Study Shows that Bisexual Men Exist, Bisexual People Not Surprised

In an infamous 2005 article titled “Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited,” the New York Times reported on a Northwestern University study that claimed that bisexuality in men does not exist:

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… Using a sensor to monitor sexual arousal, the researchers found what they expected: gay men showed arousal to images of men and little arousal to images of women, and heterosexual men showed arousal to women but not to men. But the men in the study who described themselves as bisexual did not have patterns of arousal that were consistent with their stated attraction to men and to women. Instead, about three-quarters of the group had arousal patterns identical to those of gay men; the rest were indistinguishable from heterosexuals.

There are plenty of problems with this study. Chris O’Guinn, a writer for AfterElton.com, breaks down the various issues with it: the small sample size, the unreliability of the device used for measuring “arousal,” the assumption that only Kinsey 3s count as “real” bisexuals, the fact that it pulled many of the participants from ads in gay magazines (skewing the results toward gay-leaning bi men), and perhaps most importantly, the assumption that arousal is the only important part of sexual orientation. (The Klein Grid, for example, lists it as only one of seven factors that determine one’s sexual orientation.) The study was also denounced by both GLAAD and the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, as well as by FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting).

Yet, it’s often difficult (at least in my personal experience) to talk about bi men without someone quoting this study like it’s incontrovertible truth — even if we’re just speculating on the sexuality of classmates or famous people. And since myths about female bisexuality tend to run the opposite way (i.e., that all women are bisexual), I’m not always in the best position as a bi woman to tackle this. After all, I’m not a sex researcher, and I’m clearly biased toward the belief that my sexual orientation is real. While the 2005 article is careful to quote one professor, Dr. Randall Sell of Columbia University, claiming the study doesn’t say anything conclusive and noting the problems that would arise if therapists take the study too seriously, the author makes his conclusion clear with phrases claiming the study “casts doubt on whether true bisexuality exists, at least in men” and “lends support to those who have long been skeptical that bisexuality is a distinct and stable sexual orientation.” The popularity of this article is, in many respects, a perfect example of the problems with bad science reporting.

via biunity.org

But luckily, even if some fans of the Northwestern study won’t listen to its critics, the people who carried it out did. J. Michael Bailey, the Northwestern psychology professor behind the earlier study, is one of the authors of a new study claiming that, indeed, some men do have bisexual arousal patterns. As reported by The Advocate:

In both studies men watched videos of both male and female same-sex intimacy while their sexual response was monitored. The results [of the new study] showed that while bisexual men responded to both male and female videos, gay and straight men did not. “Someone who is bisexual might say, ‘Well, duh!’” lead study author Allen Rosenthal, a doctoral student in psychology at Northwestern, told The New York Times. “But this will be validating to a lot of bisexual men who had heard about the earlier work and felt that scientists weren’t getting them.”

While the current study has the same issue as its predecessor with small sample size and excessive focus on arousal, it was much more careful about recruiting men for the study. For starters, it advertised more on sites and in publications focused specifically on a bisexual audience. It also used more stringent criteria in deciding which men should be included in the study: “This time, instead of relying on self-reporting of sexual orientation, men only qualified as bisexuals if they had had sex with at least two members of each sex and had carried on a romantic relationship of at least three months with a member of each sex.”

Obviously, this comes with its own set of unfortunate implications. I am bisexual and I don’t fit those criteria, and I consider myself a Kinsey 3. The results would obviously leave out a lot of bi people who lean more toward one side or another, or people with diversity in their romantic vs. sexual inclination — for instance, a man who’s bisexual but heteroromantic might have only dated women. Personally, though, I don’t think the people who conducted the study are necessarily saying that only men who fit their criteria are “truly bisexual,” despite the poor choice of language from the author of the Live Science article. Indeed, the end of the article indicates that at least one of the authors, lead author and psychology Ph.D. student Alan Rosenthal, understands just how wide the bisexual umbrella is: “‘I think that both studies are correct, but about different populations of bisexual men.’ …If they can generate funding for such an experiment, the Northwestern psychologists will scale up their study in order to profile bisexual males of all types.”

The thing is, there are some people who use a bisexual identity as a stepping-stone to coming out as gay or lesbian — or as an experimental phase before deciding they’re actually straight — and requiring study participants to have significant romantic and sexual histories with both men and women is going to filter most of those people out, along with filtering out many genuine bisexuals. But unlike the previous study, they’re trying to prove a positive here, not a negative, so it’s not necessarily essential that they represent the full range of bi men in this study. The fact that male bisexual arousal happens at all proves its existence against people who believe men are only “straight, gay or lying.”

via etsy.com/people/buttonmeupbuttons

Of course, some people still used this to draw the conclusion that it’s ok to judge “inexperienced” bi people as lying about their orientation. For example, Dan Savage, who, after first claiming his bisexual critics treat him like “Gaydolph Hitler” by accusing him of biphobia, had this to say about the study:

How’s that for irony: once researchers controlled for the young-and-temporarily-bi-identified or the gay-and-kidding-themselves-about-being-bi — once researchers refused to accept the professed sexual identities of the bi-identified men they recruited, once researchers acted like biphobes and bigots — they were able to demonstrate that “bisexual arousal patterns” actually exist…Feel free to print out a copy [of the study] and wave it in the faces of any gays or straights who claim that bi guys don’t exist and any bi guys who insist it’s a crime against humanity to point out that some bi-identified guys are lying.

Yet, as I said before, I fail to see where the study’s authors are claiming one should automatically be skeptical of young, “inexperienced” bisexual people, as Savage is when he says things like “I meet someone who’s 19-years-old who tells me he’s bisexual and I’m like, ‘Yeah, right, I doubt it. I tell them come back when you’re like 29 and we’ll see.’” That’s a much stronger sentiment than just “some bi-identified guys are lying.” Additionally, the study did not control for age, only experience; that hypothetical 19-year-old bi guy would have been eligible had he dated and had sex with both men and women. There’s no reason to suspect the researchers view youth and bisexuality the same way Savage does. But most importantly, while it’s essential to the authors of this study to make sure those participating are who they say they are, it isn’t Dan Savage’s business to pester people to “prove” their sexual orientations to him. We’ve all met people whose stated sexual orientation seemed questionable — but the right thing to do, as an ally and a friend (and especially as someone who is committed to making LGBT teens feel better about themselves) is to keep that skepticism to yourself, to wait for that person to come to that conclusion (or not!) on their own. You’re not a sex researcher, either — for civilians, there’s no need to take up proving or disproving these things.

In more good news for bi men, the Northwestern study is not the first this year confirming that bisexual arousal is real. From the New York Times article:

In March, a study in Archives of Sexual Behavior reported the results of a different approach to the question. As in the Northwestern study, the researchers showed participants erotic videos of two men and two women and monitored genital as well as subjective arousal. But they also included scenes of a man having sex with both a woman and another man, on the theory that these might appeal to bisexual men. The researchers — Jerome Cerny, a retired psychology professor at Indiana State University, and Erick Janssen, a senior scientist at the Kinsey Institute — found that bisexual men were more likely than heterosexuals or gay men to experience both genital and subjective arousal while watching these videos.

Clearly, at least some scientists recognize now that bisexual men exist. Now we just have to get our whole society on the same page.

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Rose is a Michigander currently living in Boston, where she is working on her master's degree in musicology. Classical music, history, 1960s rock bands, cartoons, old movies and the Detroit Tigers are just a few of her favorite things. In her spare time she also writes music, collects too many books and cats, and inhales Diet Coke at alarming speeds. For more of her many opinions, you should follow her on Tumblr.

Rose has written 66 articles for us.

59 Comments

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    Ugh finally! I knew a couple of bisexual men who felt they had to “choose” because of the bullshit in regards to the “existence of male bisexuality.” Now some (hopefully) gay men can get over themselves or some might come out as bi because I know some “gay” men who are definitely attracted to women just the biphobia in the gay male community is ridiculous!

    PURPLE BI PRIDE GLITTER ALL AROUND YAAAAY!

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      Yeah, I know lots of gay guys who hold those views, too, largely because of the “Straight, Gay or Lying?” article. It really bothers me, because some of them are really close friends and they’ve been very supportive of my bisexuality, since I’m a girl and FEMALE bisexuality is “real” apparently. And I wonder how many bi guys at our school have been forced back into the closet – EITHER closet – because of how pervasive these ideas are in the gay community here. I’m pretty sure I know at least one.

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    All I can do is speak from personal experience, and as much as it is easy to just say “well no duh” to this study, I do appreciate that this study was done. Hopefully this will lead to a more open mind about bisexuality in the gay community.
    As a bisexual female I so often feel trapped even among my closest of lady gays who think I am just “in a phase” until I just realize I’m gay. And well there is no need to even get into the lesbians who won’t date bisexuals stigma.

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    I don’t understand how you can learn anything very conclusive from the use of porn in these studies. People can have very clear-cut preferences in real life, but be turned on by a much different array of things in porn/fantasy. I thought that was kind of common knowledge?

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    So science has now confirmed that I exist? Awesome! Although on the slightly negative side, that existential crisis did come with some interesting learning experiences. I learned, for one thing, that even when society doesn’t believe you’re real, you still can’t walk through walls.

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      It’s at least less-flawed than the original. No one should take either at face-value, but unfortunately many people do; hopefully, for those people, this new one will make a difference.

      But if you look at the Jezebel article I linked that addresses the “all women are bisexual” myth, I feel like arousal is a particularly poor way to gauge sexual orientation. Being turned on by something doesn’t necessarily mean that you are interested in dating or having sex with that person. They’ve shown that tons of straight-identified women are more aroused by the sight of a naked woman than a naked man, for example. That doesn’t change the fact that they’d much rather have sex with a man.

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    In other news, the sky continues to be blue.

    But seriously, society/scientists/politicians/parents/people in general: when someone tells you “this is who I am”, you know what an appropriate fucking response is?
    “Great”
    “Mmkay”
    “OMG ME TOO!!”
    “Cool, whatevs, let’s go get some onion rings”.

    Any of the above. Is that so damn hard?

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    It’s nice that they’ve actually taken the time to do some semblance of a real study and contradict their earlier results. Colour me very surprised.

    J. Michael Bailey is a right bastard who did even worse to the trans community in another study. I’m sure hell will freeze over before decides to correct *that* study.

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      Whoa, you aren’t kidding Rebecca– I never heard of this Bailey guy before, but I just went to the link for this study and read through the abstracts of some of his other publications. **must stop banging head into desk** notable “studies” of his include basically painting trans women as scientifically wrong and seeing if gays can hide their gayness for mock job interviews and the like.

      sadly, there’s no abstract available for “what is sexual orientation and do women have one?” I was really hoping he could tell me whether or not lesbians exist!!

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      Yeah, I meant to put something in there about Bailey’s problematic history but I wasn’t sure where it would fit. Thanks for catching that! He’s definitely not someone whose conclusions anyone should take at face value.

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    Does anyone else feel like the stereotypes about female bisexuality and male bisexuality line up with straight male fantasies? Like, it’s obvious why a lot of (a certain type of) straight dudes want all women to be bisexual – they want to believe they can get lesbians to sleep with them, as well as that they can get straight girls to indulge in their fantasies about girl-on-girl experimentation. But I feel like the belief that men are either one or the other is perhaps borne out of a lot of men’s insecurity about their own sexuality? I think it’s there to reassure straight-leaning bi men that, don’t worry, you’re 100% straight, there’s nothing slightly queer about you because you can’t possibly like both. What does everyone else think about this?

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      Yes because most of the time straight white males make the script on the discoruse of sexuality and porn in Western society. It’s like if you pay attention to mainstream porn you can almost garantee that it follows the straight male fantasies. Like all women lesbian, bi or striahgt are aviable to men but for men they are either gay or straight.

      In short I agree with you because I happen to know a lot of straight leaning bisexual men and gay leaning but only one equal bisexual male but they all id gay or straight because it’s hard for them to be taken seriously.

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      Also, it reflects the general scare of two dudes kissing rather accurately. We’ve come as far as not fully denying that some men have no interest in women at all, and therefore are allowed to kiss dudes. “But PLEASE, let’s not loose the normal, proper men, who could be great husbands to our daughters, to teh gayz.” * clutches pearls *

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        O.K. This year I was casually dating a gay dude and bisexual woman at the same time. I loved it. My girlfriend was o.k. With it but boyfriend did not like the non-monogomy. We talked and agreed to end it.

        Later when we talked about bisexual men being treated so poorly in gay circles he said, “it all boils down to fucking bitches stealing our men.”

        So the anxiety of loosing a hot bisexual guy who is both masculine and gentle and kind is perhaps felt keenly by both straight women and gay men. I wish they would just get over it and I could work out some safe sex aggreement. But dating other bisexuals things seem to go better – unfortunately I don’t find many bi dudes I am into because I like feme people but bi chics are usually both sexy and very open minded.

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      I do think there is diversity in “liking” but I think that the straight leaning and gay leaning is in part false. Here is the scoop if you are a guy and into women, being queer doesn’t actually work in your favor, is it about “straight male fantasy”. Well I decided to ask all my straight female friends and they honestly said they would NEVER date a bi guy. I have dated several straight women but mostly somehow I found the bi chics. But let’s get real men are under a lot of pressure to be “straight” and if you reveal you have any attraction to men then you are “closet gay” and mainly gay men and straight women collude with it. As far as “gay leaning” I would say if you have a pretty big sex drive and want get off a lot as a young person then going queer is not a bad way to go.

      But I was always interested in actually dating and making emotional romantic connections so I have been pretty fluid. I dated more women because I found more women attractive but also found some really cute feme guys. I am very obvious top but I am a very nurturing person.

      Other bi guys into the cult of masculinity will do things completely on the down low I have noticed. “Queer” hurts their self image and they only want sex with other masculine men and want no emotional connection at all. I think at times this is a lot of self protection, they are afraid of getting close to other men – but I have found many gay, straight, and bi men have anxiety of male to male tenderness – I find it a bit pathetic myself.

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    What I don’t get is why it’s okay for women to be “fluid” according to Dan Savage/SOCIETYYYYYYY but it’s not okay for men to be. Ladies are all wibbly, men are rigid? IDGI…

    In other news, if I was a dude, I would have totally been eligible for that study at 19 – and I didn’t exactly have the widest dating experience. Then again, I am a lady, so I’m sure that invalidates everything. :P

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    I was astonished at an article on another site that asked if a certain teevee character was identified as bisexual, should lesbians be pissed off? WTF? The comments on this article were downright ugly and mean spirited about bisexual women, arguements breaking out all over the place. Last time I looked, there were well over 200 comments and the “lesbians should be pissed” crowd seemed to be prevelant.

    I don’t get it. I identify as a lesbian, think many men are really attractive but don’t want to sleep with them and have slept with men in the past. I really don’t understand all of the bi vitrol that comes from the gay community.

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      Yep, that’s the one. I thought the comment Brittany made about being “bi-curious” pretty much established her identity for herself right now. It could change, she’s curious and checking things out but why isn’t that okay?

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    I spent most of my teen years hearing that all women are bisexual but all men are gay or straight. I must say it’s kind of vicariously thrilling to see bi men, my fellow unicorns, finally have their existence vindicated.

    Too bad it’s so much harder to prove a negative than a positive, or I’d hold out hope that the existence of Real! Live! Lesbians! like myself might one day be accepted too. Since, obviously, respecting that people know what they’re talking about re: their own damn sexual attraction, is just too much to ask from society.

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    Speaking as a bisexual man, “Well, duh!”

    I don’t need idiotic researchers to validate me, however, the process used strikes me as assinine. Arousal for me requires a heck of a lot more than just watching two men going at it on the screen.

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    If you are out and a bisexual man like myself, and you have dated mostly women this study was a bit of a nightmare for me. With gay men and straight women constantly telling me to “come out”. The courage I have had to be out has never ever been recognized by anyone really. It was just ridiculed. I have also dated men but only one of those relationships developed into a longer term thing. It is really fucking sad that so man gay men hold such stupid prejudices!

    I would have been eligible for the study at 19 years old. Luckily I am very confident and dated women and men without worry. But got a lot of shit for it.

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    Thank god for David Bowie in the 70′s for being the first “bi man” icon and his various far out songs covering the subject, such as “Sufragette City”, “Gean Genie”, “Rebel Rebel” and most notably “Rock and Roll Suicide”, a personal appeal by Bowie to make us feel better and whole when the worse times come.

    “You’re so natural, religiously unkind!”

    As much as Bowie put bi men out there he was one in a billion that helped us feel better, and awake interest in our cause (sometimes making others even considering bi men “exotic”, thanks David!)

    This study is also a landmark, because we have scientific certainty that comes to help us reinforce what we have been certain for a long time, our very own sexuality. Especially those of us who live in backward conservative christian countries, thank you so much.

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