Tuesday, July 05, 2005

NYT on Bisexuality:

This is interesting, similar to what I have written. The article questions the existence of (real) bisexuality in men.

The study, by a team of psychologists in Chicago and Toronto, lends support to those who have long been skeptical that bisexuality is a distinct and stable sexual orientation.

People who claim bisexuality, according to these critics, are usually homosexual, but are ambivalent about their homosexuality or simply closeted. "You're either gay, straight or lying," as some gay men have put it.

In the new study, a team of psychologists directly measured genital arousal patterns in response to images of men and women. The psychologists found that men who identified themselves as bisexual were in fact exclusively aroused by either one sex or the other, usually by other men.

The study is the largest of several small reports suggesting that the estimated 1.7 percent of men who identify themselves as bisexual show physical attraction patterns that differ substantially from their professed desires.

From what I understand, the article is correct insofar as we understand "bisexuals" to be those who are fully and evenly attracted to both sex. For the male gender, they are so rare as to be perhaps nonexistent. Yet, other studies, cross-cultural evidence, and I'm sure many personal anecdotes of which we are all aware, demonstrate the existence of many men, both on the "gay" side and "straight" side, having relations with both sexes.

If simply having "relations" with both sexes -- being able to perform and enjoy it -- makes one a "bisexual," then male bisexuals, far from being non-existent or extremely rare, are rather extremely common. You see we are dealing with different understandings of "bisexuality" here.

The article claims that most people who label themselves as "bi" are really one or the other, but mainly "gay." (The article doesn't mention this:) There are men who are predominantly homosexual, who are active with both sexes, and label themselves "bi." There are also men who are predominantly heterosexual who are active with both sexes; but they most likely label themselves "straight."

Like it or not, a social stigma still comes with the gay or bi label, and most people are loathe to put that label on themselves unless they honestly feel a need to come out and join the gay or bi community. So why would a guy who is predominately homosexual label himself "bi"? Perhaps to appear at least "half-normal." But a guy who is predominantly heterosexual with some marginal bisexual tendencies wouldn't ordinarily want the "stigma" of a "bi" label. Guys don't like having their manhood questioned, which like it or not, a "gay or bi" label does.

There are some exceptions...those predominately hetero guys, who would, for political reasons, embrace the bisexual label. Kurt Cobain comes to mind.

One unexplored implication of the article: It stated that many of those who label themselves as "bi" show little if any attraction to one of the genders, suggesting a disconnect between what they are and how they label themselves; but it didn't ask whether their behavior was somewhat consistent with how they labeled themselves. In other words, do these predominantly homosexually oriented men sleep with both sexes (even if they are a lot more active with men), as their label suggests?

Again, this is something about the "male" gender -- certainly not all of us, but a good deal of men: Some guys, it seems, can (forgive me for getting a little vulgar) "get it up" for anything, even inanimate objects. These might be men who are at the tail end of the bell curve (or maybe a good part of the right half) in terms of testosterone levels and the need for sexual release.

For such a guy, even if homosexual, he could perform heterosexually, and conversely, if heterosexual, could perform homosexually. This raises the question whether those men engaging in "situational" homosexuality or "situational" heterosexuality (which I'd estimate at least 1/3 of the gay or straight population can do) are really attracted in any meaningful way to what they are having sex with, or if it's just the ability to get it up for any object and perform that is in play.


Anonymous said...

Interesting, but I think you go wrong in the last two paragraphs.

Not "the right half of the bell curve" - arousal is *not a gender specific phenomenon*. Thus the weird dissonance "straight" men feel when they see an attractive body part in isolation, then realize it was attached to a man. Arousal is purely subjective, I dare say for everyone. There's no such thing, literature to the contrary, as a two-legged source of arousal for everyone.

I agree that bisexuality equals conduct.

I would argue that the article proves that gays and homosexuals in the male half of the species _cannot be proven to exist_, as their arousal response patterns seem to be indistinguishable from those of various self-identified, presumably practicing bisexual men.

But almost no one's questioning the existence of gays, alas, or straights, more's the pity. But they should be. Sexuality is much more fluid, much less cabined, and more like a continuum for most animals than is presently understood by "most" people.

Anonymous said...

AAargh, typos that change the meaning.

CORRECTION!: "gays and HETEROsexuals cannot be proven to exist" - the original version was not at all intended, and makes me look like an idiot.

Well, thank Gods I'm an anonymous idiot.

Good post, keep it up, and I hope to read more interesting things here in the future.

Bill Ware said...

LOL, Anon, you are so funny. Just because the self reported bisexuals in the study weren't actually attracted to (aroused by) women, doesn't mean that the homosexuals in the study weren't actually attracted to (aroused by) men. They were. So your spewing nonsense.

Bill Ware said...


A revealing study, and your comments are right on, including those last paragraphs.

"This raises the question whether those men... are really attracted in any meaningful way to what they are having sex with,..."

This is what I have been mulling over lately. How do I get the point across that merely the ability to have sex with someone may have nothing to do with the idea of actually having a meaningful relationship with that person. When I say that gays and lesbians cannot form bonds of love and affection with persons of the opposite sex, that's what I'm talking about.

We have examples of some gays who married and had a family like former Governor McGreevey. He and his wife had sex, obviously, but it was never based on sexual attraction on his part, just on utility. She was just an object like a blowup doll or a pillow. How tragic for her when it all came apart to discover that she was being used in this way.

So when I hear some suggest that gays "learn" to like women and marry one, I really cringe. We surely don't need more men who treat women as objects.

Marty said...

Is this the best test you can come up with? Measuring erectile response to pornographic images????

How is anyone supposed to take that seriously?

Jon you get it right here:

If simply having "relations" with both sexes -- being able to perform and enjoy it -- makes one a "bisexual," then male bisexuals, far from being non-existent or extremely rare, are rather extremely common.

Not to mention inaminate objects...

Humans are capable of far more that Bill Ware will give them credit for. What kind of porn you like is pretty insignificant, in the grander scheme of things.

Marty said...

Bill says:

I say that gays and lesbians cannot form bonds of love and affection with persons of the opposite sex

That's what I'M talking about. You sell yourself so short Bill, and everyone else around you too. You need therapy friend, if you are so incapable of forming bonds of love and affection, simply because of someones gender!

Bill Ware said...

Marty, that's sexual love, not platonic.

Marty said...

I still say you're selling yourself short, friend.

P said...

I labelled myself as bi when I had my first man on man experience aged 27. I had no other experiences for the following 3-4 years during which I was actively dating girls and having relationships, other than a close encounter with a gay guy which I shied away from. Since that point I've just assumed that I'm not actually bi and it was just a phase I was going through. Call it late self-discovery if you will. Lately though, and I'm now in a comfortable relationship with a lady, I've had strong urges to look up MMF imagery online. It's difficult to put a label on me as I'm certainly not gay but bi seems a bit incorrect too since these urges only arise every few years. Maybe I'm just odd. Your post did make interesting reading though Jonathan.

Anonymous said...

I'd say that if someone, man or a woman is able to get pleasure from having sex with men and able to get pleasure from having sex with women then that person is bisexual.

The person could be more closely attracted to one or the other, but even then using a definition of bisexual that excludes then makes their identity (gay or straight) into a label prison. People who consider themselves gay or straight will often dismiss any feelings of sexual pleasure from the 'wrong' sex. Even if you are only very rarely attracted to one of the two sexes considering oneself bisexual is beneficial, because it doesn't put up a wall to what could be a very enjoyable experience. This is not to say that everyone should identify as bisexual. If a person really never feels attraction to one of the sexes they are not bisexual.