A growing number of men and women are identifying as bisexual, according to the latest national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As awareness about bisexuality has continued to grow over the years, it may be getting easier for people to label themselves as bisexual, said Debby Herbenick, associate professor at Indiana University.
CDC researchers asked more than 9,000 people in the United States between the ages of 18 to 44 about the types of sexual experiences they have had, whether they are attracted to the same or opposite sex and whether they identify as being straight, gay/lesbian or bisexual. The surveys were conducted between 2011 and 2013 as part of the CDC’s National Survey of Family Growth.
1.3% of women and 1.9% of men identified as homosexual, similar to the group’s previous survey conducted between 2006 and 2010.
However, higher numbers of both women and men identified as bisexual this time around, 5.5% of women and 2% of men, compared with 3.9% and 1.2% respectively in the last survey.
More women reported having had sexual contact with another woman: 17.4% in the current survey compared with 14.2% in the 2006-2010 survey.
“It’s certainly not a new idea that women and men may be attracted to more than gender,” Herbenick told CNN. “But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy orientation to adopt. Women and men who self-identify as bisexual experience stigma not just from heterosexuals but also homosexuals,” she said.
Women were also more likely than men to report having same-sex sexual contact. Compared with 17.4% of women, only 6.2% of men said they had ever had this activity.
However, as Copen noted, the survey could have given women more opportunity than men to report same-sex sexual contact. For example, women were asked if they have engaged in oral sex or any other sexual experience with another woman, whereas men were asked specifically whether they have engaged in oral or anal sex with another man.
The wording of questions in the survey could also be part of the reason for the low number of men who said they were gay, Copen said. Other surveys have found that closer to 4% to 6% say they are gay, a higher proportion than the 1.9% in the current survey.
Among women who reported being lesbian, the rate of 1.3% is consistent with other surveys. Over the last several decades, fewer women have been saying they are lesbian and more report being bisexual, similar to what the current study found, Herbenick said.
There is high correspondence between how survey participants identified themselves — whether straight, gay/lesbian or bisexual — and the sexual attractions and behaviors they reported, Copen said. For example, among those who labeled themselves heterosexual, 12.6% of women and 2.8% of men had had sexual contact with the same sex.
“You do expect some differences, because for some people … they may or may not have had the experiences they’re contemplating, [especially] if they’re younger,” Copen said.
The survey found some differences between women of different racial groups. Only 11.2% of Hispanic women have engaged in same-sex sexual contact compared with 19.6% of white women and 19.4% of black women.
The next survey, covering 2014 and 2015, will be coming out this fall, Copen said. These surveys are important to allow researchers “to separate out and study these categories, like lesbian and bisexual women and gay and bisexual men, because they all have different health outcomes and different levels of access to health care,” she said.