It took me a decade after coming out to learn that there was a reason I and other bi women were experiencing so much sexual and intimate partner violence. In reality, we are at higher risk of gender-based violence than both straight women and other LGBTQ+ people. That’s not the only increased risk bi women face relative to straight women and bi men. Likely because of biphobia both within mainstream society and the LGBTQ community, bisexual women are also more likely to live in poverty. We are at higher risk of substance abuse.
Researchers have known for a while that LGBTQ people as a whole experience increased substance abuse. But until recently, a lack of research on the full spectrum of LGBTQ identities has left us without detailed information on how this affects different members of the community.
Megan S. Schuler is one of the researchers trying to change that. An Associate Policy Researcher at the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research institute, Schuler says that a mixture of biphobia, trauma from sexual violence, and poverty can significantly increase bi women’s risk. Analyzing survey data, Schuler and her co-researcher, Rebecca L. Collins, found that both lesbian and bisexual women use substances more than heterosexual women — and bisexual women are at the highest risk.
“There’s a full spectrum of substance use: substance use, and then substance use disorder,” says Schuler. Bi women are more likely to experience everything from marijuana use, which may be casual or occasional (40% of bi women use marijuana, as opposed to 26.1% of lesbian women and 10.3% of heterosexual women), to alcohol use disorder (12.5% of bisexual women, compared to 7.7% of lesbian women and 3.9% of heterosexual women) and opiod misuse (including 12.6% of bisexual women, 7.0% of lesbian women, and 3.5% of heterosexual women).
To understand why bisexual women experience these unique risks, it’s important to look at the specific kinds of discrimination we face, and the links between addiction and trauma. By understanding the root causes of the harm bi women experience, we can build more resilience for ourselves and our communities.