Everyone is gay or straight and nothing else

Media overwhelmingly presents people as either gay or straight. If people are attracted to more than one gender they are generally depicted – in soap operas and news stories about politicians for example – as going from straight to gay or gay to straight. This is despite the fact that we know that many people have sexual relationships with people of more than one gender over the course of their life, and that even more – perhaps most – people have attraction to more than one gender at some point (i.e. they are not exclusively gay or straight).

This representation is damaging to anybody who has such relationships or attractions because they may well feel unable to speak about them without having to completely shift sexual orientation. Hiding aspects of one’s sexuality can take a big toll on psychological well-being, and this can also encourage secretive behaviour which can damage relationships and increase risk of sexual transmitted infections (STIs). Such representations are also an example of ‘bisexual erasure’: the fact that bisexuality is rarely represented as a legitimate sexuality, but is rather assumed to be a confusion, a phase, or even to not exist at all. Many national and international studies have linked bisexual erasure to the higher mental health problems experienced by bisexual people compared to both heterosexual and gay people.

It would be better to represent the full spectrum of sexual attraction, recognising that some people are attracted to one gender, and some are attracted to more than one gender, whilst – for many – the gender of the people they have sex with is less important than others things (such as the kind of sex they have, or what kind of person their partner is). Given the years of bisexual erasure it would be good to counter this by having out bisexual characters (who use the word ‘bisexual’), and people in news stories, including positive role models (given that what bisexual depictions there are are generally negative – including stereotypes of being untrustworthy, greedy, tragic, or evil).

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