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A Brief History of Bisexuality

It hasn’t been until relatively recently – the last decade, even – that bisexuality has been acknowledged as a legitimate sexuality. Sigmund Freud once famously declared, "A man's heterosexuality will not put up with any homosexuality, and vice versa."While in modern popular culture, shows like Sex and the City and Friends, perpetuated the idea that sexuality was binary, and could only either be straight or gay.



Alfred Kinsey may have come up with the concept of a sexuality spectrumback in 1948, but it’s only been the last few years that we’ve come to accept this, with a recent YouGov studyfinding 1 in 2 young British people now identify as not completely heterosexual, a huge leap from even just a few decades ago.


But the history of bisexuality extends way beyond the last few years.


In Ancient Greece, bisexuality was often encouraged between free men, with older men engaging in sexual relationships with younger men, meant to give them wisdom and experience. This wouldn’t stop them from marrying women later in life either.


Many Greek fables contained bisexual heroes. In Homer’s IlliadAchilles has relationships with both women and his friend and sparring partner Patroclus. While Alexander the Great and Roman Emperor Hadrian both openly had wives and male lovers. Zeus even had a male lover, Ganymede, when he wasn’t romancing women.


In Ancient Japan, bisexuality was common amongst the Samurai warriors, with older warriors taking on younger warriors as lovers – similar to the Greeks. Although it was expected that they would cease their romantic relationship once the younger man came of age. This special relationship was called “shudo”.


Bisexuality was viewed as more preferably to homosexuality. In Ancient Japan, there were three genders: adult man, woman (joro), and attractive young man (wakashu). Adult men were not allowed to be attracted to each other, but could form a relationship with both a joro and wakashu.


There is even some evidence to suggest Native Americans supported bisexuality in the form of the “Two Spirit” people. “Two Spirit” people were members of the tribe who took on both male and female roles and were considered sacred. They would often have both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.


The word bisexuality wasn’t coined until 1892, by Charles Gilbert Chaddock, who was translating Kraft-Ebing’s PsychopathiaSexualis. During this time, however, homosexual acts were strictly forbidden, with England enforcing anti-sodomy laws which didn’t change in the UK until 1967.


"In Ancient Greece, bisexuality was often encouraged between free men."

Often, bisexuality was considered a mental disorder, much like homosexuality. Castration, medication, electric shock therapy and hypnosis were often used as “treatments”.This only changed in the 1970s when many psychiatric institutions around the Western world reformed.


In the 1920s, Sigmund Freud theorisedthat bisexuality came about from trauma inflicted upon a person while they were still in the womb. He argued that in this developmental phase babies were not one gender or another and that any form of homosexuality was caused from babies not developing “normally” from this stage.


Alfred Kinseywas the first to arguethat human sexuality was more than just binaries and instead lay on a scale ranging from heterosexual to homosexual. His research even showed that bisexuality was much more prevalent than anyone at the time thought.



In the 1960s, bisexuals were an important part of the gay rights movement. Bisexual Brenda Howard played a major role in organising the first gay pride march in 1969, and Donny the Punk made the first on-campus LGBT+ student group in 1966.


Today, with more and more celebrities coming out as sexually fluid, the term “bisexual” is going out of vogue. Evan Rachel Wood told Marie Claire in 2011, “I can’t say I’m one way or the other because I’ve honestly fallen in love with a man and I’ve honestly fallen in love with a woman. I don’t know how you label that, it’s just how it is.”


A recent study from The Advocate revealed that many Americans didn’t identify with the word “bisexual”, but did identify as not completely straight: “Reliable data has only emerged in recent years, but there are now several studies that have found that 10 to 14 percent of American women describe themselves as mostly, but not completely heterosexual, and 6 to 9 percent of American men who self-identify the same way ... And the term bisexuality “doesn’t quite capture a lot of what the young people were feeling,” [one researcher] says. For instance, he encountered young men who might say, “I’m really attracted to women, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a guy,” he notes.”


We are only now just understanding and accepting the complexities of human sexuality, and whether you call it bisexuality or not, we’re embracing the idea that anybody can love whoever they want.


For more on bisexuality, read our article on “bi-erasure”.

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