By Kallie Strong and Nicola Koper
Most academic studies on bisexual individuals have focused on our higher risk for mental health challenges, such as depression and anxiety. The research study reviewed here, though, looked at the positive side of things, evaluating how bi-positive events might benefit mental health of bi+ folks. Researchers Dr. Christina Dyar and Dr. Bonita London wanted to understand whether and how the frequency of bi-positive events affected three variables: stressors (including internalized bi-negativity, sexual identity uncertainty, and rejection sensitivity), bisexual identity (identity affirmation and the strength of that identification), and finally, symptoms of anxiety and depression.
With that aim, they asked participants to complete one survey a week for three weeks in which participants recorded whether they experienced any bi-positive events—either as a result of self-reflection, or through a conversation or other interaction with someone else. In all, 172 cisgender bi+ women, 20-35 years old, participated.
There are many positive messages in the authors’ results, as more than 95% of participants reported at least one bi-positive event. Experiencing bi-positive events decreased stressors such as internalized bi-negativity and depression, and also increased bisexual identity affirmation and strength of identification as bisexual. Bi+ women also had less anxiety if they received bi-positive messages from other people. Interestingly, the researchers noted that bi+ women who experience a larger number of internal events (such as thinking about bisexuality in a positive way) also experienced more bi-positive events in interactions with other people. While the authors suggest that this might occur because experiencing internal bi-positivity might lead to more bi-positive interactions with other folks, there are a lot of other reasons why this might occur; for example, more bi-positive feedback from the folks who surround bi+ women might lead to more internalized bi-positivity, or bi+ women who are more bi-positive might surround themselves with like-minded allies.
Like any academic study, this one has limitations that are worth keeping in mind. Firstly, it only considered the experiences of cisgender bisexual women—gender identity is known to have unique impacts on mental health due to different experiences with antibisexual stigma. Secondly, the demographic was relatively homogenous, with most participants being self-identified as “[…] well-educated, middle class, White, living in the urban and suburban areas of the United States and relatively open about their bisexual identities.” Other studies on bisexual individuals of color have shown unique impacts of stigma due to their intersecting identities—something that could not be examined in this study due to its low number of individuals of color.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the study design was that participants did not complete assessments on weeks when they had no bi-positive events—this makes it much harder to know how much of a difference bi-positive events might have on overall mental health. Longer-term studies would also be important, especially for helping bi+ folks learn how to deal with internalized bi-negativity.
Nonetheless, the study still makes it clear that bi-positive events improve the mental health and self-identification of bi+ women. Perhaps the most interesting result is that internal bi-positivity had almost as many benefits as bi-positive feedback from people around us. This suggests that while there are important benefits of surrounding ourselves with allies and bi+ support networks, we can also improve our own mental wellbeing by learning about and focusing on bi pride and bi knowledge. Resources that can help us increase our internalized bi-positivity include podcasts, interviews with bi+ activists, novels, and other media with positive portrayals of bi+ characters, and personal essays by bi+ folks—many of which can be found in Bi Women Quarterly! This study lays the groundwork for future studies delving into bi-positive experiences and their potential for helping bisexual individuals gain more self-affirmation and pride in their own identities. This can help us work towards a world with more internal and external bi-positivity—what could be better than that?
Source: Dyar, C., and London, B. (2018) Bipositive Events: Associations with Proximal Stressors, Bisexual Identity, and Mental Health Among Bisexual Cisgender Women. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. Vol. 5, No. 2, 204–219.
Kallie Strong is an undergraduate microbiology student at the University of Manitoba. She lives in Winnipeg with her dog, Hobbes.
Nicola Koper is Dean of Environment at the University of Northern British Columbia in Canada, and a strong advocate for making research results accessible to everyone.
Note: Research Corner articles are written to make academic research about bi+ folks accessible to everyone.