Bisexuals Drink and Smoke More Than Everyone Else
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Bisexuals Drink and Smoke More Than Everyone Else


A few weeks ago, Texas Governor and gaffe king Rick Perry compared being gay to being an alcoholic: just ‘cuz you’re born that way don’t mean you gotta act on it. There’s no debating the inanity and insensitivity of Perry’s statements, but he may have inadvertently hit upon a more accurate point: gays and lesbians apparently drink harder than straight folks. But people who identify as bisexual have the rest of the pack beat.

A new study by the CDC measures health and lifestyle differences between men and women who identified as gay, straight or bi. (A “something else” option was included on the questionnaire but omitted from the results). While it’s important to recognize that not everybody identifies as gay, straight or bi (or as a man or a woman for that matter), this isn’t someone’s queer awareness Tumblr, so let’s just meet the survey where it is and settle for these six groups.

Shady Data

First off, I was stunned that just 2.3% of respondents identified as anything other than straight. We always hear the 10% figure thrown around, at least for men (though at my university it was “one in four, maybe more”). The survey was based on 2013 NHIS data from 34,557 people—not the biggest sample size, but still, really? Of course, bisexuals constituted a tiny minority, comprising just 0.9% of women and 0.4% of men. Bi people, if we don’t get out and represent, folks will believe we don’t exist. Yes, that’s a we. You heard it here first.

Among other questions like how much they exercise (gay men won that category, surprising no one), the survey asked people if they’d had five or more alcoholic drinks at a time at least once in the past year. (Was I the only one expecting “month” or even “week” at the end of that sentence? No? Carry on.) Bisexuals, both male and female, handily beat out their straight and gay counterparts alike in the booze department. Only 26% of straight people, 35% of gay people and 41% of bi people between the ages of 18 and 64 ever binge-drank in 2013. Is it a somewhat odd metric when considered in isolation? Sure. But I’m still a bit surprised at the low numbers for straight men. Step it up, frat boys! Just kidding. Please don’t.

The same trend held for cigarette smoking. What is it about these mysterious bisexuals? Do they just love to live dangerously? Are they all artists and musicians? What gives?

More Stress, More Numbing

Well, they may just not be very happy. Bisexuals in the study were also more than twice as likely as all other orientations to have experienced serious psychological distress in the past month. They were also less likely to have a regular health care provider or insurance, and those who did have coverage were more likely to use a public than a private plan. Basically, there are a whole lot of poor or self-employed bi people running around in distress. And I thought I was joking about the artist thing.

It’s no secret that the LGBTQ population suffers from an unusually high rate of substance abuse and addiction. Being marginalized by society and branded as “other” from a young age is a recipe for self-medicating. And like all minorities, queer individuals face a disadvantage when it comes to employment and even healthcare—especially if they’re already addicts. The obstacles compound. But this doesn’t explain why people who identify as bi have an even harder time than those who are homosexual. If anything it seems counterintuitive since bi people can sometimes “pass” for straight.

Keep It Coming

At the very least, the fact that bisexuals have our own statistically significant set of issues makes it harder to argue that we’re all just attention seekers in denial. For all its shortcomings, the study is commendable for looking at bisexuality separately from homosexuality. The disparity between the groups just goes to show that the LGBTQ community is not a monolith. If more research recognizes this in the future, we’ll be able to tackle some of these social problems with a lot more accuracy.

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About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.