A new study may shatter the notion that women who identify as bisexual are "sexually confused" or simply in a "transitional phase" between homosexuality and heterosexuality.
So says lead study author Lisa Diamond, associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah. In the small study, which began in 1995, Diamond interviewed 79 women in New York state between the ages of 18 and 25 who identified themselves as lesbian, bisexual or "unlabeled."
Over the course of the next 10 years, she contacted these women by phone to determine, among other things, whether their sexual orientations had changed.
What she found was that while women who identified themselves as bisexual would occasionally waiver on their sexual preference as the years went by, few would ever describe themselves as having switched their preference to become either lesbian or straight. For these women, bisexuality seemed to be a natural state.
The study will be published next week in the January issue of Developmental Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association.
Diamond says this finding suggests that bisexuality should not be viewed as a transitional phase in women, but rather should be recognized as a distinct sexual orientation.
"It will hopefully deal a fatal blow to the persistent stereotype that bisexuality 'doesn't really exist,' and that it is simply a phase that women pass through on their way to a lesbian identity," she says.
Other researchers not involved with the study agree that the research brings new information to light.
"It tells us some new things," says J. Michael Bailey, professor of psychology at Northwestern University. "[Diamond] looked at the evidence related to the common assumption that bisexuality is a stepping stone between heterosexuality and homosexuality, and she didn't find evidence to support that in her sample."
Moreover, the study may also debunk the idea that women who identify themselves as bisexual are less likely to be able to commit to a long-term relationship. Diamond points out that at the 10-year follow-up interview, the majority of bisexual women in the study were in monogamous relationships that had lasted at least five years, making them more likely to be in such relationships than their lesbian counterparts.
Even though the study group is relatively small, Diamond says she hopes the relatively long period of time during which the women were studied will quell current notions about the transient nature of female bisexuality.
"If bisexuality really were just a passing phase, then one would certainly expect to see some evidence of that over a 10-year period," she says. "But this study shows that women who reported bisexual patterns of attraction back in 1995 continued to report bisexual patterns of attraction all the way through to 2005, even if they eventually settled down with either a man or woman.
"Hopefully, the media, the general public, and professional psychologists will no longer treat the phenomenon of female bisexuality with skepticism."
While heterosexuality and homosexuality have historically been presented as clear-cut sexual orientations, bisexuality has always been a somewhat fuzzier issue.