by Dan Savage
on Tue, Aug 16, 2011 at 2:00 PM
I get in big trouble when I say things like this:
Some men who have had sexual experiences with both men and women identify as bisexual. However, there is a long history of skepticism about whether these men also have substantial sexual attraction toward both sexes (Krafft-Ebing, 1886; Freund, 1974). In part, this uncertainty exists because it is common for self-identified homosexual men to have first identified as bisexual, despite later professing they were never genuinely attracted to women (Rosario et al., 2006). Similarly, some bisexual men appear to have exclusively homosexual attractions, but identify as bisexual for reasons of perceived social acceptability (Stokes et al., 1997).
I'm one of those "self-identified homosexual men" who once identified as bisexual—in my teens, very briefly—and consequently I feel a certain degree of skepticism (usually unexpressed) when I meet a bi-identified teenage boy. (Which makes me Gaydolph Hitler, according to some bisexual activists lurking in the comments thread on my piece in this year's Queer Issue.) And when gay guys bitch about men who demonstrate "exclusively homosexual attractions" but who nevertheless identify as bi (because it makes them feel superior and/or more masculine)—even if the gay guys doing the bitching are careful not to cite these halfclosetedcases as evidence that there's no such thing as legit bisexual men—bisexual activists screams bloody murder. Because the failure to accept without question the professed sexual identities of all bi guys everywhere—even if this bi guy is still a kid, even if that bi guy doesn't seem to be interested in women at all—is bigoted and biphobic.
Sex researchers have contributed to the skepticism about the existence of male bisexuality. More than one study found that while guys who self-identified as bi might claim to be aroused by erotic images of both gay and straight sex, their dicks told different stories. Bi guys in labs told researchers that they were equally aroused while they watched gay and straight porn but it was gay porn—and only gay porn—that made their dicks hard. (And, yes, they wired up their dicks and measured 'em during these experiments.) Pointing to these men's exclusively gay "genital arousal patterns," researchers theorized that male bisexuality, unlike female bisexuality, was rare and/or nonexistent.
But here's the lovely thing about science: what science gets wrong, more science sets right. It turns out that previous studies of bi guys didn't adequately control for the young-and-temporarily-bi-identified or the gay-and-kidding-themselves-about-being-bi. Back to the brand new study that I quoted from earlier in this post:
Past research not finding bisexual genital arousal patterns among bisexual men may have been affected by recruitment techniques. For example, bisexual men in those studies needed only to identify as bisexual and to self-report bisexual attractions (e.g., Rieger et al., 2005). Thus, the bisexual samples of previous studies may have been populated by men who had never or rarely behaved bisexually and perhaps identified as bisexual for reasons other than strong arousal to both sexes.... Additionally, bisexual participants in past studies were partly or exclusively recruited from the gay community. For example, the bisexual sample of Tollison et al. (1979) was recruited from a university gay student union. Thus, past studies may have unintentionally oversampled bisexual-identified men with homosexual arousal patterns.
More than half the bi-identified guys recruited for this study were turned away because—I'm reading between the lines here—researchers didn't believe these guys when they claimed to be bi:
Another important difference between our study and past studies is that ours recruited bisexual men from a source likely to be frequented by men with bisexual erotic interests. Despite our relatively stringent inclusion criteria, about half (53.2%) of the bisexual men who approached us were eligible for inclusion.
How's this for irony: once researchers controlled for the young-and-temporarily-bi-identified and the gay-and-kidding-themselves-about-being-bi—once researchers refused to accept without question the professed sexual identities of the bi-identified men they recruited, once researchers acted like biphobes and bigots—they were able to demonstrate that "bisexual arousal patterns" actually exist:
On average, the bisexual men in our sample had distinctly bisexual patterns of both genital and subjective arousal.... It appears that some men may identify as bisexual because they are sexually aroused by both sexes, even if they experience considerably more arousal to one sex than the other. Alternatively, men with bisexual arousal patterns may experience temporal fluctuations in their attractions and arousal to men and to women. Thus, a bisexual man may be more aroused by male stimuli at one time point but by female stimuli at another time point. Further, his arousal to his less arousing sex may vary in magnitude depending on fluctuations in his attractions to that sex at any given time.
The current study establishes that some bisexual men have bisexual arousal patterns. Accepting the centrality of sexual arousal patterns in understanding male sexual orientation (Bailey, 2009), this suggests that indeed, some men have a bisexual orientation.
You can download a PDF of this study by clicking here. Print free to print out a copy and wave it in the faces of any gays or straights who claims that bi guys don't exist and any bi guys who insist that it's a crime against humanity to point out that some bi-identified guys are lying.
Another interesting note: the author of one of those studies that cast doubt on the existence of bisexual men—Northwestern University's Michael Bailey—co-authored this study. Bailey is essentially debunking Bailey here. And that, my friends, is the difference between science and faith. In the words of Tim Minchin: "Science adjusts its beliefs based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved."