How Suppressing Unwanted Sexual Desire Impacts Bisexual Health

Dr David Ley’s recent Psychology Today article, which argues that closeted bisexual men are being incorrectly diagnosed as sex addicts, raises an issue of relevance to all bisexual people: namely that suppressing unwanted sexual desire can seriously impact our health and wellbeing.

Ley details his clinical experience of bisexual men, married to women, who are troubled by their same-sex attractions and secretly engage in risky and prolific sex with strangers.  When such men seek treatment, therapists overlook the individual’s sexual orientation, and opt to diagnose sex addiction.

Ley questions the diagnosis, believing instead that intense stigma around male bisexuality leads some bisexual men to attempt to suppress their same-sex desire.  This suppression then leads to explosive outbursts of desire, which in turn can lead to promiscuous behavior. This behavior can then cause relationship and health issues. These men see their same-sex desires as symptoms of a disease which needs to be treated. So do the therapists, hence the addiction label.

I think Ley makes a strong case, and his call for greater understanding of and support for bisexual men is welcome. But I’d add that you don’t have to be married, male or closeted to experience the internalised homophobia and biphobia that can lead to suppression of unwanted sexual desire. Compulsive sexual behaviour is also not an inevitable consequence of suppression. Unhappiness and low self-esteem might be the more common, if less exciting, results of trying to suppress your natural sexual inclinations.

If we’re uncomfortable with our bisexuality, then it’s understandable that we might try to suppress or avoid unwanted sexual desires.  Some bisexual people may even have received misguided advice to focus only on their opposite sex desires, as a way of avoiding the prejudice and oppression aimed at same-sex desire and relationships.   While same-sex desire is the most likely target of suppression, some bisexual people might want to suppress opposite sex attraction for fear that it might alienate them from a gay partner or community.

When I was younger I was often troubled by my same-sex desires. I reasoned to myself that as I had sexual desires for both men and women, I could choose to focus my sexual fantasy and behavior on women only.  This way I could still be sexually satisfied and happy, while also avoiding the struggle of coming out and dealing with prejudice.

The problem is that suppression just doesn’t work.  Sexual desire arises naturally whether we want it to or not.  By ignoring it or pushing it away, as the men in David Ley’s article did, it actually becomes more insistent and more of a feature in your life than it would otherwise be. The process of battling unwanted sexual desires wastes mental energy, and guarantees that you’ll remain uncomfortable with your bisexuality. And if you’re uncomfortable with being bisexual, then that will undermine your confidence and diminish your overall wellbeing.

To become comfortable in your skin as a bisexual person, you have to give yourself permission to experience all of your sexual desire.  When I gave up on trying to push away my same-sex desires, I experienced a new sense of peace and calm. It was a significant moment in my journey to self-acceptance and wellbeing.

How you behave sexually is up to you and will differ for every individual.  But when it comes to your inner life, the key thing is to allow your desires to run free.  Let your private world of fantasy and desire be a liberal, relaxing place.  You don’t need an internal police force to monitor what’s going on there. Everything is permitted!

An enduring sense of wellbeing can only develop when we’re free to experience and enjoy attraction to whoever we like.

If you’re struggling with being bisexual, or need support with any aspect of life relating to bisexuality, then I offer personal coaching services via Skype or phone.  Feel free to contact me to set up a free, no obligation 30 minute introductory session.

Why it’s hard to be bisexual and happy

Bisexual people face multiple barriers to living happy lives.

We suffer discrimination from both the straight and gay communities in the form of stigma and negative attitudes.  Myths and stereotypes about bisexuals are widespread – we don’t exist; we’re promiscuous; we can’t be monogamous; we need to have simultaneous relationships with men and women; we transfer disease from the gay community to the straight community; we’re confused; we’re going through a phase; we’re really gay; we’re really straight; the list goes on.

In most Western countries, the last ten years have seen huge advances in civil rights for gay and bisexual people, and attitudes to homosexuality are generally becoming more liberal.  Despite this, Western culture remains largely uncomfortable about bisexuality.

One study measuring social attitudes to a range of different communities (religious, racial, ethnic, political, sexual) found that bisexual people are viewed less favourably than all other groups except for intravenous drug users.

This unwelcoming cultural climate has discouraged bisexual people from coming out and assertively identifying themselves as bisexual.  Recent research shows that just 28% of bisexuals have come out to ‘all or most of the important people in their life’. The same research shows that 77% of gay men and 71% of lesbians are out to their ‘important’ people.  Many bisexuals end up identifying as straight or gay, in order to fit in and avoid discrimination.

The marginalisation of bisexual people not only pushes us into the closet, but impacts on our life chances. Studies consistently show that bisexual people have significantly poorer health outcomes than gay and straight people, as well as higher rates of poverty and unemployment.  Bisexual people also suffer higher rates of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Given these facts, it’s not surprising that it’s hard for bisexual people to be happy.  If you’re bisexual and struggling, remember this: it’s not your fault – there are a range of social factors beyond our control that make life very hard for us.

What I’m trying to do in this blog is show that even in an often hostile society, it is possible to become comfortable with being bisexual.  There are practical steps we can take to build our confidence as bisexual people.

Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be writing about how we can deal with the negative attitudes of others, as well as dealing with the negative feelings we have towards ourselves. I’ll write about coming out, relationships, and a range of other issues that affect our sense of wellbeing as bisexuals.  I’ll share my experience, too, as someone who used to feel unhappy about my bisexuality, but now feels comfortable and happy.

We can learn to feel good about being bisexual.  I believe that the more confident and open we become, the happier we will feel, and the more society will come to recognise, accept and make a place for bisexual people.

If you’re struggling with being bisexual, or need support with any aspect of life relating to bisexuality, then I offer personal coaching services via Skype or phone.  Feel free to contact me to set up a free, no obligation 30 minute introductory session.