Love on the Flip Side of the Down Low

A new online documentary explores the possibility that straight women can find love with openly bisexual men.

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All the hype about closeted ''down-low'' brothers a few years back sent a chill through the bedrooms of quite a few women and men. Now, a New York City-based documentarian could dislodge an iceberg with an online video series that explores the experiences of some self-identified straight women who date openly bisexual men.

Arielle Loren, a New York City-based writer and filmmaker, recently produced and released ''The Bi-deology Project,'' a study of mixed sexual orientation romances based on e-mail, phone calls and random street interviews with 30 women. (See Part 1 below.) She also explores lessons heterosexual women can learn from men who don't have a fixed sexual orientation. Loren, who went to New York University, came up with the idea for the project after developing feelings for a bisexual male friend, she told The Root.

''When the question finally came up for us to discuss whether we were going to take our friendship to the next level, he told me he thought I was a beautiful woman, but he was bisexual and he wasn't sure if I would be comfortable with his lifestyle,'' she said. ''I was devastated and crushed. He wasn't comfortable talking about it. I was left in the cold. So it got to the point where I really wanted some closure and the friendship ended.''

Although Loren has never dated a bisexual man, the conundrum sparked by her friendship generated a discourse between friends about whether heterosexual women can have relationships with bisexual men.

''I never thought about having a heterosexual relationship with someone who is bi,'' she said. ''And that people can really take the liberty to define their own sexuality and practice their sexuality how they want to. It doesn't mean that they are not interested in heterosexual relationships. ''

It's an important conversation to have, believes Tim'm T. West. The 38-year-old Houston resident has been bisexual since college. Although currently in a gay monogamous relationship, West said he also has had monogamous relationships with women. ''I think it's becoming more and more common for straight women to date bisexual men as some black women have developed a more nuanced understanding of sexuality,'' West told The Root. ''It's so much so that I had a woman say, 'well, I don't expect the man I fall in love with will be straight.' . . . She said she'd rather have a man be honest about his bisexuality than to have him boxed into these, really, categories, which some men use as an excuse to stay on the down low.''

Both Loren and West addressed the concern that some women have about the possibility of getting HIV from a male partner who sleeps with other men. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that approximately 56,300 people were newly infected with HIV in 2006 (the most recent year that data is available). Over half (53 percent) of these new infections occurred in gay and bisexual men, the CDC said. African-American men and women were also strongly affected and were estimated to have an incidence rate than was seven times as high as the incidence rate among whites.

West, a coordinator of a program for young men who have sex with men, said he is a strong advocate for safe sex. He contracted the HIV virus from a gay partner in a monogamous relationship years ago and is forthcoming about his status with his male and female partners, some of whom were straight. His status, he said, is not a problem as long as he and his partner practice safe sex.

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