5 Myths 'Orange Is the New Black' Has Accidentally Dispelled About Bisexuality
When it was announced that Jason Biggs — the actor who plays Orange Is the New Black protagonist Piper's ex-fiancee — would not return for the show's third season, fans began to speculate: Will OITNB — and Piper herself — truly acknowledge her bisexuality this season? Piper had an intimate relationship with Alex (which led to her downfall to begin with) and maintains romantic feelings for Alex, who will return to Litchfield Correctional Facility this season.
On a show that is undeniably head and shoulders above others in terms of trans visibility, racial diversity and the portrayal of various sexual orientations, it still only lightly touches upon bisexuality, underscoring just how stigmatized and largely misunderstood the identity still is. Perhaps season three, which was released Thursday, will address her sexual identity head-on. Regardless, the show has put sexual fluidity in a powerful spotlight, even if it has hardly dared to use the term "bisexual." Here are a few widespread myths about bisexuality the show has quietly debunked.
1. Myth: There is a single bisexual identity.
The most common definition of bisexuality is sexual attraction to both men and women, but this can occur to "varying degrees and in different ways," according to Debby Herbenick, associate professor at Indiana University and author of The Coregasm Workout. Some bisexual-identified people, she said, are sexually attracted to both women and men but romantically attracted to only men or only women, and vice versa.
In fact some may find the term "bisexual" to be limiting. Herbenick noted that some prefer the terms "monosexual" (attracted to one sex or gender identity) and "non-monosexual" (which could including being bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, etc.). Others identify as queer or reject labels altogether in favor of acknowledging sexuality's fluidity.
By not explicitly labeling Piper's sexuality, and by allowing Piper to explore relationships with both a man and a woman over the course of the show so far, Orange Is the New Black has subtly acknowledged the fluidity of this identity.
"Sometimes people feel like they have to 'choose' a sexual orientation early in life, but decades of sexuality research are clear that both women's and men's experiences and feelings can be fluid and evolve over time," Herbenick confirmed to Mic
2. Myth: Bisexuality is a placeholder for another identity or phase.
There is a longstanding myth that bisexuality is a phase, or an identity individuals who are actually gay or lesbian claim if they feel uncomfortable publicly identifying as gay. While that does happen, this is hardly the universal experience of bisexual people, and its perpetuation effectively erases the experiences of many.
"Bisexuality is its own orientation," Columbia University sexuality educator Sari Locker confirmed to Mic. "Being bisexual does not mean someone will eventually become gay or lesbian."
OITNB honors the validity of this identity by portraying Piper's relationships with Larry and Alex as uniquely but equally valuable and meaningful to her. Any lesser portrayal would be insulting to all characters involved.
"This rationale is just another way people try to devalue bisexuality as an identity, the same tactic used to devalue homosexuality, or being transgender, etc.," Anna Pulley wrote in AlterNet in 2011. "A lot of thought, turmoil and struggle goes into the decision to come out, and to dismiss it so readily is deliberately insulting."
3. Myth: Bisexuality is synonymous with promiscuity.
Far too many people confuse attraction to a larger pool of individuals to actual sexual activity with that larger population. But the number of sexual partners one has is completely divorced from whom they're attracted to. Piper — who has had monogamous relationships with both men and women — demonstrates this well.
The myth that bisexuals are "sex-crazed people who will have any type of sex with anyone, anytime — or everyone all the time," is patently false, Locker said. "In reality, bisexuals may commit to a relationship," she added, or, "just like any gay, lesbian or straight person, a bisexual person may choose to not marry at all."
Other experts confirm this. "Just because you have the capacity for attraction to more than one gender does not mean that your sexual appetite is ravenous," states Bisexual.org.
4. Myth: Bisexuality is uncommon.
Not only is bisexuality a legitimate sexual identity, it's one that may be more common than many realize. Admittedly, research on the prevalence of bisexuality is lacking, and existing reports vary: Psychology Today reported in 2010 that a Cornell Study found 14.4% of young, American women identified as "not strictly heterosexual," for example, while the National Health Interview Study reported that only 0.7% of Americans identify as bisexual in 2014, according to the Washington Post.
But research suggesting that bisexuality is more prevalent than these statistics imply has existed for decades. In 1948, pioneering researcher and sexologist Alfred Kinsey introduced the "Kinsey Scale," acknowledging that individuals can experience varying degrees of attraction to the opposite sex. Kinsey also reported in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male that 46% of the male population had engaged in sexual activity with both men and women.
Orange Is the New Black honors this by suggesting characters other than Piper may be sexually fluid or bisexual, too. Fellow inmate Morello had a steady relationship with Nicky, while still pining for her "fiancé" Christopher, for example.
5. Myth: Bisexual individuals 'lose' their bisexuality in long-term relationships.
When actress Anna Paquin, who is openly bisexual, married actor Stephen Moyer, some assumed this meant that her bisexuality was a thing of the past. Talk show host Larry King expressed some confusion last year, asking whether she was a "non-practicing bisexual" since getting married. She replied, "Are you still straight if you are with somebody? If you were to break up with them or if they were to die, it doesn't prevent your sexuality from existing. It doesn't really work like that."
Paquin is hardly the first bisexual individual whose identity is erased in the eyes of some after entering a long-term partnership. "It's possible to be monogamous, married and bisexual," Stephen Petrow explained in a Washington Post article responding to one reader's confusion about this point. Identifying as bisexual, as Paquin does, he wrote, "is about how she defines herself, not whom she shares her heart or bed with ... your identity remains the same, with or without your spouse."
To fight these myths, we ultimately need to start a more thoughtful, honest dialogue about what it means to be bisexual, on levels both public and private. "We need to see more bisexual people represented in media who are just regular people, rather than caricatures," Herbenick told Mic.
But shows like Orange Is the New Black alone won't produce a societal shift. Individuals must start conversations with people in their own lives as well. "There's also a lot of value in being 'out' among one's family and friends, but many bisexual people don't talk about their sexual orientation or attractions to many people, especially if they are in a monogamous relationship," Herbenick said. "I think it's important to be open to who you are as a sexual person at all stages of life — in terms of orientation, yes, but also in terms of what sex means to you, what you enjoy, what you're curious about."
As Sari Locker concluded, "Whatever word you choose to use – or even if you choose to not label your sexual orientation at all – it's important to be true to your feelings, and believe in your attractions."