Finding a health care provider you trust is important for everybody, but for a lot of young people who identify as LGBTQ+, it can be especially challenging. And while the medical field, fortunately, is taking steps to make medical providers more aware of the specific needs of LGBTQ patients – the name for this, by the way, is cultural competency! –things still aren’t perfect.
Bisexual patients face specific challenges with getting the quality health care they need. Here, we’ll discuss some ways health care providers can be more inclusive when it comes to serving their bisexual patients, and some things to look out for if you are a patient.
One of the difficult things about being bisexual is that your sexuality is frequently “invisible.” What does that mean? Well, in a world that is very prone to binary thinking – i.e., that a person is either male or female, straight or gay – bisexuality can frequently be overlooked. Even doctors aren’t exempt from this kind of binary thinking, and may assume that if their patients have an opposite sex partner, they must be straight, and if they have a same sex partner, they must be gay. When a part of your identity is erased like this, getting access to the health care that you need is more difficult. Being open and honest with your doctor about who you are is necessary for you to get the health care you need.
Why, you ask? Well, if your healthcare provider thinks you are a man who only has sex with women, they will probably be less concerned about STIs (and recommend getting tested less often) than if they know you also have sex with men. And if your medical provider thinks you’re a woman who only has sex with other women, they may be much less concerned about STIs (and NOT recommend testing) than if they knew you also had sex with men. They also want to know if they should talk to you about birth control options.
The assumptions that people make about our “invisible” sexuality often puts bisexual people in the strange position of having to come out over and over again. And while it’s great that in many places LGBTQ identities are somewhat more accepted than they used to be, coming out can still be an extremely nerve-wracking process. For many patients, doctors’ appointments are already stressful, especially when it comes to sexual and reproductive health. Having to come out to your doctor because of assumptions they’ve previously made about your sexuality can be extremely intimidating.
This means that it’s important for doctors to try to not place their patients in boxes without first checking to make sure they have the full story. If you’re a medical provider, don’t assume you know your patient’s sexual orientation. Instead, just ask.
Myths about Bisexuality
Even the most out and proud, liberated queer person can be shaken by myths and misperceptions about bisexuality. Some myths include that bisexual women are just curious, or claiming to be bi for attention; that bisexual people are “confused” or “secretly gay”; and that bisexual people are promiscuous risk-takers. It’s important to remember that when you know somebody’s sexual orientation, you know just that – their sexual orientation. It’s important for healthcare providers to not assume that their patients act in a certain way, or have specific morals, preferences, or lifestyles just because they’re bi.
Other Intersecting Identities
All of us hold lots of different identities. Sexual orientation is one identity. Others include your race, language, ability, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, and immigration status—but there are many others, too! If you’re bi and have another marginalized identity (like trans or gender non-conforming, a person of color, or in an alternative style relationship) it can complicate health care even further.
Doctors, just like everyone else, live in a world that prioritizes some identities and lived experiences over others. These perceptions, unfortunately, don’t get left at the door to the doctor’s office. This means that people who are bi and trans, or bi and black, or bi and diagnosed with depression (for example) may all have very different experiences with the same health care provider. It may be harder to find a health care provider who is LGBTQ-inclusive AND accepts Medicaid, or is LGBTQ-inclusive AND doesn’t hold racist or anti-immigrant views, for example.
If you’re a medical provider, it’s important not to lose sight of the patient, especially if that patient has a lived experience very different from your own. Creating the space for patients to share their knowledge and expertise in terms of risk awareness and safer sex can lead to more cooperative and transparent relationships between providers and patients.
When you’re bi, finding a medical provider who accepts you and doesn’t make assumptions can be difficult. If you’re 10-22 years old and live in New York City, Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center will provide you with free, comprehensive, confidential and LGBTQ-inclusive health care.
Christina Tesoro is the Rape Crisis Health Educator at Mount Sinai’s Adolescent Health Center. She teaches workshops on gender and sexuality, consent culture, and healthy relationships, and her specialty is pleasure positive, LGBTQ+ inclusive, comprehensive sex education.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.