“That tech giants, search engines, and people in society treat bi+ women as an afterthought or a fetish is not new.”
Until as late as 2014, “bisexual” was blocked from Google’s autocomplete service because of the word’s correlation to searches for pornography. A quick search for pansexual dating apps includes hits for listicle round-ups to help you find “whatever you’re after,” and the interface on BiCupid, which advertises itself as the world’s largest dating site for bisexual singles and couples, is a dead-ringer for the dating sites of the early 2000s.
The tech world has so much opportunity to grow—just imagine it: Intimate toys and products that catered specifically to the unique desires and needs of these women. Marketing campaigns launched by major companies across social media platforms to reach them specifically for health and wellness, including housing security and mental health resources. And mainstream dating apps that treated bi+ women as the primary users of the apps rather than an afterthought, says Nicole Kristal, 42.
Kristal, who lives in Los Angeles, is the founder and president of the non-profit bi+ advocacy organization #StillBisexual, which she founded in 2015 “to try to address one of the biggest misconception about bisexuals—that we don’t stay bisexual.” She says she’s heard complaints that users of popular apps like HER can treat bi+ women as “unicorns” sought out by straight couples to experiment with or looked over by lesbian women who aren’t interested.
“Sometimes the deluge of messages from couples can wear out bi/pan women to the point that they quit these apps altogether, and unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it isn’t any better on websites tailored specifically to bi/pan people,” Kristal says in an email interview with Lady Science. “Is there a way for bi/pan women to find other women or non-binary folks to date in a safe online dating environment without having lesbians who are biphobic even appear in their algorithm? Is this even technologically possible?”
Concern about the way bi+ women are treated on popular apps is a complaint echoed by Wendy Tuxworth, a 23-year-old bi woman who lives in the UK. “It is very frustrating to get to know someone only to realize that they see you as a fantasy or wish fulfillment rather than an actual person,” Tuxworth says in a direct message on Twitter. “I’m not sure if anything has been invented [to address] that! If it hasn’t, it’s probably because there’s this misconception that bisexual/pan women are accepted and don’t face homophobia. Of course this isn’t true—we just face a different type of prejudice that manifests itself as hyper-sexualization. The amount of times people have asked me if I wanted to have a threesome [or] if I ever have had one is unreal!”
That tech giants, search engines, and people in society treat bi+ women as an afterthought or a fetish is not new. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) describes bi+ erasure as a “pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality is questioned or denied outright.” This doesn’t just happen in a bar or Tinder DMs; this disregard occurs in high-stakes environments for bi+ people, like in mainstream politics and legal discourse.
Anecdotally, bi+ women also have to combat assumptions made in pop culture and by people about her willingness to participate in threesomes, group sex, and ultimately, the entire validity of her sexual orientation.
Another glaring space where bi+ people are invisible is in scientific research. While many strides have been made in combating bi+ erasure, it’s difficult to even find studies that focus specifically on this community because the data aren’t there. Breaking results down by gender identity is even more difficult to find, according to the Movement Advancement Project. And then there’s the way the media reports on science and bisexuality, for instance when the New York Post republished an article from The Sun in 2018 with the headline, “new research finds we’re all bisexual.”
Research actually shows that bi+ people are a massive part of the LGBT population and more likely to experience mental health issues than their lesbian and gay counterparts. They also experience high employment discrimination and are more likely to hide their sexual orientation from friends and family, and they are more likely to live in poverty than gay, lesbian, and heterosexual people.
These obstacles become much more significant for bi+ transgender folks, bi+ women of color, and folks who identify as bi+ and disabled. The Movement Advancement Project reports that women of color comprise “36 percent of bisexual women, compared to 26 percent of heterosexual women,” and that “bisexual adults have a higher prevalence of disability than the LGBT community and the general population.”
Research shows that bi+ people have specific needs. So where are the digital resources for this community? What might it look like if tech companies and entrepreneurs paid attention to these gaps?
“While many strides have been made in combating bi+ erasure, it’s difficult to even find studies that focus specifically on this community because the data aren’t there.”
Indulekshmi Rajeswari, 32, is an LGBT activist and data protection lawyer living in Munich, Germany. Rajeswari, who published the eBook Same But Different: A Legal Guidebook for LGBT Couples in Singapore, where she grew up, explains in an email interview that bi+ women are “shoved under straight or gay labels and expected to avail themselves to those resources”—and tech designed to help address mental health issues and domestic violence could be a vital resource for these communities, because barriers to safety look different for LGBT people as does the violence perpetuated against them.
“Obviously there needs to be more real life social services to deal with this problem [of domestic violence and mental health issues], with healthcare and social welfare workers who are sensitized to bi+ people,” Rajeswari says. “But in the meantime, apps to connect bi+ women to each other and with bi-specific/friendly resources/therapists could be interesting, or creating virtual safe spaces for bi+ women to safely talk to each other even when the real-life spaces and shelters might be lacking.”
“Any resources that exist for gay men and lesbian women are not always friendly to bi women, and sometimes explicitly exclude them,” Rajeswari adds. “And I am sorry to my bi+ brothers, I love them, but this app needs to be only for women (cis and trans) because sometimes the presence of men, bi or not, is not always beneficial to women’s safe spaces.”
I would rather write a story about fun technology for this community, like a remote film festival dedicated entirely to screening movies starring or made by bi+ women, or a pop-up museum with a virtual tour showcasing the triumphs, discoveries and art of bi+ women through history. But, we’re not there yet. Available statistics and anecdotal interviews communicate a need for technology that caters to the most basic necessities of bi+ women, and particularly trans bi+ women and bi+ women of color. Safety and security, mental health and wellness, a space in the online dating community carved specifically out for bi+ women are just a few of the many resources bi+ women want. And vitally, the community needs scientists to study these evolving needs and challenges—not as an afterthought, but as the strong, diverse, and massive group of people that it is.