Ask Ang, April 24: Bisexuality and Non-Monogamy
My boyfriend just recently came out to me as bisexual. We’ve been dating for almost 3 years now, so he’s never had any sexual experiences with men (I’m a cis woman), but he really wants to “try” it. He says it won’t affect our relationship, and it’ll be a one time thing. I trust him, but I can’t help but feel jealous though when I catch him on Grindr. How do I support him without being bi-phobic?
The first thing to work through is that bisexuality does not inherently lead to or mean a non-monogamous relationship. Having the capacity to love/desire people of multiple gender identities does not necessarily mean that someone must “prove” those feelings via multiple partners. According to a 2014 study by Kristen Mark and her colleagues at the University of Kentucky, bisexual people are about as likely to feel that monogamy is an enhancement to a relationship as they are to feel that monogamy is a sacrifice. In fact, “78 percent of the bisexual men, and 67 percent of the bisexual women in this sample were either seriously dating one person, engaged, or married.” In terms of supporting him, there are a bunch of ways to do it. If you are able, Health Education Services (in Poulton Hall) and/or CAPS (attached to Darnall) are great resources for you and/or him to reach out to. We’ll get back to that in a bit.
That said, if your boyfriend is interested in exploring a less-than-monogamous relationship, even with a “one time thing,” it is important to know a few general things about non-monogamous relationships. First and foremost, any relationship, monogamous or not, requires communication. Dossie Easton, a family therapist, and Janet Hardy, a sex educator, offer a great deal of insight into this topic in their book The Ethical Slut. They suggest that, in order to practice any sort of non-monogamy, “you need to have very good boundaries that are clear, strong, flexible, and, above all, conscious” (90). It isn’t possible to tell you exactly how to set the boundaries in your relationship, but some of the following questions might help. What do you worry about? What does he hope to gain? What are you comfortable with? What are you not? What is he comfortable with? What is he not? How much or how little do you want to know about who he sees and what happens between them? Would you prefer if you could both pursue other partners? Or do you want to limit this to a one-time exploration of his sexuality? How/when will you express to one another if the situation and/or feelings change? Answers to these questions will not encompass everything, and they might not be the right questions, but they offer a starting point. It is important for you both to communicate your feelings, however complicated or unclear, to each other. If either or both of you have a difficult time expressing your feelings, reaching out to resources like a therapist could be a good way to seek guidance on how to approach this conversation with your partner.
Finally, on the topic of jealousy, Easton and Hardy believe that “we have been taught by our culture that when our partner has sex with another, we have lost something” (103). In order to address this, they suggest that “the way to unlearn jealousy is to be willing to experience it” (107) and that “you and your [partner] need to practice talking about jealousy” (116). Finding your partner on Grindr, especially right in front of you, when you have not come to a satisfactory conclusion together about how your relationship will look going forward is certainly unfair to you and should be something to address when discussing boundaries. Unfortunately, this blog post cannot sufficiently address the massive topic that is unlearning jealousy, so picking up a copy of The Ethical Slut is highly recommended. However, there are many free resources also available online about how to navigate jealousy and non-monogamy. One great one is the two-part polyamory series on the podcast Why Are People Into That?, which you can find on most podcast apps (Editor’s note: this one of my favorite podcast episodes ever).
There is a lot you can do to support your boyfriend in his identity whether or not you ultimately decide a non-monogamous relationship is right for you. First, be a good ally--speak out on biphobia and bi erasure and ask him how he wants to be supported. A good resource for this is http://biresource.org/for-allies-3/. Second, work to understand his experiences/the challenges that bisexual people face. LGBT Americans face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and negative health outcomes [physical and mental] than straight Americans, but among LGB people, bisexuals face disproportionately higher rates of these negative outcomes than lesbians and gay men. Bisexual people experience higher rates of sexual and intimate partner violence than gay, lesbian, and straight people. Here is a good resource for more information about issues facing bi folks: http://www.lgbtmap.org/file/understanding-issues-facing-bisexual-americans.pdf.
Ultimately, it’s very clear that you care about your boyfriend and his happiness, and while that’s important, it’s important to consider your feelings about non-monogamy as well. I definitely suggest that you spend time reading, learning, and reflecting about how you ultimately feel, and be communicative about those feelings with your boyfriend.
We hope this week’s edition of Ask Ang was helpful! Ang would like to add a note that if you would ever like to personally discuss non-monogamy/bisexuality to please reach out to her:
(https://www.facebook.com/angela.maske) because she has special expertise on this subject!