Bi men exist, new study says
by Liz Highleyman
A new study using improved methodology has debunked previous findings suggesting that self-identified bisexual men are not actually attracted to both men and women.
Looking at a more carefully selected study population, researchers from Northwestern University found that bi men demonstrated sexual arousal when shown explicit movies featuring both men and women.
"Although it's obvious to those of us who identify as bisexual men that we exist and that our sexual attractions are valid, this research has righted a tremendous wrong," said Ron Suresha, editor of the anthologies Bi Men: Coming Out Every Which Way and Bi Guys. "It's like an ancient myth has just disappeared and in its place we have discovered the bisexual individual."
The earlier research, conducted by Michael Bailey and colleagues at Northwestern and published in the August 2005 issue of Psychological Science, was described in a New York Times article with the provocative headline "Gay, Straight, or Lying: Bisexuality Revisited."
The study measured genital arousal patterns of 101 self-identified gay, straight, and bisexual men as they watched film clips showing sex between two men or between two women.
"In general, bisexual class=highlight>men did not have strong genital arousal to both male and female sexual stimuli," the researchers reported. "Rather, most class=highlight>bisexual men appeared homosexual with respect to genital arousal, although some appeared heterosexual ...with respect to sexual arousal and attraction, it remains to be shown that male bisexuality exists."
"I'm not denying that bisexual behavior exists," Bailey told the media at the time, "but I am saying that in men there's no hint that true bisexual arousal exists."
Previous research by Bailey's team found that most women who identified as bisexual – as well as many who identified as straight or lesbian – demonstrated genital arousal in response to images of both women and men.
Bailey has also come under fire from the transgender community for claiming that transsexual women are either extremely effeminate gay men or fetishists who are sexually aroused by the image of themselves as women.
In the wake of widespread criticism of the earlier findings by the bisexual community and many sexual scientists, the American Institute of Bisexuality funded Bailey to conduct another study to clarify the results.
The new study, published in the July 16 online edition of Biological Psychology and described in the July 23 issue of the New York Times, used more stringent criteria for selecting participants.
Instead of recruiting mainly through gay and alternative publications as before, the researchers used online sites specifically targeting bisexuals. In addition, participants were required to have had sex with at least two men and two women, as well as a romantic relationship with at least one of each.
As in the earlier study, 100 participants – evenly divided among gay, straight, and bisexual – watched erotic films featuring sex between men or between women.
"Bisexual class=highlight>men in the present study demonstrated class=highlight>bisexual patterns of both subjective and genital arousal," the researchers wrote. "It remains unclear which pattern is most typical of contemporary bisexual men."
The researchers noted that some men who identify as bisexual are sexually aroused by both sexes but considerably more so by one than the other, and that arousal patterns may fluctuate over time.
While some bisexuals and their allies have praised the new research, others are critical of the latest study, and in particular the idea that measuring blood flow to the penis while watching pornography is an appropriate way to determine arousal.
"This unfortunately reduces sexuality and relationships to just sexual stimulation," Ellyn Ruthstrom, president of the Boston-based Bisexual Resource Center, said in the Times class=bodytextheaders> article. "Researchers want to fit bi attraction into a little box ...That's nonsense."
"I won't be waving this study in anyone's face," longtime Bay Area bi activist Thomas Leavitt told the Bay Area Reporter . "I regard the entire basis of this study, and the original one, to be pernicious. It is an insult to reduce bi male identity and sexuality to the question of whether or not our dicks twitch when we are confronted with porn."
"While it is commendable that this study has eliminated the scientific rationale used by folks like Dan Savage to deny the very existence of bisexual men," Leavitt continued, "the rampant biphobia expressed in various online forums in response to this study demonstrates that there is still a long way to go before those of us who live in the vast space between 100 percent heterosexual and 100 percent homosexual are accepted for who we are."
Savage, a relationship advice columnist, has argued that many, if not most, men – especially young men – who say they are bisexual are at an intermediate stage before coming out as gay.
"[O]nce researchers controlled for the young-and-temporarily-bi-identified and the gay-and-kidding-themselves-about-being-bi ... they were able to demonstrate that bisexual arousal patterns actually exist," Savage wrote in a column discussing Bailey's latest findings.
Asked about the implications of the study, bi author Suresha told the B.A.R., "What I really hope is that this new study – combined with another recent survey indicating that many more people identify as bisexual than homosexual – will send a message to national GLBTQ groups that they need to immediately start to include bisexuals at all levels of their organizations. And I think maybe we should start putting the B in GLBTQ first for a change."