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bisexual, adj. and n.

Brit. Hear pronunciation/bʌɪˈsɛkʃʊəl/
Hear pronunciation/bʌɪˈsɛkʃ(ᵿ)l/
Hear pronunciation/bʌɪˈsɛksjʊ(ə)l/
U.S. Hear pronunciation/baɪˈsɛkʃ(əw)əl/
Frequency (in current use):  Show frequency band information
Origin: Formed within English, by compounding. Etymons: bi- comb. form, sexual adj.
Etymology: < bi- comb. form + sexual adj.
With sense A. 1   compare earlier bisexous adj.   and bisexed adj.  
In sense A. 4   after German bisexuell (1894 or earlier) and bisexuality n. 3; compare also French bisexuel   (1906 in this sense; 1826 in botany). With this sense compare earlier homosexual adj.   and heterosexual adj.
 A. adj.

 1. Of both sexes; Biology (now chiefly Botany) having both male and female characteristics in the same individual; monoecious or hermaphroditic; (of a flower or other plant reproductive structure) containing both male and female organs.

1793   Trans. Amer. Philos. Soc. 3 211   It appears that the urn is a bi-sexual flower, containing a capsule more or less pedunculated, according to the length of the tube.
1815   W. Meeston tr. J.-H. B. de Saint-Pierre Harmonies of Nature I. 148   Animals, where the sexes are separate cannot by any means regenerate themselves; while those which come under the description of bi-sexual..are differently circumstanced.
1825   S. T. Coleridge Aids Refl. 252   The very old Tradition of the Homo androgynus, i.e. that the original Man..was bi-sexual.
1847   J. Lindley Veg. Kingdom (ed. 2) 247   The plants..never, or at least very rarely, have bisexual flowers, but consist of species in which the stamens constantly appear so one kind of flower, and the pistil in another.
1887   A. S. Fuller Illustr. Strawberry Culturist 16   It is not at all rare to find bisexual plants the pollen of which will not fertilize their own ovaries.
1979   B. Dehgan & G. L. Webster Morphol. & Infrageneric Relationships Genus Jatropha 21   Anthers are occasionally produced in aberrant bisexual flowers of J. Gossypiipholia but no viable pollen is present.
2003   S. Morhardt & E. Morhardt Calif. Desert Flowers 30   Bisexual and female flowers have a single pistil with an inferior ovary bearing a single ovule.

1793—2003(Hide quotations)


 2. Involving or comprising individuals of both sexes; suitable for or applicable to both men and women.

1838   Penny Satirist 26 May 4/3   A hospital for the treatment by Mesmerism has..received a death-blow, in consequence of this dangerous bisexual intercourse, one of the fair patients having become enceinte by the director.
1885   Nation 2 Apr. 279/3   The original use of the word bachelor in the college degree goes back to this bi-sexual term in French and Latin.
1918   G. A. Chaquarian tr. S. M. Ohanesian Life's Demand in 20th Cent. ii. h. iii. 479   Bisexual gatherings in the water or on the shore..are liable to create immoral thoughts in the observer.
1963   Jerusalem Post 30 Aug. p. vii   This season, most of the high-style clothes have a bi-sexual look. So much so..that..your husband may be borrowing your officer's boots..and military coats.
1999   H. Herzog Gendering Politics i. 28   The first list I compiled included bisexual names (names given to both girls and boys) such as Simha, Yona, Amit, and Tal.

1838—1999(Hide quotations)


 3. Zoology. Of an organism, species, etc.: having distinct male and female individuals in at least part of its life cycle (often contrasted with hermaphroditic). Also: (of reproduction) occurring with fusion of male and female gametes; (of a species, form, etc.) reproducing sexually (often contrasted with asexual or parthenogenetic).

1842   C. Darwin MS Sketch in Found. Origin of Species (1909) i. 2   All bisexual animals must cross, hermaphrodite plants do cross.
1856   Todd's Cycl. Anat. & Physiol. V. [116]/2   In all the bisexual Crustacea the ova are fecundated while still within the body of the female parent.
1889   Amer. Naturalist 23 1059   It has been shown by Brooks that bisexual reproduction, by doubling the sources of inheritance, doubles the opportunities for variation of characteristics in descent.
1908   Biol. Bull. 14 383   The occurrence of incipient or occasional hermaphroditism in a few species that are functionally or usually bisexual..is of especial interest.
1937   W. C. Allee & K. P. Schmidt Hesse's Ecol. Animal Geogr. 321   The normal condition of Anodonta in standing water is hermaphroditic while those in flowing waters are bisexual, the transference of the spermatozoa to the eggs being assisted by the current.
2001   G. C. McGavin Essent. Entomol. 143   Theletoky is common, and species in which this occurs tend to have wider distributions than bisexual species.

1842—2001(Hide quotations)

 4. Originally Psychology and Psychoanalysis.

 a. Sexually or romantically attracted to people of both sexes; engaging in sexual activity with both men and women.

1906   tr. O. Weininger Sex & Character vi. 66   Homo-sexual or bisexual [Ger. bisexuellen] women reveal their maleness by their preference either for women or for womanish men.
1933   Psychoanal. Q. 2 194   He was overtly bisexual and played in his sexual relations to men both the active and the passive rôle.
1979   R. Jaffe Class Reunion iii. ii. 238   It was the Seventies now, and the rock stars and Beautiful People had made it suddenly chic to be bisexual.
1989   Spare Rib Apr. 4/3   We—as women, as feminists, whether heterosexual, lesbian or bisexual—must defend and encourage our own and each others' diversity.
2015   Advertiser (Austral.) (Nexis) 21 Feb. 36   Kate Brown was sworn in as the Democratic governor of Oregon this week, making her the first openly bisexual person to hold such a lofty position in US history.

1906—2015(Hide quotations)


 b. Characterized by sexual or romantic attraction to, or sexual activity with, people of both sexes; involving or relating to bisexual people or bisexuality.

1907   Jrnl. Mental Sci. 53 178   Even pathological cases may, however, furnish evidence in support of the probably congenital character of the bisexual tendencies.
1954   F. S. Caprio Female Homosexuality i. 14   Dr. George W. Henry.., in his study of forty lesbians found that thirty-two admitted bisexual experiences.
1975   Publishers Weekly 27 Jan. 234/3   Explores the bisexual lifestyle through in-depth interviews with marrieds, singles and ‘separateds’.
1995   M. Garber Vice Versa i. i. 58   Former lesbians who have taken male lovers or who now assert their bisexual identity.
2017   Independent (Nexis) 18 July   In 2014, only 0.3 per cent of grants aimed at LGBT issues went toward the bisexual community.

1907—2017(Hide quotations)

 B. n.

 1. Biology. A sexually reproducing organism in which there are distinct male and female individuals. Cf. sense A. 3.

1855   W. Clark Mollusca Testacea 15   All the Pectinibranchiata, with circular multispiral opercula, hitherto considered bisexuals, are like the Helices hermaphrodites with mutual congression.
1977   Science 26 Aug. 837   The two unique features allowing parthenogenetic species to invade and occupy open habitats faster than bisexuals are (i) a double intrinsic rate of increase and (ii) the ability of one individual to establish a new colony.
2012   T. J. Pandian Genetic Sex Differentiation in Fish ii. 17   Of the 30,000 fish species, more than 98% are bisexuals.

1855—2012(Hide quotations)


 2. Biology. An organism having both male and female sexual organs, either simultaneously or during the course of its life cycle. Cf. sense A. 1. Now chiefly Botany.

1879   Pop. Sci. Monthly Dec. 171   These animals are bisexuals—i. e., have both ovary and spermary perfect, but these are so placed that self-fertilization is impossible.
1986   J. A. Samson Trop. Fruits (ed. 2) x. 261   All are hermaphrodites (bisexuals) with a pear-shaped fruit that weighs about 400 g.
2005   Oikos 111 490/1   Studies that reported data on males, protrandrous [sic] and protogynous bisexuals, and/or hermaphroditic plants were not included in our analyses.

1879—2005(Hide quotations)


 3. Originally Psychology and Psychoanalysis. A person who is sexually or romantically attracted to both men and women; a bisexual person.

1912   Amer. Jrnl. Psychol. 23 318   The subjects belong to the group of bisexuals.
1957   B. Karpman Hangover xv. 465   In the case of Arnold, we find a bisexual with a strong homosexual conflict of which he is at first unconscious.
1970   N. Saunders Alternative London xx. 145   True bi-sexuals, who can have emotionally warm relationships with either sex are very rare.
1988   D. French Working (1991) x. 344   I had, however, had an affair with a bisexual, some years before.
2013   Church Times 12 Apr. 6/3   Only 21 per cent of those surveyed believe that churches are welcoming to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.

1912—2013(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, March 2018; most recently modified version published online December 2022).