Story at a glance
- Despite the long history of LGBTQ+ people and culture, scientific research on non-hetero sexualities is minimal.
- A new analysis combines eight prior studies to challenge previous studies purporting male bisexuality doesn’t exist.
- Biphobia both inside and outside of the LBGTQ+ community often denies the legitimacy of bisexuality.
You might have heard it before, or worse, said it. “Bisexuality is just a stop on the way to homosexuality.” Or “you’re just confused,” and even “pick a side.”
Biphobia doesn’t only take the form of active hate or discrimination against bisexual people, but also a denial of bisexuality as a genuine sexual orientation, especially for men. But new research shows that there is ample evidence of bisexual orientations among men.
“Highly robust results showed that bisexual-identified men’s genital and subjective arousal patterns were more bisexual than were those who identified as exclusively heterosexual or homosexual. These findings support the view that male sexual orientation contains a range, from heterosexuality, to bisexuality, to homosexuality,” concluded the study published July 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) journal by a team of American and British researchers.
One of the authors, J. Michael Bailey, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, was an author of a controversial study 15 years ago that failed to detect a distinct pattern of genital sexual arousal in relation among bisexual men and concluded that male bisexuality instead represented “a style of interpreting or reporting sexual arousal.”
“I’m not denying that bisexual behavior exists, but I am saying that in men there’s no hint that true bisexual arousal exists, and that for men arousal is orientation,” Bailey told the New York Times at the time.
Not only did the study provide fodder for those who insisted that male bisexuality did not exist, but it also contradicted the popular understanding of the Kinsey Scale, which posits that sexuality is a sliding scale, from homosexual to heterosexual, rather than one or the other.
“Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual,” Alfred Kinsey, who developed the theory, said. “The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats.”
This latest analysis examines nearly all previously published data from eight previous studies in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, including a sample of 474 to 588 men. And while it notes that some studies did not find genital arousal patterns to suggest bisexuality, bisexual-identified men self-reported subjective arousal to both men and women.
“Previous research may have not employed sufficiently rigorous statistical tests, further complicating the question of whether bisexual-identified men show bisexual physiological arousal patterns,” the study said.
But after considering the limitations and potential errors in previous studies, as well as the context provided by since-published research, researchers concluded, “We have demonstrated that both genital and self-reported sexual arousal to male and female erotic stimuli form a gradient over the Kinsey scale, regardless of their underlying causes.”
Still, bisexual men and women continue to battle stigma about their sexuality and behavior that can be debilitating. A 2017 study by American University researchers found that bisexual people are especially at risk for poor mental health outcomes and minority stressors, such as discrimination, compared to heterosexual as well as lesbian and gay individuals.
“Bisexual people face double discrimination in multiple settings — bisexual people are often invisible, rejected, invalidated [and] stigmatized in the heterosexual community as well as the traditional LGBTQ communities,” Ethan Mereish, an assistant professor at American University and the study’s lead author, told NBC News. “Given that isolation and discrimination, bi people might be experiencing increase factors that might make them more lonely or isolated.”
Matthew Facciani, a post-doctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University, said on Twitter that he faces biphobia from both heterosexual and homosexual people.
I rarely share personal stuff on Twitter, but after seeing this “do bisexual men exist” study, I felt like sharing a few experiences I’ve had as a bisexual man. pic.twitter.com/gaGIWCSzdF
— Matthew Facciani, PhD (@MatthewFacciani) July 22, 2020
“While on some level it’s nice that study provides evidence that bisexuals exist, I just wish there was more conversation about correcting the stereotypes and biphobia that bisexuals frequently encounter,” he said.
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