As we mark Bisexual Health Awareness Month, it is important to shine a light on issues unique to the bisexual community when it comes to seeking health care. Research has shown that bisexual, pansexual, queer and sexually fluid people experience significant anxiety around coming out to their health care providers.
While research indicates that as many as half of the LGBTQ population identify as bisexual, bisexual people are significantly less likely than lesbian and gay people to disclose their sexual orientation to a doctor.
Bisexual erasure and negative stereotypes contribute to the discomfort and lack of trust many bisexual people feel about coming out to their health care providers, leaving them at risk of not being able to access appropriate and competent care. Many bisexual people report feeling that parts of their identity are ignored by their doctors.
Further, according to multiple studies, many medical students receive inadequate education on LGBTQ-specific health concerns. A 2011 study found that the median amount of time spent on LGBTQ-specific training was just five hours. This significant training deficit impacts the physical and mental health of LGBTQ people who may face embarrassment or discrimination at the doctor’s office or miss out on important health information.
Here's how health care professionals can make their practices more welcoming and inclusive of their bisexual patients:
- Display pro-LGBTQ signage and literature in the waiting room. This is often the first indicator that a doctor’s office is inclusive of all people and identities.
- Avoid making assumptions about a person’s sexuality based on the gender of their current partner.
- Avoid making assumptions about a person’s sexual behavior based solely on their sexual orientation. Oftentimes bisexual people are unfairly stigmatized as promiscuous, which can make bi people feel stereotyped and uncomfortable, and therefore less honest about their health needs.
- Feature a section on intake forms where patients can write-in their sexuality. Doctors can then begin the conversation using clear, informative language.
- Doctors must be aware of of bisexual-specific health concerns. Bisexual people are more likely than both straight and cisgender people, as well as their lesbian and gay counterparts, to be depressed, abuse alcohol and consider or attempt suicide. They are also more likely to experience sexual assault and domestic violence; and bisexual men are particularly at risk for HIV and HPV.
- Given these statistics, doctors should ask specific, relevant questions about the mental and physical health of their bisexual patients. In future appointments, doctors should also follow-up with the patient about mental and physical health concerns prevalent among bisexual people.
We must acknowledge the unique health concerns that bisexual, pansexual, queer and sexually fluid people face -- and work together to dismantle the barriers keeping them from accessing full, competent care. By following the guidance above, health care professionals can create safe, welcoming places where bisexual people feel less anxious about coming out and seeking the health care they need.
Check out HRC Foundation’s resource guide on coming out as bisexual to your doctor for more tools to navigate these important conversations.