Bisexuality and intimate partner violence: Enabled and encouraged

Stephanie Farnsworth examines the issue of intimate partner violence and how it has seeped into bisexual life. 


Given the extraordinary rates of intimate partner violence globally, when an identity is pathologised as one that is insatiably sexual then it’s really no surprise that bisexual people are more likely than gay or straight people to experience intimate partner violence (IPV), but it is still a tragedy.

One study of 2010 found that 61.1% of bisexual women had experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by a partner at some point in their lives and that’s even though only 2.2% of respondents identified as bisexual. Straight women had experienced such violence at 35% while 43.8% of lesbian respondents had. The study was conducted over six years ago and yet little has been made of it.

Few studies on the experiences of bisexual people exist anyway but those that do regularly point to an alarming truth that bisexual people, of all the sexualities, are at a greater risk of experiencing oppression, discrimination and hatred. No clearer is this shown by the prevalence of the experience of intimate partner violence by bisexual people.

The pervasiveness of biphobia and bierasure is such that it has tainted completely what it means to be bisexual so that even coming out to a partner can be a terrifying prospect where one may worry about what comes next. Coming out to a partner at all can be an incredibly isolating experience. Bisexual people are treated as beings that are willing to partake in any sexual activity and receive any sexual attention. In short: bisexual bodies are not theirs, they are the property of everyone else.

In short: bisexual bodies are not theirs, they are the property of everyone else.

The culture of sexualising bisexuality means that it can create a whole host of issues in a relationship. Partners often react with confusion and think that means they can never satisfy the person with they are with , which is reflective of our poor attitudes towards relationships and sex in general but it also runs far deeper than that. Coming out as bisexual is unfortunately often a dangerous act. Bisexuality is seen as an excuse for straight and gay partners to assert controlling behaviour. Checking through messages, demanding that no alone time is spent with a person of any gender and isolating one from friends suddenly becomes the norm because bisexuality is still read as wanting to have sex with anyone and everyone even though this disregards the logic that no one would ever expect a heterosexual person to fancy everyone of a different gender to them.

A person’s bisexuality is seen therefore as a justification for routine harassment and controlling behaviour which constitutes the definition of intimate partner violence. Such behaviour often cycles and as the stats indicate, bisexual people are at far higher risk of intimate partner violence (including but not limited to emotional abuse, physical abuse and/or sexual abuse). Bisexuality is seen as something that is needed to be controlled. All of society’s hang ups on sex and how it is shamed and associated with sin is peddled onto people who experience attraction to people of any gender. Biphobia in itself is a subversive act of control as it seeks to erase identities and determine who a person can be attracted to and so therefore society is already weighted against bisexual people with regards to relationships.

Biphobia in itself is a subversive act of control as it seeks to erase identities and determine who a person can be attracted to and so therefore society is already weighted against bisexual people with regards to relationships.

It’s a problem exacerbated by that there are very few outlets for support. The only charity for LGBTQ+ people who experience IPV or domestic violence in the UK has recently closed. It was a vital service precisely because mainstream organisations have found to fail their LGBTQ+ service users. There’s not enough understanding of the issues LGBTQ+ people face specifically and the feminist arguments surrounding domestic violence has pushed the idea that only white, cis heterosexual mothers can be victims of intimate partner violence and only cis, heterosexual men can be perpetrators. It’s an inherently racist argument that empowers many women but at the cost of an awful lot of oppressed people who are already marginalised in society and have few outlets of support.

Sexualisation of bodies is also something that many transgender people, disabled people and people of colour will face, and this risks being particularly heightened if they also are bisexual. Our society seeks to suppress anything that doesn’t fit our narrow ideals of moral virtue or of beauty, and so disabilities and race are something that is repeatedly sexualised (as shown throughout many anecdotes from inside the LGBTQ+ community). Furthermore, they’re also facets of identity where people seem to think its justifiable to erase humanity. People of colour, disable people, neurodivergent people are routinely treated as less human. Their feelings and humanity are disregarded and this leads to a dangerous road to ignoring consent and autonomy. The combination of elements behind ‘othering’ certain people, particularly for multiple facets of identity, puts certain people at a far higher risk of experiencing intimate partner violence. Consent is seen as something not to be afforded to oppressed people, and in many cases a violent or abusive partner will tell their partner/spouse that they are deserving of what they are experiencing because nobody else would possibly want them. It seems bisexual people (particularly if experiencing multiple oppressions) are supposed to be grateful for the abuse they receive.

Consent is seen as something not to be afforded to oppressed people, and in many cases a violent or abusive partner will tell their partner/spouse that they are deserving of what they are experiencing because nobody else would possibly want them.

The state of the economy and personal finances also have a major impact. Inflation, the cost of living (specifically rents) can mean that when one is in an abusive relationship it can be financially impossible to leave. It’s a barrier that many LGBTQ+ people face when poverty is still a major issue for the community. People of colour are also more likely to live in poverty than white people, and disabled people can face huge financial pressures to receive the treatment and care that they need (and they may also be dependent on a partner who can travel for such things such as a prescription). Given the likelihood of so many bisexual people to experience poverty it inevitably means that those who experience intimate partner violence have little options to exit such a relationship.

The constant erosion of bisexual identity has therefore compounded  creating a situation where bisexual people aren’t deemed worthy of basic respect while increasingly the likelihood of experiencing discrimination, oppression and poverty and thereby making it exceptionally difficult to leave a partner who is abusive and/or violent. Until bisexuality is accepted as a valid identity by society and not just treated as a coded label for being easy to get into bed, then bisexual people are always going to face the realities of having their lives sexualised, demeaned and of experiences of abuse by an intimate partner being dismissed and unrecognised. Biphobia and bierasure are sadly rarely ever talked about and yet the consequences of such prevalent hatred are clearly having a major impact on bisexual people and their safety.

Follow Stephanie on Twitter (@StephFarnsworth)

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