Bisexuals Exist

A sexual spectrum, including bisexuality, characterizes both men and women.

Posted Jul 28, 2020

 The Purple Weirdo/CC BY-SA
Source: The Purple Weirdo/CC BY-SA

My first blog post for Psychology Today offered the foundation tenet: “Sexuality and romance are on a continuum, from exclusively devoted to one sex to exclusively devoted to the other, with considerable variation in between.” That is, a spectrum of sexuality exists between heterosexuality and homosexuality, and we call the middle ground bisexuality (along with other terms such as pansexuality, fluidity, and polysexuality).

Over the last decade, researchers from my Sex & Gender lab empirically explored this issue—at first with small numbers of youths and later with large populations of young adults—using a variety of measures to assess the three primary domains of sexuality and romance: identity, behavior, and arousal (pupil dilation and genital arousal). The conclusion in a 2013 study was typical:

"These results supported the position that both sexual identity and sexual orientation exist along a continuum of varied attraction and arousal to males and females … Despite the likelihood that the sexes differ in the determinants and shape of their sexual orientation, both are distributed along a sexual continuum from exclusive heterosexuality through various levels of bisexuality (nonexclusive) to exclusive homosexuality."

Although most researchers would agree that both women and men might define themselves as bisexuals or behave bisexually, whether men can be sexually aroused by both sexes, that is, have a bisexual orientation, was contested.

Reflecting how science should work, members of the bisexual arousal naysayers joined with the cadre of bisexual arousal proponents under the leadership of clinical psychology graduate student Jeremy Jabbour. He and his 12 co-authors (I was one) put the matter to the test. Results were just published in the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, with the following conclusion:

"This controversy can be resolved using objective, genital responses of men to male and female erotic stimuli. We combined nearly all available data (from eight previous American, British, and Canadian studies) to form a dataset of more than 500 men, much larger than any previous individual study, and conducted rigorous statistical tests. Results provided compelling evidence that bisexual-identified men tend to show bisexual genital and subjective arousal patterns. Male sexual orientation is expressed on a continuum rather than dichotomously."

With these results, the researchers joined the millions of men and women who know they have a bisexual orientation, a perspective endorsed by nearly every bisexual group, organization, website, and social media outlet.

One individual particularly pleased with these results is John Sylla, chair and chief executive officer of the American Institute of Bisexuality which financially supported many of the studies included in the PNAS publication. He sadly noted the politics about the existence of bisexual men: “This shouldn’t be political or a popularity or greatest virtue contest. It should be a civil conversation, about self-correcting science getting better over time, and about what our best guesses are, based on data, is true.” The way forward is simply “more good science.”

Bottom Line

Now that science has established that bisexual identity, behavior, and arousal characterizes both sexes, we need to do the following:

  1. Stop talking about sexual categories of people (straight, bisexual, gay) and recognize what multi-attracted individuals know: Sexuality is a continuum with many nuances, names, descriptions, and actions and can be fluid over time and context.
  2. Stop measuring sexual orientation, sexual behavior, and sexual identity with three categories—especially in large-scale national studies.
  3. Start adding romantic identity, behavior, and arousal to conceptions of sexuality—as youths have been telling us for many years.
  4. Start abiding by Sylla’s clarion call—“Let’s just do science and stay away from politics, oppression Olympics, grievance studies, and the like. And just do our best to understand reality.” I would add, we can do this best if we listen to real people in real time.

References

Jabbour, J., Holmes, L., Sylva, D., Hsu, K. J., Semon, T. L., Rosenthal, A. M., Safron, A., Slettevold, E., Watts-Overall, T. M., Savin-Williams, R. C., Sylla, J., Rieger, G., & Bailey, J. M. (2020). Robust evidence for bisexual orientation among men. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117, 31. doi:10.1073/pnas.2003631117

Savin-Williams, R. C., Rieger, G., & Rosenthal, A. M. (2013). Physiological evidence for a mostly heterosexual orientation among men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 697-699. doi:10.1007/s10508-013-0093-1

John Sylla (personal communication), July 24, 2020