Study on bisexuality: You’re either gay, straight or lying

A new study lends credence to the (bullshit) theory that bisexuality doesn’t exist:
The study, by a team of psychologists in Chicago and Toronto, lends support to those who have long been skeptical that bisexuality is a distinct and stable sexual orientation.
People who claim bisexuality, according to these critics, are usually homosexual, but are ambivalent about their homosexuality or simply closeted. “You’re either gay, straight or lying,” as some gay men have put it.
In the new study, a team of psychologists directly measured genital arousal patterns in response to images of men and women. The psychologists found that men who identified themselves as bisexual were in fact exclusively aroused by either one sex or the other, usually by other men.

Interestingly (and annoyingly), this NY Times article pretty much just focuses on the men’s results. Apparently men are just gay or straight, but women can be bisexual.
About 1.5 percent of American women identify themselves bisexual. And bisexuality appears easier to demonstrate in the female sex. A study published last November by the same team of Canadian and American researchers, for example, found that most women who said they were bisexual showed arousal to men and to women.
We’ve touched on this is-it-more-acceptable-to-be-a-bi-woman issue before, but I wonder if this study lends any new fuel to the fire…
One more question–is studying arousal levels the best way to gauge sexual identity? Isn’t there a little more to it?

Join the Conversation

  • Kyra

    They showed them “images of men and women” and measured arousal levels.
    Excuse me, but I don’t think there’s any person, gay or straight, that is aroused by EVERY member of the preferred sex. Everybody has standards of attractiveness, and they vary from person to person.
    In addition, some people are more “picky” than others–The type of men I find attractive are very rare, and it’s not likely they would factor prominently in the pictures in the study. If somebody showed me pictures of conventionally attractive men, I would be unlikely to be aroused by many of them. With women I’d likely find more of them attractive, and the study would label me a lesbian. But they don’t factor in that I am somewhat more aroused by the men I find attractive than the women I find attractive.
    I heard that 80% of the human race is bisexual, to varying degrees, and most people are not bi enough to really notice and identify themselves as such. That makes sense to me. But whatever the reality is, this study is a crock of shit.

  • theantisuck

    i think that when we live in a culture where we are innundated with images of the sexualized female body, it would make sense to me that bisexual men would be less turned on with mere representations of women. ie. pictures of men are more risqee and sexually arousing.

  • Thomas

    I think we are just beginning to deal with the complexity of sexual orientation. First, though I think there may be a genetic component, very little of human behavior is driven entirely by biology without environmental factors. Second, defining “sexual orientation” by sexual attraction is problematic. In fact, some people have sex partners who are both male and female, but would only have relationships with one or the other (what one might call “affectional orientation). Finally, it’s almost impossible to get self-definition clear of social pressure. People’s self-identification is often influenced positively (that is, in the direction of the pressure) and sometimes negatively (that is, in an opposing reaction) to social pressures.
    I’ve known men who are sexually active with both men and women for extended periods, and I’ve known men who use the term as a transitional phase. I think the phenomenon is multifactorial. There are lots of moving parts and more than one kind of “gay,” and looking for a cause that simplifies it all to a yes-or-no answer is naive.

  • hf

    1. What female results?
    2. If arousal does determine orientation, Kinsey#0 straight men apparently do not exist. This suggests to me that the authors wrote their conclusion first.

  • Amanda Marcotte

    Apparently, they got the sample study from running ads in gay magazines, thereby raising the chances that the “bi” men they got are gay men who are still questioning their orientation.

  • Thomas

    Good info, Amanda. I missed that — and that definately skews the sample, at a minimum, to gay-identified bisexual men.
    I’m no stat whiz, but in a sample smaller than three dozen, if there are more than one “type” of bisexual man, the study would be too crude to pick up the difference. Worse, they’ve eliminated outliers (see the link hf graciously posted). I really wonder what the outliers were like.
    If, as the Times pointed out, 40% of gay men identified as bi at some time, then one would expect that the sample would be skewed significantly by guys whose physiological arousal would be more towards men.
    I’d like the see a study of a sample of bi men drawn from a broad spectrum of sources, and see if there are big differences in arousal patterns among bi men.
    There’s another big hole in the authors’ analysis. There are lots of men out there who have occasional same-sex partners while in long-term opposite-sex relationships. If these guys are “really” straight, this makes no sense. If, on the other hand, they’re “really” just gay men fooling themselves, one would expect lackluster sex lives with women. Now, I have known some of these guys, and more of the women who have dated them, and my anecdotal observation is that’s not predominantly the case.

  • Josh

    This study comes from our need to categorize things. While I agree with several of the comments that the methodology here is weak at best and the results are horseshit, why do we feel this need to label everything? We know a tree when we see one, and we know a bush when we see one. What about something that’s not nearly tall enough to be a tree, but way too tall to be a bush? Well, the answer is: Who cares? It’s nice to have descriptors and all, but most things — and especially people — don’t fit into nice, neat little categories. Why are we even trying?

  • nas

    Hello all. Bisexuality is a myth to the same extent heterosexuality and homosexuality are myths. IMHO if religion and cultural memes had not propagated, we would all be happy f*cking whoever we felt like doing it with. “The man” has used these mind tricks to keep us down, but that does not make them true or real. We must throw away the shackles and stereotypes that turn people against each other and embrace sexual openness.

  • B.D.

    There are some great comments here already and I’m coming in late to the disco. I read about this study last week as an ex of mine forwarded it to me. I called bullshit on the bisexuality of men portion of the study. He agreed. He’s a gay man and I’m a bisexual one who is currently in a LTR with a woman. I spent 8 years with him and now 10 years with her. Neither has ever considered me to be anything but bi.

  • figleaf

    Crikies, where to begin? Oh, I’ll take random pot shots.
    1) The difference between “identifying” oneself as bisexual and *being* bisexual seems rather large. For instance back in the mid-1970’s when regard for male heterosexuality among my mostly-feminist peer group it was extremely tempting to claim I was bisexual instead. I never felt honest saying it, but some of my less scrupulous male friends saying they were was a great way to get girls.
    2) I agree it may be overinterpreting things to claim the study reveals that most bisexual men are actually either straight or gay. On the other hand it’s not always the job of science to answer questions. Judging from comments to this post it’s done a very good job about raising them. :-) Also, based on my suspicions of identification vs. actual orientation, and backed up by the 40% figure cited by Thomas, above, the data collected might be useful to better understanding the role of, for instance, peer pressure on gender-preference identification.
    3) There may be a certain element of opportunism in some men that allows them to have sex with a member of their non-preferred gender without desiring them at all. Thus they might strongly prefer women but still occasionally cruise bath houses or (conversely) hetero pickup joints as a convenient-to-them alternative to masturbation. (The “lesbian until graduation” syndrome that nettles a lot of genuine lesbians may be based on something similar in young women.)
    The bottom line for me is it’s an interesting if incomplete piece of information that ought to encourage additional research to either confirm, refute, or expand on what’s in the report.

  • Chris

    I’ve commented all over on this, so I’m not going to rehash everything. I’ll just say this: ignore the NYT article. If you’re interested, read the research articles themselves (Bailey will be happy to send reprints to anyone who requests them). You’ll get a dramatically different picture, even if the conclusion (that bisexual men show significantly more physical arousal to one sex than the other, and in most cases, to men) is still the same.

  • Polly

    Who funds this kind of stupid research? I can’t understand why they need to find some ‘truth’ about sexual orientation – people have sexual choices, you can’t just invalidate them by saying one form of relationship is truer to the person than others.
    I don’t get turned on by pictures anyway, really.

  • stephen

    A woman friend of mine asked me recently: “Has it ever occurred to you that you might be gay?” Now at least I know there’s an empirical method of answering this tricky question. Long Live Science!