"After being with a bisexual man, I would never go back to being with a heterosexual man in a relationship."
Illustration by Ben Thomson
Amber Rose, the model and famed ex of Kanye West, recently stated that although she is attracted to men and women, she would not date a bisexual man. "Personally—no judgment—I wouldn't be comfortable," she said. "I just wouldn't be comfortable with it, and I don't know why." Rose isn't alone: Last year, a magazine survey found that nearly two-thirds of women "wouldn't date a man who has had sex with another man."
Despite this lingering stigma, the experiences of heterosexual women in committed relationships with bisexual men have never really been examined. But the new book Women in Relationships with Bisexual Men does exactly that. Co-authored by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, a lecturer in Social Diversity at Deakin University, and her co-researcher Sara Lubowitz, the work is based on the insights of 79 Australian women involved with bisexual men. We spoke to Pallota-Chiarolli about her findings.
BROADLY: Hi Maria. Why did you decide to study the "straight women with bi men" dynamic?
Pallota-Chiarolli: I've been working in the area of sexual diversity, gender, and cultural diversity for a very long time as a researcher and writer. For the last eight years, I've been looking at issues around relationship diversity, and I found that women really wanted to talk about this, because it hadn't been addressed.
I would never go back to being with a heterosexual man.
What were some of your most surprising findings?
A really beautiful finding from a lot of the women interviewed, which has shocked a few people, is that a lot of bisexual men—if you dealt with issues around openness and negotiation—made better fathers, lovers, and partners than hetero men.
Why do you think these women reported that bi-sexual men made better lovers?
Women reported that their bisexual male partners would want [them] to explore and have fun sexually—to be open to BDSM, or having another partner outside the relationship. These women would often put it down to the fact that their partners [already] had to challenge normative constructs around being a man, because of their own sexual preferences. They were much more likely, then, to challenge those dominant and horrible misogynistic ideas of being a man.
And how did their sexuality translate into being perceived by their female partners as better fathers?
Because the men in the study felt they were outside of "normal," they were more likely to challenge traditional ideas. They were also more likely to want to equally share parenting, so they often made hands-on fathers and much more sensitive domestic partners. Some women said things like, "After being with a bisexual man, I would never go back to being with a heterosexual man in a relationship," because they found these men far more interesting and open to exploring.
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What are some of the challenges facing these couples?
These women faced the perceived stigma that bisexual men were deceitful; that you can't trust them. But then a lot of women said, "Look, it's not like that at all. When you're with a straight man, he could be seeing another woman."
We actually found women talking about something called "gendered monogamy"—often women were much happier being with a bisexual man, and one of the rules that they had established in their relationship was: "Well, you can have a male partner, but you're not going to have other women partners." A lot of women said, "Look, if he's gonna cheat, if he's gonna be a horrible person, he will be a horrible person whatever his sexuality."
How did the women cope with this stigma?
When women confided in friends and counselors about their relationships, they were often met with questions like: "What's wrong with you that you'd want to be with a bisexual man?" "Can't you get yourself a normal man?" "Were you sexually abused as a child?" "Why would you find a man like that attractive, anyway?"
Other women were questioned about their validity as women: "Well obviously you're inadequate," or, "There's something wrong with you as a woman that a bisexual man would find you attractive."
Once again, it's women who are viewed as the problem. Women were asked, "What's wrong with you?" rather than someone saying, "What's wrong with society?" Also, the last thing you want is to go to a counselor to get support and then, especially if you find out that you have contracted an STI or HIV—to have that turned [around] on you, and be asked, "What made you decide to go out with him?"
How did these couples fit in with the wider queer community?
One of the other findings that was really important was these women feeling ostracized, not only from the straight world or the hetero world, but the predominantly gay and lesbian communities. Women felt they were actually stigmatized, and their partners would often feel like they didn't even fit in there. They would receive very abusive, spiteful comments about these relationships, like: "You can't trust [him]," or "There's no real thing such as bisexuality."
Women who knew about their partner's bisexuality at the beginning were in a better position.
This was especially the case for younger women in urban inner cities who were hanging out in queer communities. They went from being "gay men's best friends" and hanging out with them, but as soon as some of these women fell in love with a bisexual man, or a man who thought he was gay then fell in love with her—suddenly they were kind of ostracized. The reaction was, "Oh, you've taken one of our gay men," or they'd say things like, "Oh, beware, here she comes, she's gonna steal our boyfriends." Or they'd turn up to the same gay club with their male partners and be turned away, or stared at. Women felt this was very misogynistic.
What were some factors that determined the success of these relationships?
Woman's happiness in the relationship often had to do with whether the woman knew her partner was bisexual before they became involved, and if the partner was already out. Women who knew about their partner's bisexuality at the beginning at the relationship were in a much better position.
Men who were not out to their partners at the beginning, on the other hand, were more likely to, unfortunately, be violent—emotionally and physically—with their female partners.
Do these men struggle more with coming out than gay men and if so, why?
The number of gay men who marry and then come out later has dropped significantly because society has become much more accepting of gay men. But the same thing needs to happen for bisexual men. Society often portrays male bisexuals as devious, evil, or untrustworthy. Most films that have bisexual men in them have them as either murderers or they have to die—by committing suicide or being killed. Whereas bisexual women are the "hot sexy predators."
Those women and men who came from strict religious backgrounds... often those restrictions were what caused men not to come out [as bisexual], and later it manifested in very difficult situations with their partners. They had not been allowed to be to be out, so all those frustration, anger and shame was being [projected] onto the women.
How did the women handle their partners coming out after they had begun the relationship?
Like anyone who comes out, it's not just you who comes out. Your family has to then come out, and your friends have to know about you, and so do your kids. For a lot of straight women, it was a question of: "What do we tell the children? Will they ask 'Is Dad bi?' Is Dad going to have a boyfriend coming in sometimes?"
Did the women offer any advice for other straight women?
Don't assume a potential male partner is heterosexual just because he's flirting or hooking up with you. Assume nothing, and ask about their sexuality point blank—the women from the study who had the most problems in their relationships with bisexual men had initially assumed they were entering a relationship with a straight man, only to find out the truth later.
Nearly everyone in the study called for greater openness in society about sexual diversity, not just sexual binary—gay or straight—but more acceptance in society that people are all over the spectrum, and that's okay.