Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 219–233 | Cite as

Reasons for Non-Disclosure of Sexual Orientation Among Behaviorally Bisexual Men: Non-Disclosure as Stigma Management

  • Eric W. SchrimshawEmail author
  • Martin J. DowningJr.
  • Daniel J. Cohn
Original Paper


Although bisexual men are known to be less likely to disclose their sexual orientation to others than gay men, the reasons why bisexual men choose or feel unable to disclose have received minimal research attention. To examine the reasons behaviorally bisexual men offer for not disclosing to their friends, family, and female partners, in-depth interviews were conducted with an ethnically diverse sample of 203 men who had not disclosed their same-sex behavior to their female sexual partners in New York City. Men were recruited from multiple venues and online sources using a targeted sampling approach. Transcripts were thematically analyzed using Atlas.ti software. Contrary to the theory that non-disclosure is due to uncertainty about one’s sexual identity, the reasons offered for non-disclosure revealed that it was largely a method to avoid stigmatizing reactions from others. Men reported a number of specific reasons for non-disclosure, including (1) anticipation of negative emotional reactions; (2) anticipation of negative changes in relationships; (3) belief that others held stigmatizing attitudes toward homosexuality; (4) prior experience with negative reactions to disclosure; (5) wanting to maintain others’ perceptions of him; (6) fear that those told would disclose to additional people; and (7) fear of rejection due to culture or religion. These findings provide insights into the reasons why many behaviorally bisexual men choose not to disclose, potential reasons why bisexual and gay men differ in the extent to which they disclose, and potential reasons why some bisexual men report greater emotional distress than gay men. Further, they suggest that greater attention needs to be placed on addressing the stigmatizing contexts that confront bisexual men and providing them with strategies to manage stigma.


Bisexuality Disclosure Stigma Sexual orientation Sexual identity 



This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01-MH076680). Daniel Cohn was supported by an internship stipend provided by the Gwen M. Greene Career and Internship Center at the University of Rochester. The ideas and opinions presented here are those of the authors and not necessarily of the funding sources. The authors would also like to thank Karolynn Siegel and Jeffrey Parsons for their efforts in conceptualizing and designing the parent study, Edward Clark and the recruitment team for their assistance with recruitment and data collection, and the qualitative coding team for their assistance with data analysis. Finally, the authors would like to thank the many participants who shared their stories with us. An earlier version of this report was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, November 2012.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric W. Schrimshaw
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martin J. DowningJr.
    • 2
  • Daniel J. Cohn
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public HealthColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Public Health SolutionsNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Center for Engaged Learning + ResearchCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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