Bisexual Health

Welcome to the bisexual health page of the Health Education web site. The web site is designed to be sensitive to bisexual students on every page and to address the health information needs of bisexual students throughout the site, not just on this page. For example, we use gender neutral language in the Sexual Health section (unless we're talking about things like pregnancy), and our dating violence pages include information on same-sex dating violence and resources for LGBT students. This page was designed as an introduction to some health issues for bisexual students and as an easy way to find information, links, student groups, and campus resources.

What is bisexuality?

Bisexuality is the capacity for physical, romantic and emotional attraction to more than one gender. Generally, bisexuals identify as being attracted to both males and females, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that bisexuals are equally attracted to both men and women. The level of attraction can be static or can change over time, possibly switching between periods of finding either gender or sex exclusively attractive, preferring one gender or sex over others, or choosing to disregard sex and gender as a qualifier.

What does it mean to be bisexual?

As an identity label, the word ‘bisexual’ can have a variety of meanings. Self-perception is the key to a bisexual identity. Many people engage in sexual activity with people of both sexes, but do not identify as bisexual. Other people engage in sexual activity only with people of one sex, or do not engage in sexual activity at all, and do identify as bisexual.

Some bisexuals make a distinction between gender and sex. Gender can be defined as a social or psychological category characterized by the common practices of men and women in society; for example, the notion that dresses are worn by females in Western society is a gender issue. Sex is defined as the biological differences between males and females. A bisexual person could be attracted to more than one gender but only to one sex: for example, a female who considers herself bisexual may be attracted to aspects of masculinity but not to the male body.

Bisexuality, like homosexuality and heterosexuality, may be either a transitional step in the process of sexual discovery, or a stable, long term identity. Many people have transitional phases of heterosexuality or homosexuality in their coming out process as bisexual.

Bisexual people, like any other sexual orientation group, can be monogamous or non-monogamous. For those with more than one partner, these partners might be of any sex or gender identity.

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What is biphobia? What is "bi-invisibility"?

Biphobia is a term used to describe the fear of or aversion to bisexuality, or discrimination against LGBT people who are bisexual or perceived to be bisexual. It can also mean hatred, hostility, disapproval of, or prejudice towards LGBT people, sexual behavior, or cultures. It need not include or exclude homophobia, as there are specific stereotypes linked to bisexuality.

Bisexual stereotypes can include the ideas that bisexuals are more promiscuous, practice polygamy, are “swingers”, or that they are sexually "confused," "greedy," or "slutty.” Couched in these terms is an imagined sexual irresponsibility, particularly in terms of STI exposure. Bisexual people may be the target of homophobia from those who consider only heterosexuality an appropriate sexual orientation. Biphobia can also come from within the LGBT community: where some might see bisexuals as being in “denial,” “conforming,” or maintaining privilege and collaborating with heteronormative society while simultaneously taking advantage of opportunities in LBGT communities.

Some may also think that people are either heterosexual or homosexual, and thus that bisexuality does not truly exist. This is called “bi-invisibility,” and many advocacy groups for bisexual rights identify it as an important contributing factor to a lack of bisexual awareness and acceptance. Conversely, there is a school of thought that says that "everyone is bisexual,” and that only social mores restrict people’s sexual attraction to specific genders or sexes.

How do I respond to biphobic or homophobic remarks?

It's a shame that we have to deal with this sort of thing, but sometimes we do. Biphobic or homophobic words, threats, or even violence can be very damaging to our sense of safety. It's good to be prepared with a response before it happens.

Each person's response will be unique and may be different from situation to situation. Addressing homophobia and biphobia without escalating the situation is the best option, but that's not always possible if you feel intimidated, threatened, or if you're not out of the closet. Fortunately at Brown you have allies in students and student groups, in the administration, and in the faculty. Here are some ideas for ways to handle these situations:

  • Assess your situation. Are you alone? Are you in any physical danger? Do you feel comfortable addressing the homophobia/biphobia or do you have a more immediate need to see to your safety?
  • If you feel that you're in any danger, try to leave the situation and get to a blue phone to call Public Safety (401.863-4111). If that's not possible look around and see if there's anyone else's help you can enlist. Don't be afraid to be loud and draw attention to yourself.
  • If you feel you can respond safely, try to respond in a way that does not escalate the situation. Insulting your harasser or casting aspersions on his/her own humanity or sexuality typically isn't a good method either.
  • You can also report homophobic and biphobic harassment to Brown through the Office of Student Life (401.863-3800 Dean Carla Hansen) or the Special Victims Unit of the Department of Public Safety (863-2542).
  • Get support from the LGBTQ Resource Center (401.863-3062, Faunce House, Room 321) or the student group Queer Alliance.
  • Remember that if you've been harassed it's normal to feel upset, angry, or sad. Talk to someone you trust to help you work through your feelings and decide if there's something more you want to do. There is help on campus for getting through this including Psychological Services, and the Office of Student Life.

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How do I prepare for a visit to Health Services as a bisexual student?

Sometimes you might feel uncomfortable seeking health care because of a fear of homophobia or biphobia. This can make it harder to seek health care when you need it. This can be even more difficult if you are a person of color and fear racial prejudice as well. At Health Services we want to be a safe space for bisexual students to seek appropriate, sensitive, non-discriminatory health care.

On a visit to Health Services you can expect to receive comprehensive care that is sensitive to you as a bisexual person and knowledgeable about health care concerns you might have. This includes, but is not limited to, concerns you might have about sexual health and sexuality. Questions about sexual activity are not intended to stereotype you as a promiscuous person and are not based on assumptions about how you behave. Rather, they're a standard part of care at Health Services. A good medical provider will ask questions about your health behavior in a sensitive way, not making any assumptions, but assessing your level of risk. However, if you ever don't feel comfortable answering a question, just say so. Remember that your visits to Health Services are covered by medical confidentiality laws.

You play an integral part in the health care you receive. Communicating openly and honestly with your medical provider is an important way to receive comprehensive and sensitive medical care. This includes talking about issues like sex and gender. It's also important that you feel like you can ask questions of your provider. We suggest that you find a provider at Health Services that you feel comfortable with to take the lead on your medical care. While all providers are available to you, this provider will know your history well and, by building a relationship with this provider, you will optimize your health care and feel safer discussing your concerns and issues. Ask around about which providers your friends use or make a point of meeting different providers when you schedule appointments.

One way to approach a trip to Health Services if you're nervous is to do some research before you come in. Think about and research any specific health concerns you may have. See the health concerns list below for specifics that you might not have thought about. If you have questions for your provider, write them down and bring them in -- sometimes it's hard to remember all of your questions once you're in the exam room. Remember that you can tell your provider that you are nervous and they can help you through the questions.

Finally, patient comments are very important to us. If you have any feedback about our services, good or bad, please fill out a patient comment form and put it in the boxes that are in the waiting rooms. We address all complaints, and the more specific you are, the better we will be able to fix the problem. If you choose to leave your name, we will follow up with you.

Health Services is located at 13 Brown Street on the corner of Brown and Charlesfield Streets. Call 401.863-3953 to make an appointment.

What health concerns are specific to the bisexual community?

The bisexual community is a diverse group with diverse health concerns. Your own specific circumstances and behaviors determine which health issues it makes sense to research further. Generalizations about bisexual health necessarily rely on generalizations about bisexual identity and behavior. The list of health concerns below, therefore, is not prescriptive, but for your information. It may be that some or even many of the health issues do not apply to you simply because you identify as bisexual. It is most important for bisexual students, as with other students, to find a medical provider that you trust to respond to your questions and concerns.

This list of health issues has been developed based on what people who identify as bisexual have reported in studies. Discussions of bisexual health issues are limited by the small number of research studies done specifically with and about bisexual people. Many more studies have been done with people who identify as heterosexual, lesbian or gay, so there is more information about health concerns for those groups than is currently available for bisexual people.

A recent report on bisexual health by The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force identified the following top ten health issues for the bisexual community. You can click on the heading for a more in depth discussion of these issues.

Bisexual Health Concerns

  1. Substance use
  2. Alcohol use
  3. Sexual health
  4. Tobacco use
  5. Cancer
  6. Nutrition, fitness and weight
  7. Heart health
  8. Depression and anxiety
  9. Social support and emotional well being
  10. Self harm

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Campus Resources

LGBTQ Resource Center 401.863-6062
The LGBTQ Resource Center is a safe space for all students, staff, and faculty dealing with questions of sexual orientation and gender identity. It offers confidential support, information, and referrals for LGBTQ individuals and the people in their lives. Additionally, it offers fellowship advising and assistance with academic projects, as well as educational workshops.

Health Education 401.863-2794
Health Education is available for individual appointments and group education on a variety of health issues, including LGBT health, alcohol, other drugs, nutrition and safer sex. We have condoms, lube, and dental dams available at rock-bottom prices. Come visit us. We are located on the 3rd floor of Health Services.

Health Services 401.863-3953
Health Services provides a range of services including general health care, STI testing, inpatient services and emergency medical care. You can request a medical provider by gender or by name. We are located at 13 Brown Street on the corner of Brown and Charlesfield Streets. Call 401.863-3953 to make an appointment.

Psychological Services 401.863-3476
Psychological Services provides confidential individual appointments and referrals.

Sarah Doyle Women's Center 401.863-2189
The Center welcomes women and men interested in gender issues and offers a variety of services and programs, as well as meeting space for university and community groups. The SDWC houses an art gallery, a darkroom, an extensive library and resource center, and a student lounge.

The Chaplains Office 401.863-2344
The Chaplains are available for personal counseling about religious and social issues, parental and peer difficulties, career choices, interpersonal relationships and sexuality. A number of programs are offered during the year that include ecumenical discussion groups, innovative worship experience, ecumenical services, and dramatic and artistic events.

Student Groups

The Queer Alliance serves as an umbrella organization for a number of groups on campus. Its mission is to be a multifaceted service to the LGBT community by offering resources through subgroups, community discussions, and events. The LGBTQ Resource Center (Faunce House, Room 321) has a wide array of queer-related books, movies, literature and resources. You can get contact information under the leadership section of the Queer Alliance Website.

BiTE (Bisexuals Talk and Eat) is a biweekly safe and confidential discussion group and social space where bisexuals, pansexuals, their allies/friends/partners, or those who choose not to self-identify under any of these categories can chat and eat. The group welcomes persons of all genders and sexualities.

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Links you can use

The American Institute of Bisexuality
The American Institute of Bisexuality encourages, supports and assists research and education about bisexuality, through programs to enhance public knowledge, awareness and understanding about bisexuality.

Bisexuality 101 (PDF) from PFLAG      
PFLAG is a national group helping parents understand their children's sexuality and advocating for LGBTq civil rights. PFLAG has an excellent primer on bisexuality and more resources available on their website.

The Task Force
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Policy Institute has published studies addressing issues specifically related to the bisexual community. The most recent (March 2005) study is Bisexual Health: An introduction and model practices for HIV/STI prevention programming.

Go Ask Alice
This is an LGBTq-friendly question-and-answer web site where you can anonymously email any health questions you have. This site has a huge archive that you can read through or search before posing your own question. Check out this in-depth web site for information about relationships, sexuality, emotional health, alcohol and other drugs, and nutrition. This site is provided by Columbia University's Health Education Program.

Gay and Lesbian Medical Association
This site provides LGBT-friendly health care referrals, medical information, publications, news and links. GLMA works to ensure that LGBT people are treated competently and not discriminated against when they access health care. GLMA also works to ensure that LGBT healthcare providers do not experience discrimination in their training and at work.

Fenway Community Health
Fenway Community Health is a Boston based clinic that serves LGBTQ patients. Their webpage offers a variety of health information, as well as links to research and resources.

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Disclaimer: BWell Health Promotion is part of Health Services at Brown University. Health Promotion maintains this site as a resource for Brown students. This site is not intended to replace consultation with your medical providers. No site can replace real conversation. Health Promotion offers no endorsement of and assumes no liability for the currency, accuracy, or availability of the information on the sites we link to or the care provided by the resources listed. Health Services staff are available to treat and give medical advice to Brown University students only. If you are not a Brown student, but are in need of medical assistance please call your own health care provider or in case of an emergency, dial 911. Please contact us if you have comments, questions or suggestions.