Purple lighting, flannels, dungarees, sitting weirdly in chairs. These things, I think we can all agree, are staples of bisexual culture. But what about risk-taking?
According to a new study out of the United Kingdom based on a DNA database of 450,000 people, bisexuals are not only more likely to be risk-takers but they are genetically tied to risk-taking. Are all the bi babes out there into bungee jumping, volcano surfing, and throwing their cash around at the casino? Or, could this possibly be a bit of a dodgy stereotype?
The authors of the controversial study, published in Science Advances, first concluded that it is possible to pinpoint gene variants linked to sexual behaviour. Then, they proposed that these DNA patterns are linked to taking risks and being open to new experiences. This, they suggested, explains why men with a history of bisexual behaviour have “a reasonably high number of offspring”. Oh yeah, apparently this propensity for risk-taking only goes for bi men. Bi women, who knows? Are they even real?
OK, I admit: The study doesn’t go that far down the road of pervasive, negative tropes about bisexuality. But a number of scientists have certainly suggested its conclusions are “politically and ethically fraught”. According to Science, some have argued the research could stigmatise sexual minorities, as the notion bisexuality is tied with risky behaviour could perpetuate false narratives about bisexual people and cause further discrimination against them.
The evidence used to jump to these conclusions is frankly shaky. For instance, the results are based on the self-reported past sexual behaviour of participants and not other aspects of sexuality, such as sexual orientation. If that wasn’t enough of an issue, the use of data from the UK Biobank, a genetic and health database of half a million people of European ancestry in the United Kingdom, is also problematic. The majority of profiles in the database are of people over 50, who grew up before same-sex sexual encounters were legalised in the UK, meaning a history of stigma could affect their responses about their own sexual history. Oh, and the risk-taking behaviour trait used in the study comes from the answer to a single question: “Would you describe yourself as someone who takes risks?”
But enough of these quibbles! What do actual bisexual people think of the study? Do they consider themselves risk-takers? We asked, and guess what? True to form, the results were a mixed ol’ bag of diverse opinions. But that’s us bisexuals for you, so indecisive!
‘I would consider myself a risk taker, at least a moderate one’
It’s always relative, of course. I cycle everywhere, which lots of people consider too risky. I’m very afraid of heights, so bungee jumping, skydiving, even standing near a ledge seem like massively risky activities to me. I drink and occasionally smoke, but I don’t generally do drugs because I worry they will risk my physical and mental health. It was probably risky to go into journalism, a precarious and shrinking industry, but I presume not all journalists are bisexual. When I quit my job and went solo travelling, I definitely risked some personal safety and my livelihood, which not everyone would do.
Depending on where you live, when you date someone of the same sexuality, you could be risking your personal safety. For me, I don’t think I consider that a barrier to dating, although I would consider it a risk, as there have been homophobic attacks in my city.
It could turn out to be true that bisexuals are bigger risk-takers. Personally, I’m happy to be considered a risk-taker – in fact, it makes me feel badass! But it feels strange to associate it with my sexuality. I wonder, if they did a study of risk-takers, how many of them would turn out to be bisexual? A high amount, or an amount relative to the population? And how does it help to know if sexuality leads to a particular personality trait? What does that offer? – Claudia
‘I actually prefer to play it safe because I hate getting in trouble’
The risks I do take are thoroughly researched. I don’t know whether that means they’re not risky. But I went on a few dates with a bi man, and he took risks at every opportunity, including parking indiscriminately (risking a ticket), drinking a beer on the motorway before our first date, and doing handbrake turns in the rain… Also, throwing himself off half-pipes and bursting through doors which he wasn’t technically allowed entry into. And a lot of unprotected sex. It was sexy and fun until it was exhausting and terrifying. – Alice
‘I think a lot of men come into their bisexuality from a place of shame’
As a result, the way that they come to practise it or explore it hinges on a lot of hidden behaviours, and that space can hold a lot of potential danger. I’m lucky in that I never had a family or peer environment that harboured shame towards sexual orientation. Because of that I only really had a high risk period when I was younger and was dealing with the shame, and hiding things as a result.
When I was in that place I had my first bisexual experience which was literally with a stranger I met on Craigslist when I was in my early twenties. While that was exciting, I could have been messaging a serial killer, or someone who had some crazy STD. Because of the cocktail of shame, excitement, and young adult horniness, I forgot all about how risky it was.
I’m a relatively low risk taker now, because I moved out of “that” place with more ease than others due to my closer circle not being one that expected me to be straight if I wanted validation. I have since only entered into bisexual flings from a place where I am evaluating things just like I would any other romantic or intimate encounter. – Drew, 31
‘I write a zine called “Dumb Bisexual Shit (That Could Have Got Me Killed)”’
A lot of it is all about the frankly dangerous stuff I and others did when trying to come to terms with our sexualities.
Genetic predisposition seems a bit far-fetched, but I certainly think the tenuous position of bisexuality within society means that many of us end up taking weird risks in our early years in order to get around the conventions and expectations of binary sexuality. – Nic
‘It’s possible that risk takers just find it easier to be out or openly bi or engage in experimentation’
Accepting yourself as queer automatically puts you outside of a particularly relevant societal norm. The experience of coming out and accepting yourself as different makes it easier to reject other societal norms and be different in other ways. I suppose walking on more unbeaten paths is a risk most people wouldn’t take. Accepting myself as bi has certainly made me bolder in some ways and more open-minded because what’s the worst that can happen? People are going to think I’m weird? I’m already somewhat weird by default, and any abuse that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. – George*
‘Do bi guys have a genetic propensity for risk? Sure, I suppose so’
Of course, my first reaction was defensive. No way! We’re a cagy bunch. I tell my wife that trying to meet up for a face-to-face with a bi guy is like trying to coax a rabbit out of its hole!
But the more I think about it, there must be some underlying component that allows us to venture out sexually. And not just with guys or gals, but to swerve back and forth between lanes. To not settle. Despite that curiosity, society has beaten us all down pretty solidly. I have yet to meet a bi guy who didn’t have a collection of cautionary tales of suspicion or disgust when coming out. Or feelings of emasculation that accompany most guys with hetero histories and bi inclinations.
So, are we inclined to take risks? I suppose we must be. The human race did not become the most populous mammal on Earth by hiding in a cave. We have become as successful as we are, as a species, by creating outliers. Folks willing to take the untrodden path. Folks willing to walk into the darkness, away from the fire. – Dom Stag
‘At worst, this “risk taker” label feeds into the stigma of bisexual men’
The bi community as a whole is seen as incapable of holding stable, monogamous relationships. Also, “risk” denotes sexual deviance, which is another pervasive stigma bi men face. So, while the “finding” is initially promising in a way, I think maybe it needs more context or further refinement.
Male bisexuality tends to be treated so incredulously that seeing the notion of an immutable “gene” is certainly validating. However, tying it to increase risk-taking is… interesting. – John*
‘Any study that shows a genetic basis for either bisexuality or homosexuality is inherently dangerous’
If we can isolate the “gay gene” then we can select babies that don’t have it. We could eradicate that gene. In the hands of the wrong people, it could be disastrous. Also, I am well known for being risk averse, so I have to say the study’s findings don’t fit my own experience. – David
‘As long as I can remember, I’ve been risk-aware in a way that the people around me haven’t seemed to be’
Even when I was little, it was just obvious to me that accidents can happen to anyone, including me. So I always got very worried about doing normal things like going on planes, taking drugs, going out at night. It’s just how I’m wired. I still take some risks – I moved halfway across the country for a job a few years ago, but it’s only after I sat down and weighed the pros and cons. The only risky sexual encounters I’ve had have been when I’m quite pissed and my judgement has left me.
I’ve ended up working in a form of risk management, and it kind of pervades everything else I do. I look at situations and go, “What are the risks and what do I need to do about them?” When we visited family over Christmas, I hid my work laptop in case our house got broken into. I try to stockpile my prescription medication in case of supply issues; I never let the car get below half a tank of fuel.
I can’t comment on the validity of the study itself. But there is that “bi men are irresponsible, cheaters, have unsafe sex and a high rate of STIs” prejudice that this study will definitely fuel. – Tom
*names have been changed for privacy reasons
The post A New Study Says Bi People Take More Risks. We Asked Bi People If It’s True. appeared first on VICE.