Bisexuality among men is its own unique brand of identity

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture
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Bisexual individuals are often put in the position of having to defend their sexual proclivities, accused on both sides as being “on the fence” or closeted. A 2005 study at Northwestern even cast doubt whether such a thing as male bisexuality exists. Now a new study from the same university has corrected for some of the biases and oversights of the old research and says that yes, it does.

Bisexual men are not just closeted gay men – they have arousal patterns unique and distinct from those of gay and straight men. The finding is not likely to surprise bisexuals, who have long asserted that attraction often is not limited to one sex. They did not appreciate being labeled gay when they knew that subjectively, this was simply not true.

The new study, published online in the journal Biological Psychology, relies on far more stringent participant criteria. To improve their chances of finding men aroused by women as well as men, the researchers recruited subjects from online venues specifically catering to bisexuals. They also required participants to have had sexual experiences with at least two people of each sex and a romantic relationship of at least three months with at least one person of each sex.

Men in the 2005 study, on the other hand, were recruited through advertisements in gay-oriented and alternative publications and were identified as heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual based on responses to a standard questionnaire.

In both studies, men watched videos of male and female same-sex intimacy while genital sensors monitored their erectile responses. While the first study reported that the bisexuals generally resembled homosexuals in their responses, the new one finds that bisexual men responded to both the male and female videos, while gay and straight men in the study did not.

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The Northwestern study is the second one published this year to report a distinctive pattern of sexual arousal among bisexual men.

Jim Larsen, 53, a chairman of the Bisexual Organizing Project, a Minnesota-based advocacy group, said the findings could help bisexuals still struggling to accept themselves.

“It’s great that they’ve come out with affirmation that bisexuality exists,” he said. “Having said that, they’re proving what we in the community already know. It’s insulting. I think it’s unfortunate that anyone doubts an individual who says, ‘This is what I am and who I am.’ ”

Dr. Lisa Diamond, a psychology professor at the University is cautiously optimistic about the study but adds that the kind of sexual arousal tested in the studies is only one element of sexual orientation and identity. And simply interpreting results about sexual arousal is complicated, because monitoring genital response to erotic images in a laboratory setting cannot replicate an actual human interaction, she added.

“Sexual arousal is a very complicated thing,” she said. “The real phenomenon in day-to-day life is extraordinarily messy and multifactorial.”

Which is another way of saying that human sexuality and gender identity are complex, fluid and ultimately evanescent phenomena. Perhaps our pedantic obsession with sexual orientation labels is wholly misguided.

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