Forty-two percent of bisexual people surveyed by Stonewall and YouGov felt their sexual orientation might have been a motivating factor in experiencing sexual violence. This is because of biphobia, stigma, and stereotypes, such as that bi people are slutty or even cheaters. But, what is the connection between a disproportionate experience of sexual violence and bisexuality? And, what role does bi porn play in such things?
The porn industry loves a threesome, so much so that it ranks in Pornhub’s top ten most searched terms and is (pretty much) the sole portrayal of bisexual sex on tube sites. But, how does this representation affect the way bisexual people are perceived in contemporary society?
To know that, we’re going to have to take it back a bit, (to the naughties, specifically). This was a time when subcultures were accused of “cultivating bisexuality” (a polite reminder that sexuality isn’t a choice), and bi-curious-cum-queer-baity performances titillated on a huge scale, drawing the Sauron-like eye of the male gaze and subsequently a heck of a media frenzy. It’s also where a lot of the groundwork for present-day biphobia was arguably cemented in today’s contemporary culture.
Growing up bi in the ’00s
My bisexuality is a huge part of my identity. However, it’s always felt fetishised. So much so, that as a teenager, it never felt safe for me to be out, or explore what my sexuality meant. On many occasions, I watched from the sidelines as friends braver than I opened up to our wider friendship group, only to be met with crude and often cruel objectification.
“I wasn’t about to kiss the girl I liked at a party just so the boys could circle-jerk each other and feel entitled to get involved.”
By the time I was a teen growing up during the 2000s, there was a mire of misogyny to wade through. It was an era of American Pie, the song “Scotty Doesn’t Know,” the (very, incredibly problematic) band Tatu, and, if you were part of the emo scene, every boy’s bedroom had posters of alt girls-kissing-girls-kissing-boys. There was Front magazine and hypersexualisation of female sexuality guised as liberation. Britney Spears and Madonna kissed at the MTV Awards, and even Katy Perry kissed a girl and liked it (apparently). And so, whatever feelings I had at the time were buried deep. I wasn’t about to kiss the girl I liked at a party just so the boys could circle-jerk each other and feel entitled to get involved.
How media biphobia bleeds into real life (and porn)
The performance of bisexuality or bi-curiousness in the mainstream media left a damaging legacy for bisexual people like me: One that suggests that we are “easy,” promiscuous, confused, greedy, untrustworthy, non-committal, unicorns to the ménage à trois mix of MFM, FMF, MMFM, and FMFM combos, just a phase, too gay to be straight, and too straight to be gay. As a result, bisexuality has been somewhat erased from queer spaces, as well as non-queer spaces.
These events have laid a dangerous and incorrect groundwork for what bisexuality means to those not experiencing it, creating a disconnect that has placed bisexual people as one of the most at risk of rape, stalking, partner violence, and murder than almost any other section of society.
Bisexuality in today’s porn
In 2022, bisexual representation is beginning to find its footing in popular culture, and yet only 23 percent of people feel that it truly represents LGBTQIA dating experiences. Sex education is also coming up short. As a young adult, I’d turned to porn to figure out what bisexuality and sex looked like given this lack of resources.
“The way bisexuality is represented and fetishised in porn is problematic, at best.”
I’m not alone in this: 64 percent of LGBTQIA people look to porn as an educational resource because only six percent felt that their education gave them confidence in their sexuality. Porn isn’t created to be used as an educational tool, but too few young people have the literacy to be able to understand the distinction between what is fantasy – and what is reality.
“The way bisexuality is represented and fetishised in porn is problematic, at best,” Rachel Worthington, a sex expert at sex blog Bedbible, tells me. “Its popularity is increasing year after year, and search terms like ‘threesome’ and ‘gangbang’ are becoming more and more common. While it might seem that this growing prominence is a good thing for larger bisexual visibility and acceptance, the reality isn’t quite so simple.”
As a bi person herself, Worthington believes that bi fetish porn is a big contributor to bisexual erasure and biphobia. Porn is unrealistic, fantasised sex, and performers’ actual sexualities are largely disregarded, she said.
“In the real world, however, not every bisexual is going to up for having sex with every other woman or being a ‘third’ in a heterosexual relationship,” Worthington continued. “Also, not every straight woman is up for experimenting with other women! Yet, porn continues to portray this kind of sexual fluidity as the norm, leading people, especially men, not to take bisexual people and their relationships seriously.”
But it’s not just women who are affected by this. Often, bisexual men are left out of the discourse.
“Unfortunately, a lot of porn does not represent male bisexuality. Instead, it mirrors society and other industries. The porn industry still reproduces homophobia and punishes male bisexual performers. Luckily, things are changing for the better,” Paulita, founder of porn site Lustery, tells me.
What makes matters worse is that penetration seems to be the only quantifiable measure for what is and isn’t representative of bisexual sex. The parameters state that only if penetration is given and received by male and-slash-or female participants in a threesome is the act considered a bisexual one, meaning that penetration is the central focus of bi pornography.
“Portraying bisexual sex exclusively in a threesome setting reinforces the notion that bisexual people are always up for anything (we’re not) or that we’ve all had threesomes (we haven’t).”
Placing penetration at the heart of gratifying sexual experiences erases an enormous amount of pleasure possibilities such as sensual touching, dirty talk, tantric breathing, and the introduction of external toys. Portraying bisexual sex exclusively in a threesome setting reinforces the notion that bisexual people are always up for anything (we’re not) or that we’ve all had threesomes (we haven’t). And, even then, while some of us may like to engage in more frequent and casual sex, that doesn’t mean that these actions are an invitation for solicitation. We do not exist to fulfil desires. Neither do we exist as a backdrop for fetish.
“I strongly believe that we should aim to use terms in porn that focus on the practices rather than the identities, sexualities or body characteristics of performers,” Anna Richards, founder of erotic site Frolicme, tells me.
She also states that at the same time, representing marginalised folks is important and that we should encourage self-chosen terms, rather than impose ones that fetishise people and identities. She also felt that search terms play a role in the portrayal of bisexuality in porn.
“There is a complex issue here with using search terms.” She explains, “I would prefer not to be so labelled, however for those wanting to specifically look for areas to explore, it does help identify scenes from within a plethora of films. Plus, it helps when searching for sites like mine online amid a sea of tube sites. When it comes to the titles of porn films, we have a particular style of naming which doesn’t reflect sexuality but more on the nature of the pleasure being portrayed.”
The issue remains, is bi porn problematic? Well, no — and yes.
“There is a larger ethical problem around reducing people to a fetish or a label — we see this happening across the board with a whole host of terms being used to describe people. We see this, especially with larger bodies, older women (‘MILF’), and the fetishisation of race (‘BBC’),” Poppy Lepora, owner of Self & More Sex Toy Boutique, explains.
“We know that porn can shape a young person’s attitude to sex. A lot of the porn on mainstream porn tube sites features sexual violence, extreme kinky practices, a lack of safer sex practices, and overtly puts people into sexual boxes based on one specific factor (i.e. bisexual, teen, MILF). We need to be teaching young people that porn is not real life and that women, in particular, are not sex objects,” said Lepora.
So, what is the antidote?
How can porn consumers do better?
“Consuming porn created by individual performers (or couples, throuples etc), such as on OnlyFans, means that where people are labelled as bisexual, they are self-identifying this way and portraying an authentic image of bisexuality,” suggests Lepora.
“To consume porn more ethically, you can also switch to a subscription — or PPV websites like CHEEX, Erika Lust Cinema, Lustery or Four Chambers.” She continues, “These are companies that are commissioning or creating porn, ensuring that everybody involved in creating the content gets paid. They are less driven by keywords and clickbait than tube sites, putting the focus on quality content instead of sheer quantity.”
And, while the cultural conversation surrounding representations of bi-life are wanting from other aspects of our culture, such as more inclusive and representative sex education, there is undeniable power in where you put your money and where you spend your data.
With this in mind, perhaps it’s now more than ever that we should be concerned about our consumption of content. In a world where mass production and instant gratification have become a dopamine-induced business, taking a slower, more considered approach to digital voyeurism could do more than help you enjoy masturbation. So, even though bi porn might do it for you, ethically consuming it and challenging the way you view bisexual sex outside of a pornographic context can make it safer for people like me to live their lives more authentically, and more safely.