What Counselors Need To Know About Bisexual Clients

To provide effective treatment to bisexual clients, providers will need to understand that bisexuality is a nonlinear, complex phenomenon. For example:

• A variety of sexual behaviors may be engaged in by bisexual women, bisexual men, and transgender individuals at any time because behavior and identity can be separate issues.

• Bisexual identity may be formed early in one’s life and remain intact across the lifespan. This is known as continuous bisexuality. Desire may be experienced by bisexuals as sexual attractions to same-sex or opposite sex partners at different times during their lives. This is known as sequential bisexuality. For example, a bisexual woman may have engaged in sexual relations exclusively with men in her twenties and in sexual relations exclusively with women in her thirties

• Bisexuals may express sexual desire toward men and women at the same time. This is known as concurrent bisexuality. For example, a bisexual man may be attracted to and will actively date men and women during the same timeframe.

• Women and men (including transgender women and men) who identify themselves as heterosexual may have had, or may continue to have, sexual relations with partners of the same sex.

• Women and men (including transgender women and men) who identify themselves as gay or lesbian may have had, or may continue to have, sexual relations with partners of the opposite sex.

• People of transgender experience, including male-to-female and female-to-male individuals, may identify themselves as bisexual. This is because bisexuality (and sexual identity generally) is a separate phenomenon from gender identity.

Psychosocial Issues

The fact that bisexual identity and bisexual behavior are separate phenomena may be due, in part, to a variety of social factors that mediate between identity and behavior. These variables include the following:

• Race or ethnicity

• Family norms and parental upbringing

• Community or cultural norms and standards, especially culturally constructed gender roles (acting “male” or “female”)

• Religious values and beliefs

• Political views (For example, identifying with the majority or with socially oppressed groups may be a political stance. Therefore, some bisexuals may identify themselves as gay or lesbian in order to make a political statement.)

• Legal issues, such as not having the legal sanction of a recognized sexual partnership through the institution of marriage

• Environmental factors, as in the case of individuals in institutions, such as prisons, jails, or exclusive private schools, who may engage in sex with partners of the same sex only while they are in the institutional environment

• Financial considerations, such as the need to engage in prostitution and hustling, especially as a function of substance use, in which individuals are paid to engage in sexual behavior that is inconsistent with their sexual identity.

All of these social factors may result in, or contribute to, separating identity and behavior by bisexual women and men (including transgender women and men who identify themselves as bisexual).

Counselors should develop their sensitivity to these social issues and to issues of gender, age, psychological development, socioeconomic status, and modes of sexual expression and desire.

Counseling Strategies

Recovery from substance abuse and addiction for bisexuals will be facilitated by empathetic, nonjudgmental counselors who support clients in:

• Becoming more self-accepting

• Healing from the shame caused by heterosexism and internalized biphobia

• Referring bisexual clients to either straight or gay/lesbian 12-step fellowships, or both, depending on what is more appropriate to their recovery needs.