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Release: Immediate

Survey finds less tolerance of bisexuals than of gays or lesbians

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A survey of 229 heterosexual undergraduate students at the University of Iowa found that they may be less willing to accept bisexuals, particularly male ones, than they are to accept gays or lesbians. This may be especially true for male heterosexual students.

Michele "Mickey" Eliason, an associate professor of nursing and author of the study, found that male and female participants differed in their levels of acceptance of bisexuals. This may be the most important aspect of the data gathered from the students, she says.

"The men were more hostile to bisexual men than they were to bisexual women," Eliason says. "But women rated bisexual men and women about the same."

Male participants were also more likely to agree with stereotypical statements about bisexuals than were female participants. Those statements included "bisexuals tend to have more sexual partners than heterosexuals" and "bisexuals tend to have more sexual partners than gays or lesbians."

The results, published in the most recent Archives of Sexual Behavior, indicate that bisexual men, as a group, were the most unacceptable to survey respondents when compared to bisexual women, gays and lesbians. Twenty-six percent of the students described male bisexuality as "very unacceptable." Bisexual women, on the other hand, were listed as "very unacceptable" at a rate of 12 percent, the lowest in the survey. Gay men received a similar rating from 21 percent of the respondents, and lesbians received that rating from 14 percent of the people in the survey.

Research about homophobia abounds, Eliason says, but there is very little study of biphobia. This may result from the misconception that homophobia and biphobia are the same thing, she says.

"I think it's important to alert people that the stereotypes about bisexuals are different from the stereotypes about gays and lesbians, just as stereotypes about lesbians are different from those of gay men," she says. "These stereotypes are damaging and need to be brought into the open."

The survey respondents were members of two undergraduate psychology courses Eliason taught last year; the courses are general education requirements, and varied majors were represented. There were 170 women and 59 men in the respondent pool.

Eliason says the high number of women in the sample is due to the constitution of the classes, in which women outnumbered men substantially.

While this study was a pilot study and the results are relatively limited, Eliason notes that she suspects that a similar survey given campus-wide would produce very similar results.