[Paleopsych] NYT: Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited

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Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited


    Some people are attracted to women; some are attracted to men. And
    some, if Sigmund Freud, Dr. Alfred Kinsey and millions of
    self-described bisexuals are to be believed, are drawn to both sexes.

    But a new study casts doubt on whether true bisexuality exists, at
    least 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.

    "Research on sexual orientation has been based almost entirely on
    self-reports, and this is one of the few good studies using
    physiological measures," said Dr. Lisa Diamond, an associate professor
    of psychology and gender identity at the University of Utah, who was
    not involved in the study.

    The discrepancy between what is happening in people's minds and what
    is going on in their bodies, she said, presents a puzzle "that the
    field now has to crack, and it raises this question about what we mean
    when we talk about desire."

    "We have assumed that everyone means the same thing," she added, "but
    here we have evidence that that is not the case."

    Several other researchers who have seen the study, scheduled to be
    published in the journal Psychological Science, said it would need to
    be repeated with larger numbers of bisexual men before clear
    conclusions could be drawn.

    Bisexual desires are sometimes transient and they are still poorly
    understood. Men and women also appear to differ in the frequency of
    bisexual attractions. "The last thing you want," said Dr. Randall
    Sell, an assistant professor of clinical socio-medical sciences at
    Columbia University, "is for some therapists to see this study and
    start telling bisexual people that they're wrong, that they're really
    on their way to homosexuality."

    He added, "We don't know nearly enough about sexual orientation and
    identity" to jump to these conclusions.

    In the experiment, psychologists at Northwestern University and the
    Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto used advertisements
    in gay and alternative newspapers to recruit 101 young adult men.
    Thirty-three of the men identified themselves as bisexual, 30 as
    straight and 38 as homosexual.

    The researchers asked the men about their sexual desires and rated
    them on a scale from 0 to 6 on sexual orientation, with 0 to 1
    indicating heterosexuality, and 5 to 6 indicating homosexuality.
    Bisexuality was measured by scores in the middle range.

    Seated alone in a laboratory room, the men then watched a series of
    erotic movies, some involving only women, others involving only men.

    Using a sensor to monitor sexual arousal, the researchers found what
    they expected: gay men showed arousal to images of men and little
    arousal to images of women, and heterosexual men showed arousal to
    women but not to men.

    But the men in the study who described themselves as bisexual did not
    have patterns of arousal that were consistent with their stated
    attraction to men and to women. Instead, about three-quarters of the
    group had arousal patterns identical to those of gay men; the rest
    were indistinguishable from heterosexuals.

    "Regardless of whether the men were gay, straight or bisexual, they
    showed about four times more arousal" to one sex or the other, said
    Gerulf Rieger, a graduate psychology student at Northwestern and the
    study's lead author.

    Although about a third of the men in each group showed no significant
    arousal watching the movies, their lack of response did not change the
    overall findings, Mr. Rieger said.

    Since at least the middle of the 19th century, behavioral scientists
    have noted bisexual attraction in men and women and debated its place
    in the development of sexual identity. Some experts, like Freud,
    concluded that humans are naturally bisexual. In his landmark sex
    surveys of the 1940's, Dr. Alfred Kinsey found many married, publicly
    heterosexual men who reported having had sex with other men.

    "Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and
    homosexual," Dr. Kinsey wrote. "The world is not to be divided into
    sheep and goats."

    By the 1990's, Newsweek had featured bisexuality on its cover,
    bisexuals had formed advocacy groups and television series like "Sex
    and the City" had begun exploring bisexual themes.

    Yet researchers were unable to produce direct evidence of bisexual
    arousal patterns in men, said Dr. J. Michael Bailey, a professor of
    psychology at Northwestern and the new study's senior author.

    A 1979 study of 30 men found that those who identified themselves as
    bisexuals were indistinguishable from homosexuals on measures of
    arousal. Studies of gay and bisexual men in the 1990's showed that the
    two groups reported similar numbers of male sexual partners and risky
    sexual encounters. And a 1994 survey by The Advocate, the gay-oriented
    newsmagazine, found that, before identifying themselves as gay, 40
    percent of gay men had described themselves as bisexual.

    "I'm not denying that bisexual behavior exists," said Dr. Bailey, "but
    I am saying that in men there's no hint that true bisexual arousal
    exists, and that for men arousal is orientation."

    But other researchers - and some self-identified bisexuals - say that
    the technique used in the study to measure genital arousal is too
    crude to capture the richness - erotic sensations, affection,
    admiration - that constitutes sexual attraction.

    Social and emotional attraction are very important elements in
    bisexual attraction, said Dr. Fritz Klein, a sex researcher and the
    author of "The Bisexual Option."

    "To claim on the basis of this study that there's no such thing as
    male bisexuality is overstepping, it seems to me," said Dr. Gilbert
    Herdt, director of the National Sexuality Resource Center in San
    Francisco. "It may be that there is a lot less true male bisexuality
    than we think, but if that's true then why in the world are there so
    many movies, novels and TV shows that have this as a theme - is it
    collective fantasy, merely a projection? I don't think so."

    John Campbell, 36, a Web designer in Orange County, Calif., who
    describes himself as bisexual, also said he was skeptical of the

    Mr. Campbell said he had been strongly attracted to both sexes since
    he was sexually aware, although all his long-term relationships had
    been with women. "In my case I have been accused of being
    heterosexual, but I also feel a need for sex with men," he said.

    Mr. Campbell rated his erotic attraction to men and women as about
    50-50, but his emotional attraction, he said, was 90 to 10 in favor of
    women. "With men I can get aroused, I just don't feel the fireworks
    like I do with women," he said.

    About 1.5 percent of American women identify themselves bisexual. And
    bisexuality appears easier to demonstrate in the female sex. A study
    published last November by the same team of Canadian and American
    researchers, for example, found that most women who said they were
    bisexual showed arousal to men and to women.

    Although only a small number of women identify themselves as bisexual,
    Dr. Bailey said, bisexual arousal may for them in fact be the norm.

    Researchers have little sense yet of how these differences may affect
    behavior, or sexual identity. In the mid-1990's, Dr. Diamond recruited
    a group of 90 women at gay pride parades, academic conferences on
    gender issues and other venues. About half of the women called
    themselves lesbians, a third identified as bisexual and the rest
    claimed no sexual orientation. In follow-up interviews over the last
    10 years, Dr. Diamond has found that most of these women have had
    relationships both with men and women.

    "Most of them seem to lean one way or the other, but that doesn't
    preclude them from having a relationship with the nonpreferred sex,"
    she said. "You may be mostly interested in women but, hey, the guy who
    delivers the pizza is really hot, and what are you going to do?"

    "There's a whole lot of movement and flexibility," Dr. Diamond added.
    "The fact is, we have very little research in this area, and a lot to

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