IU researcher contributes to prominent journal's first special section focused on bisexual health

Indiana University researcher Brian Dodge is helping shine a light on bisexual health with a recent contribution in one of the world's most prominent sexuality research journals.

Dodge, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, alongside Wendy Bostwick of the University of Illinois at Chicago, recently guest edited a special section of Archives of Sexual Behavior focusing on bisexual health research. This is the first time the journal has dedicated a section to health concerns specifically faced by bisexual people.

"Archives of Sexual Behavior is one of the oldest and highest-impact journals in the field of sexuality research, so having a section completely devoted to health among bisexual people, a group that has been invisible for so long, will fill a major gap in sexual health research," Dodge said.

Dodge has devoted much of his research to health among understudied and underserved sexual and gender minority individuals and communities, with an emphasis on diverse groups of bisexual people. Although bisexuality is nothing new -- Latin poet Gaius Valerius Catullus wrote erotic and love poems to both men and women under his name and a female pseudonym in the early A.D. years -- a focus on "proving the existence" of bisexuality has been cyclical in recent decades.

In the 1970s, a New York Times article trivialized bisexuality as a new and glamorous trend among supermodels and pop stars. The 1980s brought the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's portrayal of "the bisexual bridge," a concept in which supposedly closeted bisexual men were spreading HIV to their presumably heterosexual, monogamous female partners.

A decade later, Newsweek claimed the "discovery" of a new thing called "bisexuality," and in the 2000s, Oprah Winfrey helped make popular the term "on the down low" to refer to black, behaviorally bisexual men, with a wide range of negative stereotypes of these men as deceitful vectors of disease transmission. 

"Whether it's the media or sexuality research, bisexuality is constantly presented as new," Dodge said. "What that does is negates the fact that it has been here since the dawn of time and distracts from more important issues -- including why bisexual individuals face higher rates of negative health outcomes (such as depression, anxiety, suicidality and substance use) as well as poverty, sexual abuse and assault, intimate partner violence and other structural challenges when compared with heterosexual and gay/lesbian individuals. It also trivializes bisexuality and makes bisexual individuals, who actually make up the largest proportion of the LGBT community, feel invisible."

Wendy BostwickView print quality image
Wendy Bostwick  

Bostwick and Dodge's "Introduction to the Special Section on Bisexual Health: Can You See Us Now?" is intended to highlight "the next generation of bisexual research."

Instead of presenting further research "proving" bisexuality exists, Bostwick said, the research in the special section seeks to further our understanding of the status of bisexual people's physical, mental and overall health. It includes over a dozen quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods research contributions from renowned researchers across North America and elsewhere focusing on a wide range of issues related to health and well-being among diverse groups of bisexual individuals.

"The research is meant to frame bisexual health and bisexual populations' experiences more broadly than just who and how many bisexual people are there, though that work matters, too," Bostwick said. "We wanted to present research that moves the field of bisexual health forward, either through its consideration of groups that have not been the focus of much research, e.g., aging bisexual adults, transgender bisexual people, bisexual-identified men; through its focus on new measures; or through its use of analytic approaches or techniques that are newer to bisexual health specifically.

"The better we are able to understand those factors that influence and contribute to health inequities among bisexual groups, the better we are then able to build intervention and prevention programming at individual, interpersonal and community levels."

Dodge and Bostwick have dedicated the special section to the memory of their colleague Judith Bradford, former co-director of The Fenway Institute and pioneer in LGBT health research in the U.S. who passed away in 2017. Bradford organized an international bisexual health research roundtable in 2014 that resulted in the formation of the Bisexual Research Collaborative on Health. That collaboration led to many of the papers featured in the journal.

"My hopes for this emerging work are to continue Judy's work of bringing bisexual health research specifically to fore," Dodge said. "Through our production of the special section, we found there are a number of researchers working with big data sets as well as diverse subgroups of bisexual people who we may not have otherwise connected with. That makes me hopeful, and I think Judy would be proud."