.
The results showed that teenage bisexual girls and boys were at high-risk for depression, stress and alcohol abuse. That changed for the better for the bisexual men as they aged but not for the bisexual women.
In addition, women who were strictly identified as straight or gay didn’t have the same health-risk behavior problems of bisexual women, notes study researcher Lisa Lindley, M.D., of George Mason’s College of Health and Human Services.
Why the disparity among bisexual women? “Bisexuals are often invisible,” Lindley says. “There’s a lot of prejudice against them. They’re told ‘You’re confused — pick one.’ There tends to be this expectation or standard that a person picks one sexual identity and sticks with it. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about bisexuals. I think their risk has a lot more to do with stigma.”
The subjects’ sexual attraction doesn’t always match up with their partners’ gender or sexual identity, Dr. Lindley claims.
The study also builds on new information. Until now, few national studies have asked about self-identity, sexual attraction, and actual behavior, she noted.
Discordance could be at the heart of the issue for bisexual women, Dr. Lindley believes. “They’re saying, ‘I identify one way, but I behave in a different way and am attracted in another way,’ ” she said.
So, bisexual women may feel more isolated and without someone to talk with who understands what they are going through.
More young women than men also reported that they were attracted to both sexes and that they were “mostly” straight or bisexual.
“Women are more likely to have sexual identities that fluctuate over time,” Dr. Lindley says. “Whereas with men, it tends to be either ‘I’m straight’ or ‘I’m gay.’”
Men didn’t report feeling as depressed or stressed as the women did. They also didn’t binge-drink or smoke as much as bisexual women.
So why do men appear better off?
“’I don’t know’ is the honest answer,” says Dr. Lindley. “Perhaps it’s because men, if gay or straight, have a stronger connection to their community. Bisexual women may not feel as if there is a community for them.”