For decades, research addressing the mental health of gay men has grouped bisexual and gay men together. This is a disservice to the LGBTQ community, and to bisexual men in particular. There are significant differences in behavior, identity, and attractions between gay and bisexual men. While gay men are attracted to other men and identify as homosexual, bisexual men can be attracted to either sex. And although it has been shown that disclosure of sexuality is beneficial to mental health for gay and bisexual men, bisexual men are more likely to conceal their sexuality than gay men. Therefore, they report lower levels of psychological well-being. This could be due to the fact that many bisexual men are in committed relationships to women and are torn between their desire for that relationship and their attraction to men. Or perhaps bisexual men are at war with their own homophobia.
To explore why bisexual men do not reveal their sexuality as often as gay men, Eric W. Schrimshaw of the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York recently conducted an online survey of 203 bisexual men. He asked them about their levels of social support, mental health, internalized homophobia, and general demographics. He found that the men with the highest incomes were most likely to conceal their sexuality. This was also the case for men in committed relationships with women or those who identified as heterosexual. Concealment was also associated with more frequent female sexual encounters for bisexual men. Overall, the men that concealed their sexuality had poorer mental health than those who disclosed their sexuality.
Schrimshaw believes that these findings underscore the delicate nature of sexuality for bisexual men. Internalizing homophobic beliefs and lack of emotional support may be more dangerous to the psychological well-being of bisexual men than concealment alone. However, concealment can indirectly affect those domains. Although disclosure appears to be beneficial for gay men, this may not always be the case for bisexual men. Rather than interventions that focus on encouraging men to disclose their bisexuality, “Interventions addressing concerns about concealment, emotional support, and internalized homophobia may be more beneficial for increasing the mental health of bisexual men,” said Schrimshaw.
Schrimshaw, E. W., Siegel, K., Downing, M. J., Jr., and Parsons, J. T. (2012). Disclosure and concealment of sexual orientation and the mental health of non-gay-identified, behaviorally bisexual men. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031272
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