How About That Study Claiming Bisexual Women More Likely to Be Psychopathic Narcissists, What a Ride

In an article published this month in Evolutionary Psychological Science, researchers found that moderately bisexual women reported higher levels of psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism (aka. manipulative, self-interested behavior). As a group, bisexual women also reported less-restricted attitudes, desires and willingness to engage in to uncommitted sexual behavior. If this sounds familiar, that’s because these findings essentially uphold the insidious, well-worn trope of the Depraved Bisexual! Super cool, I know! Let’s take a closer look.

In the first of the two studies covered in the article, researchers deployed Jonason and Webster’s Dirty Dozen scale, asking participants to rate how much they agreed with 12 self-referent statements, including “I tend to be callous or insensitive,” and “I have used deceit or lied to get my way.” The scale measures personality traits known together as the “Dark Triad” (Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism), and in general, is studied in applied psychology through the lens of “these socially nonconformist traits are undesirable” and “let’s figure out why you’re like this.” Historically, studies have shown higher prevalence of DT traits among men, who as a group are positively correlated with masculinity. Given that lesbian and bisexual women tend to evaluate themselves as being more masculine than straight women, this study asked, is there also a positive correlation with DT traits?

To answer this question:

A total of 446 female students at a Midwestern Canadian University completed a questionnaire for course credit in their introductory psychology course. Three participants were excluded due to missing data, leaving 443 for analysis. The average age of the participants was 20.81 years (SDage = 5.03; Range = 16–57). … There were 308 self-identified exclusively heterosexual individuals, 108 mostly heterosexual, 20 as bisexual, 3 mostly homosexual, and 0 exclusively homosexual participants. Four participants declined to answer.

As lead author Scott W. Semenyna explained to Psypost, “This study was conducted on an extremely WEIRD sample (i.e., Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic). It’s unclear whether these differences apply only to university students, if similar differences may exist in the general population, or what possible cross-cultural variation exists in these patterns.” Yes to that, and also: there were no lesbians. This doesn’t mean the findings are “wrong,” necessarily, but it does seem quite a significant gap in coverage for a study on female sexuality; be careful interpreting the results.

In the second study covered in the research article, a recruitment script specifically invited non-heterosexual women to participate, resulting in 13 Kinsey 6 lesbians, 340 Kinsey 0 straight women, and 247 in-between responses. Again, the WEIRD biases apply, with an average respondent age of 20.40.

Kinsey 0 (sexual feelings only towards males) 340 Kinsey 1 160 Kinsey 2 42 Kinsey 3 15 Kinsey 4 19 Kinsey 5 11 Kinsey 6 (sexual feelings only towards females) 13

Of the 647 female students who completed the questionnaire, 47 were excluded for incomplete measures, or implausible responding (e.g. lifetime sexual partners reported as >7000). Of the 600 cases for analysis, 340 (56.6%) responded as Kinsey 0, 160 (26.6%) as Kinsey 1, 42 (7.0%) as Kinsey 2, 15 (2.5%) as Kinsey 3, 19 (3.2%) as Kinsey 4, 11 (1.8%) as Kinsey 5, and 13 (2.2%) as Kinsey 6.

This time, DT traits were assessed using Jones and Paulhus’s Short Dark Triad scale, with 27 self-referent statements (9 for each DT trait) including “You should wait for the right time to get back at people,” and “I insist on getting the respect I deserve.” Using this method, study 2 did not replicate the findings of study 1 regarding sexual orientation differences in Machiavellianism and overall Dark Triad traits.

Also in study 2, sociosexuality was assessed using the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory (SOI), which assesses individual’s behavior and attitudes pertaining to uncommitted sexual relationships. The SOI contains open response questions such as “with how many different partners have you had sex (sexual intercourse) within the past year?” as well as scaled items to which participants indicate the extent to which they disagree (1) or agree (9) with statements such as “sex without love is okay.”

Researchers took a look at the relationship between different groups on the Kinsey scale:

Most strikingly, study 2 found that somewhat ambiphilic (Kinsey 2) women have higher sociosexuality [specifically, more favorable attitudes towards casual sex, and a higher sex drive] than most other groups, with moderate to large effect sizes. The relationship between women’s sexual orientation and less restricted sociosexuality was found to be curvilinear, replicating previous studies showing bisexual women to be higher in sociosexuality than heterosexual or homosexual women (Lippa 2006, 2007; Schmitt 2007), but adding granularity regarding sexual orientation groupings. More specifically, mostly androphilic (Kinsey 1) and somewhat ambiphilic (Kinsey 2) women exhibited higher sociosexuality compared to ambiphilic women (Kinsey 3–4), although all of these groups have been characterized as “bisexual” in the literature.

a chart showing" somewhat ambiphilic" as an outlier

Comparison of composite SOI (average z-scores) across sexual orientation groups in study 2. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals. Somewhat-ambiphilic women’s composite SOI is greater than androphilic women (d = 1.01, [0.68, 1.34]), ambiphilic women (d = 0.74, [0.26, 1.20]), and predominantly/exclusively gynephilic women (d = 0.73, [0.21, 1.24]).

Translation: self-identified lesbians and straight women report similar attitudes about casual sex, and within the umbrella of bisexuality, it seems to be a very particular bucket (Kinsey 2 “somewhat bisexual” women) reporting less caution about uncommitted sexual activity. It may be that Kinsey 2ers represent “the upper end of female sociosexuality scores, and this sexual openness leads to more sexual experience overall, some of which occurs with women.”

Speaking about the findings, Semenyna noted, “Primarily such evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that female bisexuality and female homosexuality are the result of different developmental processes. If female bisexuality and homosexuality were simply the result of the same underlying developmental processes, one would expect that any differences between heterosexual and bisexual women in personality or interest in casual sex would be even larger when comparing heterosexual and lesbian women.”

To me, the interesting takeaway here is that “bisexual” may be too broad a term to be useful in some research settings, as there are distinct subgroup behaviors (perhaps due to different bio-developmental roots). I would love to see more research done in this vein, in particular to address the biased study population. Interesting as 20-year-old students studying psych are, it seems obvious that their answers are going to differ from the general population. (Pretty sure we didn’t have this many bisexual Slytherins at A-Camp, for example. Or maybe I was just hanging out in the wrong cabin.)

Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Boston. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair. Follow her: @LauraMWrites.

Laura has written 211 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. Hah , you see a published outcome like that and you know even going in that the methodology is going to be terrible. (You interviewed HOW many people?)

    Great breakdown of the sampling problems, and of the … interesting interpretation of the results.

  2. Pretty sure we didn’t have this many bisexual Slytherins at A-Camp, for example. Or maybe I was just hanging out in the wrong cabin.

    Tag yourself – I’m a bi-romantic, demi-sexual, tomboy femme Ravenclaw (with a Hufflepuff wing)

    • Bi-sexual non-binary Ravenclaw with dueling Gryffindor Slytherin wings. What that bit means is I’m scary resourceful when it comes time to fuck someone up but go hard at with no sense of self preservation if properly pissed off.

      Short version: I stab the softest most ouchy places someone thought they had guarded with the cunning of a Slytherin while making making beastially victorious noises and not running but walking away?

      • Lex, you’re speaking my language here. I’ve got some hesitations with sorting hat and it being used as a general sociological sorting system–the whole matter of taking it out of the context of school-spirit propaganda/learning modes for eleven-year-olds tool within a specifically historically British prep-school environment messes things up in trying to give it broad application, and then there’s the whole vague issue of whether or not four-temperaments systems are cultural appropriations of four-elements/four-humors systems–but if I’m fucking with sorting hat, the worst parts of my personality definitely fall somewhere in that general Dark Triad of being too Gryffindor not to want to Win, too Ravenclaw not to want to do it by infallibly outsmarting everyone, and too Slytherin not to want to make that winning outsmarting jab really hurt in the process.

        • There’s a reading of the Sorting Hat that I really liked and I don’t remember who wrote it. It could be summed up as kids gets sorted according what aspects of their personality they value the most. Harry doesn’t want to be a bully would rather defend people, and Hermione highly values standing up for what’s right.

    • Homosexual, bi-romantic high femme (who goes through hard femme phases throughout the year) Slytherin. Also a Scorpio born in the year of the dragon. So basically I’m a big ball of intense.

  3. glad you handled this study which i initially pitched as an article entitled, “study reveals bisexuals are prone to sociosexual and psychopathic behavior; bisexuals wonder, ‘who snitched?'”

  4. “If female bisexuality and homosexuality were simply the result of the same underlying developmental processes, one would expect that any differences between heterosexual and bisexual women in personality or interest in casual sex would be even larger when comparing heterosexual and lesbian women.”

    ….or they’re treated very differently by society which leads them to view themselves and their sexuality in very different ways thereby shaping their own attitudes towards sex? Dear God not everything had a biological cause.

    • Exactly. I was thinking similar things.

      I was also thinking about how 22 year old baby-bi me would answer those questions – when I was self-consciously cultivating a jaded, been there, done that, would do you type attitude about sex (which is completely laughable to me now – I was so, so young and so, so not worldly).

      And bi women are culturally seen as bad girl types, more sexually available than straight women or lesbians, and also more likely to kill or betray their male lovers (according to useful bi documentaries like Basic Instinct and Wild Things)

  5. Bisexual Slytherin psychologist here with two cents to share!

    I’m glad to see coverage of studies like this (whether they are good or bad), so thanks for featuring this!

    Honestly the big issue with this study is that the sample sizes for bi women are an embarrassment. They can’t possibly be getting statistical significance or good effect sizes with less than 30 people in those groups, so already this is several yellow flags.

    People might also be interested to know what this study, being an Evolutionary Psych piece, is likely looking to support the idea that bisexuality in women is a means to an end (the means being women and the ends being men). So when they refer to different processes, they’re working from the assumption that bisexuality increases reproductive success while lesbianism doesn’t (in the very cishetero sense). Personally as a social psychologist with a focus on sexuality I find it all quite suspect, and robust debate surrounds it.

    Also, as a more niche critique, I’d bet cold hard cash that women who score high on this Dark Triad rating may not be acting on their “Machiavellian tendencies”. Because this survey is assessing people’s thoughts and attitudes, not the extent to which they can say ” I did totally stab a friend in the back last Tuesday, why do you ask?”. This is a sort of “self-concept vs behavior” measurement problem that troubles all of personality indexing though.

  6. Where do you fall on the kinsey scale if you’re a nonbinary person who is mostly interested in women and other enbys and veeeery occasionally men? I feel like a 5 would indicate equal interest in men and women, which.. no. A four or five would indicate to them that I’m a mostly but not entirely a lesbian. Also no. Seems like a tool that’s only useful if you’re cis and only into cis people. Blah!

  7. Laura, you are amazing and I love reading your articles! It’s great how you take apart a garbage study and put some really thoughtful analysis into it. Here’s hoping for some better queer research.

  8. Dark Triad.Lovely.

    As a trans woman I tend to keep an eye on what those wise and learned with the syllable ‘ psych’ in their titles do for the betterment of man(!)kind. Evolutionary psychology, well well …

    From my neck of the woods the Dark Triad looks like this:

    Psychopathology: for me this is a given, anyway. Being a woman is a personality disorder, so everything I do, my very existence is crazy and a symptom of craziness ( we still have gatekeeping here). As for the details: Autogynephilia, anyone? Maybe you think paraphilia do not concern you, my dear lesbian and bisexual half sisters … it might be worthwhile to check the DSM-5, and, for the inquisitive, who was the chair of the paraphilia commission. Just saying. More important: it may happen that you may get hurt for liking or even loving women. Badly. Repeatedly. Regularly. But, if you experience a personal crisis because of that …you are ‘ mentally ill!’ And then they ‘ help’ you …it is all your fault, you know, why are you not normal?

    Narcissm: I may be wrong but I believe this is Freud. The man for whom women in a natural state are domesticated animals. Totem and taboo. Penis envy. I believe nowadays they mean by narcissm that you may, in despite of everything society throws at you for what you are you may still achieve self- love. This is crazy.

    Machiavallism: this is my favourite. As a cultural historian I absolutely love it when these people rip historical phenomena out of their context, fail to understand them and use them to psychopathologize people. In this case, hilariously, they mimick the ravings of theologians against what was then an attempt to develop a rational theory of what we call politics. But of course they must do this. Accepting the historicity of sex, gender, desire would crush their authority. They must naturalize, essentialize, anthropologize. Hint: do not let them. In this context here,’ Machiavellism’ probably means developing survival traits. You may … well …actually develop the tendency to fight tooth and nail by whichever means for your own survival and your sisters’, you may even have the audacity to fight for a respite, safety,even joy. If you succeed this is Machiavellism. The Italian diplomat as the patron of trans feminist solidarity. Oh I love it so much …

    The Dark Triad is undesirable. Of course it is. Because, we may not only survive,we might actually …( hoarse whisper) win.

    Hey baby …take a walk on the wild side …

  9. I remember reading similar study few years ago assessing sociosexuality of women of different sexual orientations, only it was just 3 groups – heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual – and while overall it showed the stereotypically expected result: bisexuals had the highest score, lesbians in the middle, and straight women the most restrained, when the studied women were divided into subgroups based on their ethnicity (the study was American and the majority of participating women were white), the results were different. For example, IIRC, in that research among Asian women it was lesbians who had the lowest sociosexuality score, while among Hispanic women, lesbians were the ones the most ‘slutty’.

    And the fact that women with different cultural backgrounds experience their sexuality differently suggests those variations in straight, gay and bi women in sex drive, promiscuous behavior etc. have nothing to do with any biological factors. Social existence determines consciousness.

    In that case it’s understandable why this new study (putting aside questionable methodology) found that bisexual women who prefer MEN had high sociosexuality, but bisexual women who prefer WOMEN had the lowest score after straight women. That’s basically what bisexual women are taught about themselves by the society from the day they are born, and most importantly, the persistant stereotype about female bisexuality is de facto about the ‘bisexual who prefers men’ variation. I theorize that generally speaking, bisexual women who prefer women feel the strong need to prove the sterotypes to be untrue, while those who prefer men don’t mind it as much.

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