Bisexuality Is Mootable: Questionable Findings (Micro) & Useless Sex Research (Macro)

Even before I got a chance to read the piece on the train ride home last night, I had no idea the NY Times Science section’s story entitled Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited, would have caused the seams of e-mail’s inbox to bust apart with the outraged opinions of self-identified bisexuals. The findings & conclusions of a yet unpublished study in Psychological Science by a team of researchers in Chicago & Toronto are as follows:

[ul][li]The estimated 1.7 percent of men who identify themselves as bisexual show physical attraction patterns that differ substantially from their professed desires.[]Regardless of whether the men were gay, straight or bisexual, they showed about four times more arousal to one sex or the other[]In men there’s no hint that true bisexual arousal exists, and that for men arousal is orientationAlthough only a small number of women identify themselves as bisexual…bisexual arousal may for them in fact be the norm[/ul][/li][/quote]
Those conclusions were drawn using the following methodology:

[ol][li]Psychologists used advertisements in gay and alternative newspapers to recruit 101 young adult men.[]Thirty-three of the men identified themselves as bisexual, 30 as straight and 38 as homosexual.[]The researchers asked the men about their sexual desires and rated them on a scale from 0 to 6 on sexual orientation, with 0 to 1 indicating heterosexuality, and 5 to 6 indicating homosexuality. Bisexuality was measured by scores in the middle range.[]Seated alone in a laboratory room, the men then watched a series of erotic movies, some involving only women, others involving only men.[]Using a sensor to monitor sexual arousal, the researchers found[LIST=a][]Gay men showed arousal to images of men and little arousal to images of women[]Heterosexual men showed arousal to women but not to menBisexuals 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[/ol][/list][/li][/quote]
Though I’ll concede the point that laymen debating the findings or conclusions of an unreleased study based on one newpaper’s summary can be a trainwreck in the making, I think there are some interesting reactions and questions that do arise. Good science shouldn’t care who it offends and only seek truth, and based on some of the venomous sentiments I read in my afore mentioned e-mail box this morning, I can safely assume the study’s authors, at a minimum, succeeded in that

I have to admit, as I read those sentiments earlier today, my first reaction was, Thou dost protesteth too much. But as I give more thought to this specific study - and sexual research in general - at least two far more essential questions come to mind:Will we ever get past Kinsey’s ridiculous, sixty year old sheeps and goats analogies and sliding sexual arousal scales? Though I don’t buy into either the ‘everyone is bisexual’ or ‘no one is bisexual’ theories I often hear espoused, from my perspective, there as many unique sexuality types as there are people.

Sociology aside, what benefits result from group studies of human sexuality? How does categorizing individuals into groups productive? I fail to see how any study that attempts to pigeon-hole people into this segement or that has any relative value in the field of psychology.

If I remember rightly, the article itself says at the end that the researchers are very careful about drawing too broad of conclusions from this. They were saying that this data doesn’t prove or disprove anything; it’s more just a new data point to think about. They also remarked that sexuality is a much more complicated thing than just pure physical reaction. Some people will get up in arms over anything. Considering the average person’s views on homosexuality and bisexuality, I don’t blame them for being quickly offended, but I do think that the article (obviously I haven’t read the actual journal article yet) was pretty even handed.

I think people tend to categorize themselves pretty well. We don’t need psychology studies to do it for us but it seems natural for us to have these groupings confirmed through science (good or bad). It helps us explain/understand, to some degree, why we are the way we are.

Just to clarify, any and all sentiments that called into question the study’s assertions by Gerulf Rieger’s & Dr. J. Michael Bailey that

came from researchers that were not part of the study (namely Dr. Lisa Diamond, Dr. Randall Sell and Dr. Fritz Klein). The summary in the Times is quite ‘even handed’, but the findings quoted in the article from the researchers in Chicago & Toronto don’t appear to be. The skeptic in me sees the following:

(1) Study concludes ‘A’
(2) Peers call into question said findings and call for more research
(3) The general public asks, what else could one expect from researchers?

But more importantly, I’ll ask again, what purpose does research like this have and what practical uses result from it?

A lot of equal protection caselaw(discrimination law mainly) focuses on if the characteristic of the people being discriminated against is “immutable”. If sexuality is something which is a matter of choice then laws can be made which disproportionately affect a group of one orientation and still withstand judicial review. If it is something people have no control over then it is harder to justify singling them out via laws over an aspect of their person which they have no control over.

The question of if sexual orientation is mutable, and which values it can take on, is highly relevant when equal protection statutes are being crafted or reviewed.


I don’t know what kind of answer you are looking for here. I think it’s research in quest of better understanding of human (sexual) behaviour. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge. The fact that the legal/judicial system can make good use of this research is somewhat encouraging. I’m hoping the porn industry is taking notes as well, cuz they can do with some pretty reliable market research.

I don’t buy that at all. Your religious beliefs are largely a matter of choice (though it is a choice strongly influenced by your family and social environment). Just because you choose to be Baptist, or Sunni, or Taoist, or atheist, does not mean that your choice should not be protected. Smiliarly, if I choose to be bi, or gay, or straight, or asexual, rather than being born that way, why shouldn’t my choice be protected?

Religious choices are protected under the First Amendment. Were it not for the First Amendment then the government could in fact create laws which disproportionately affect those who make certain religious choices without running afoul of Equal Protection.


Yes, that’s what is protected under US law (and isn’t protected under some other laws, e.g. those of China or of Saudi Arabia). And sexual preference is not protected that way under US law (and is protected under some other laws, e.g. those of Australia). But isn’t the argument here what ought to be protected by law?

This is also problematic for bisexual people because a certain percentage of the population (I have no hard numbers, only anecdotal data) don’t want to believe we exist. Some people think bisexuals just want to “experiment” but are really straight; some believe that bisexuals are really gay or lesbian, but aren’t willing to come all the way out of the closet.

It’s not easy being somewhere on the middle of the scale as it is; it’s bad enough for me as a bi-woman. I can’t imagine what it’s like being a bi-male. And studies like this, with their incredibly limited and self-selected research group, really don’t help with any of that.

That said, I agree with this statement by the OP:

No, just if this, or similar, research has any applicability. Such studies may form an important part of a legal arguement for anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation.


Hmm. So I don’t exist now? That’s certainly… interesting. In my own experience, my attraction tends to slide along the scale pretty frequently, very rarely centered neatly in the middle. Thus, my arousal pattern at this time may not be the same as my arousal pattern tommorow. I really can’t be too bothered by what scientists claim to be true if it doesn’t hold to the basic reality and observations of my life.

Reality: I have dated both men and women.
Reality: I have become aroused by both men and women (both in porn and in life)
Reality: I have no reason for hiding behind the title. I get more grief as a self-identified bisexual than I ever did as a self-identified gay man.
Reality: My orientation is out of my control. I can not change who I find attractive, though, when not focused onto one person, it does shift from day to day.

That’s been my experience. Maybe I’m alone in this, but such is a description of my life.

I took the thrust of the study somewhat differently (no smart remarks, plz)

viz:there is a gap between declared identification and biololgical verification.
(This seems counterintuitive, "cause you would think that people know what turns them on.)

This finding probably is more robust than appears on the surface, since we may assume that those for whom the methodology of sphlenography informed arousal indexing failed because the arousing media lacked production value would distrtibute equally over the sample.

Disclaimer:I must confess, withal, that I have always found myself in the camp of those hopeless degenerates who applaud and cherish female bisexuality even as I have doubted the existence of male bisexuality. While intellectually inconsistent, it nonetheless makes for a rich fantasy life.
(ed note:Bob Guccione must have been the principal researcher on this project…)

So let’s see, they feel quite comfortable making the following assumptions:

[li]Everyone is either male or female.[/li]
[li]A person who is attracted to, for example, males, will be attracted to ALL males, so they’ll definitely be attracted to the ones in these photographs we happen to have right here.[/li]
[li]A person who is attracted to, for example, females, will necessarily be sexually aroused by (random) pictures of (random) females.[/li]
[li]A person who is attracted to another person always displays this by overt genital arousal. If a person, under any circumstances, does not become genitally aroused by viewing a photograph of some random person of a particular gender, that means they are never attracted to people of that gender.[/li]
[li]A sample size of 33 American men who identify as bi has, in fact, got a hope in hell of demonstrating anything interesting whatsoever about bisexuality in the male population at large.[/ul][/li]
I think I’ll be taking this one with a grain of salt, thanks.

I’ve heard it claimed, though citelessly, that one of the researchers has also attempted to demonstrate that transsexuals don’t exist either and that all women are bisexual.

by “don’t exist” what is meant? That tranxsexuals are an optical illusion, a mirage? There they are. I forget the stats, but a strikingly (to me, anyway) high number of babies are truly hermaphrodite.

My cousin had the operation after 39 years as a man (he is still with the same chick, btw, which I think says cool things about them both.)

I’m pretty sure it was not a frivolous choice, like “what shall I wear for halloween this year, the gown or the pirate suit…”

Here’s a cite for the transsexuals-don’t-exist claim. (Part of a huge complex of pages about this guy, from what I can tell.) A link includes a set of nine formal complaints about his research methods.

If rumors flying around the blogshere are to be believed, shame on me - and the NYT - for giving any credence to this study. It’ll be interesting to see if any of the following items are unsubstantiated hearsay or character assasination. According to info popping up on the net, Dr. J. Michael Bailey’s[ul][]Been linked to a racist, neo-eugenics movement called the Human Biodiversity Institute by the Southern Poverty Law Center[]More silly and offensive comments include: most transexuals are “especially motivated” to shoplift and “especially suited to prostitution.”[]Claims if it became possible to genetically identify a fetus as “gay” and a parent chose to abort because they wanted a straight child, this would be “morally neutral” & that he’s not anti-gay, just “pro-parental liberty.”[]Lost his chairmanship of the psychology dept. at Northwestern just last year because of ethics charges related to earlier research.[/ul]

Um, am I the only one who thinks that there should have been a third tape of a man & a woman together? This study seems incomplete…

As a wise woman once said:

Here are a few more links about this guy:

AmericaBlog summarises his background.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, including quotes and references.