A shocking number of people wouldn't have relationships with bisexuals?

Without the question mark, it's the headline of a story in PinkNews today.

Just under half (47%) of those polled in some survey said they would not be open to having a relationship with a bisexual individual, 35% of the respondents said they were open to it and 19% said they were undecided. This is what biphobia looks like. You will probably not be surprised to hear that men were more open to such a relationship (39% versus 31%) and I suspect the context was in terms of partners of another gender.

But the survey that's based on was done with around a thousand US adults for a US sex toy company. No other details are given about the sample or methodology, so it's not likely to be terribly good and the whole thing is used to promote the company. ("[Website] promotes healthy sexuality between consenting adults regardless of their sexual preference," says their Director of Marketing…)

What does their 'sexpert' have to say? '"Bisexuality is defined as a sexual and/or romantic attraction to both males and females," explains Dr. Kat Van Kirk.' Not quite, Kat, not quite.

Another one of their surveys came up with 30% of the females and 19% of the males in the survey saying – they use the word "admitted", sigh – they had sexually "experimented" with some one of the same sex.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Cosmopolitan magazine is aimed at young, mostly single, mostly straight, women who, in the words of the founder of the US edition, want to 'have it all' in the worlds of work, fashion and sex.

Cosmopolitan 1988 Singles survey

June 1988's UK edition had "If you're SINGLE we need you – join our great Cosmo survey" as its front cover lead.

(Other stories promised inside were "We dish the dirt on Nigel Dempster" (then gossip columnist for the evil Daily Mail); "The exploited millions Women who work part-time"; "SEX APPEAL Three fairly wise men tell what knocks their socks off"; "The language of intimacy He may mean what he says but not what you think!"; "How to have a flatter stomach"; "Picasso The genius who jumped on women"; "You and your parents – the most dishonest relationship".)

There were 80 questions in the four page survey. It presumes respondents are women, and doesn't ask any questions about transgender issues.

After asking some basic demographic questions, a section on children followed, including asking about abortions.

Next, as the start of the 'Sexual and emotional history' section, Q16 asked 'Are you: heterosexual / bisexual / lesbian'.

Q17 asked 'Have you ever had an affair with another woman? Yes / I've been strongly attracted to another woman although I never took it any further / No'.

Interestingly, the next twelve questions about sexual relationships either don't care or didn't think about whether the relationship(s) are with a man or a woman. It's not until Q30 – 'On average, when do you first sleep with a man?' – that the partner's gender is stated.

After a question on masturbation (including the option of saying you only do it 'when I'm not having a sex life', sigh), it's 'AIDS and sexually transmitted infections'.

Here, the gender of the partner is clear: Q33 'If you have had sex in the last year with a new man, did you use a condom?'.

Four more questions about condoms, then…

Q38 'Would you sleep with a man who's bisexual?'

Two options were given: 'Yes, if he was special' and 'Under no circumstances'.

It then went on to ask about the impact of AIDS on their lives, any history of STIs, then 'Work and play' and 'Singular sensations' (feelings about being single rather than masturbation again…)

Fast forward to October 1988.

The survey made lead cover story again: "21,000 women answered our Singles Survey The results will amaze you!" (Today, we'd call it clickbait…)

(Others: "Why more and more women are on birth strike"; "Should you get involved in other people's affairs?"; "Win the grandest tour of India"; "First know your love needs – then find the man"; "Can you reach the top without the job hop?"; "The masks we wear to get through life"; and "Marina Warner's brilliant new novel – The Lost Father".)

The editorial column made the most of it, and gave an indication of the thoughts of co-author and Cosmo Deputy editor, Marcelle d'Argy Smith:

Single women deserve a platform for their views, we stated in our June issue; 21,000 of you agreed and completed our questionnaire – the biggest ever response to a Cosmo survey. Now we have the results. After compiling our report on page 8, Marcelle d'Argy Smith concludes that single women in the UK are on the whole cheerful, optimistic and well-balanced. "I feel incredibly encouraged," she says, "because it shows the most dramatic change has taken place. The woman of the 'Eighties has discovered herself. She's so busy getting on with her own life, enjoying her work, her friends and her independence, that while men are a pleasure, they're no longer a priority. Mostly she sees her future as living with a man, but certainly not living through him." Did anything about the results shock her? "I did find the fact that 25 per cent of women would sleep with a bisexual man, if he was special, a bit worrying in this era of AIDS. And some of our younger readers are still a bit cavalier about sex. But mostly I kept thinking I really like all these people who are speaking so honestly about their lives."

(Emphasis here and elsewhere, mine…)

This is what biphobia looks like.

Onto the results. Three-quarters were under 30, two-thirds in full-time work (only 3% were jobless, a very low figure for 80s Britain).

96% of you are committed heterosexuals. But 3% swing both ways and 1% of you are lesbian. 90% have never been strongly attracted or tempted to have had an affair with a woman. The older you get the more likely you are to consider this possibility. One in 10 of you between 30 and 34 have had a lesbian love affair.

Do heterosexuals need to be committed? 🙂 More seriously, look at the language: rather than use the word 'bisexual' used in the actual survey, here it's 'swing both ways'. It'd also be more common to say 'are lesbians' rather than 'are lesbian'.

Over one third of you are celibate at the moment. 18% of you have sex sometimes, but you'd hardly call it regular. And 5% have occasional sex with different people. [..]

What about your attitude to fidelity? 8% of all respondents are having affairs with married or committed men.

There's no element of disapproval here.

How faithful are you and your partner to each other? Only 5% of you say you are having a fling on the side. 7% of you know your partner is playing around. Only 31% are sure that they are in a faithful relationship (69% of couples who live together believe this).

No particularly pejorative comments here either.

Dare we mention the word "orgasm"? Yes, and here's what you told us. 16% of you rarely or never have an orgasm. But this statistic decreases with age. Only 4% of over 35s are still having problems. [..] 16% of you would definitely like more foreplay and this is a particular complaint for people who are co-habiting: 26% feel a bit rushed into sex.

How do you feel about oral sex? 44% really enjoy it and regard it as part of a relationship. You feel more relaxed about it the older you get and especially if you've been married. However, 1 in 4 only like it when it's done to them and aren't so keen on doing it. 9% like doing it but feel uneasy about having it done to them. 3% think it's repellent, particularly the under 19s. Anal sex is a different matter. Only 7% really enjoy it although the older age group and the previously marrieds take to it more. [..] More than half of you have no moral objection but say it's just not for you. And 30% are truly disgusted by the whole idea.

Those were the only three options offered for anal sex, compared to five for oral sex: no 'I like doing it, but I'm a bit uneasy about having it done to me' for women with strap-ons and partners who bend over, or even 'I would do it for my partner, but I'd rather not'…

But what about the very single-minded who don't have any regular sexual partners? A quarter of you have not had sex with anyone in the last year. 31% of you have had one affair, 22% have had two and 10% have had three. 4% have had five or more. Only 7% of the under 19s have had no partner at all – and 10% have had four or more partners in the last year. [..]

So, not particularly monogamous, but as ever, no adverse comments…

How long have you lasted without sex since you started your sex-life? 16% have had more than a two year period of chastity, 25% have held out between six months and a year, 17% haven't managed three months. [..]

How quickly are you prepared to jump into bed? 6% of you sleep with a man on the first date – more so in the cities where the figure rises to 11%. 41% sleep together after two or three dates but you are most likely (48%) to wait for weeks or even months. The youngest wait the longest – 60% of under 19s wait this long compared with 39% of the over 35s. Lots of you owned up to sometimes going to bed with someone for all the wrong reasons. 38% did it in a drunken state, 28% did it to ease their loneliness, 18% consoled themselves with someone else after being rejected, a quarter just thought the man expected them to spend the night with him and 4% had simply run out of things to say.

Sometimes you like to satisfy yourself. 23% of you masturbate regularly, 38% occasionally and 11% only when they're not having a sex life. One in four never do at all.

Repeating the sigh – masturbation is a sex life – it's onto the AIDS and other STI sections..

Are you sexually responsible? When we asked whether you used a condom if you had sex with a new man in the last year, 43% said "yes" and 57% said "no". The 15 to 24-year-olds are the most responsible: 59% of them have used a condom, compared with only 28% of the over 35s. If the affair continued, 14% used condoms for as long as the relationship lasted, 12% used them a few times and 2% used a condom just for the first time. Some of you, 15%, don't use them because you feel they ruin spontaneous sex. Of the under 19s who don't use them, 31% gave this reason.

Well, would you?

Would you sleep with a bisexual man? Certainly not, said 68% of you, but more than 1 in 4 said you would if he was "special". Younger women seem less aware of the potential danger: 38% of them would be prepared to put themselves at the greater risk of getting AIDS in this way.

Ah, here we go. There's also a bullet point alongside the main text:

Younger women seem to be less aware of the risk of contracting AIDS from bisexual men.

Leaving aside the issues around "contracting AIDS" (as opposed to, say, "catching HIV") compare this with the comments given to say condom use. There isn't a 'Older women seem to be less aware of the risk of catching HIV from unprotected sex", for example, despite them being the most likely to be non-monogamous.

This is what biphobia looks like.

Yet the spectre of AIDS has affected you; well over half have changed your behaviour, but around a third haven't. 12% of you view the risk of AIDS as too insignificant to think about, but 38% of you do feel that sex has become less attractive. This feeling is strongest in the over 30s (51%).

Most of you are concerned about AIDS and 12% think it's much more widespread than we're told and you're very worried. But it hasn't really made you rethink being single; only 11% claim you might commit yourselves to a long-term relationship earlier than you would have done before.

Few of you have contracted sexually transmitted diseases. NSU was the most common (7%), then trichomonas (6%) and chlamydia (4%). 2% of you have had herpes, gonorrhoea or cervical cancer.


Particularly as one of the other stories inside that issue was 'Could you be a lesbian?' by Cathy Troupp. [I haven't found that page yet.]

It is, however, a fairly accurate of the prejudice against bisexual men at the time.

The 25% of women who would sleep with a bisexual man in 1988 is lower than the 35% who'd have a relationship with a bisexual twenty eight years later. Both are described as 'shocking': the former because it was so low and the latter because it was so high! Neither is surprising.

A few thoughts on the Cosmopolitan sample

On the surface, you can't argue with the sample size, although there are obvious issues with the (un)representative nature of the sample itself: Cosmo attracts an educated middle-class readership.

But I'd be fascinated to know if all the responses were in fact analysed. When the US Cosmopolitan did a sex survey in January 1980, the resulting book ('The Cosmo Report: Hotter than the Hite Report – the most shocking, comprehensive, up-to-date sex survey ever published!') admitted that only 10% of the 106,000 responses were looked at.

Here, given the delay in getting responses back and the publishing cycle, they would have had less than three months to enter 1.68 million answers (80 questions x 21,000 respondents). Only two questions – one on location, and one 'List all the advantages of being single you can think of' – were not 'ticky box' questions, but that's still an awful lot of keyboarding.

My guess is that about a thousand were picked at random from the postbags of mail.

And I bet that credited co-author Rachel Shattnock did most of the work…

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