Monday, August 15, 2005

Does Bisexuality Exist?

The topic of bisexuality is one we tend to gloss over. It is thrown in with gay and straight, just because we know that some people have sex both ways. And the "ex-gay" thing relies on the assumption that gay men can manage to have sex with women. (It's probably like, "think about baseball ... players.")

This article in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel reports on some research that looked for bisexuality -- and couldn't find it. I'll quote some of the fluffy stuff at the top of the story, just because it is kind of well-written and interesting.
BY FAYE FLAM (Knight Ridder Newspapers)

(KRT) - It's been a year since former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey came out of the closet, and I'm still wondering how he could be gay without either of his wives knowing. Wouldn't he at least have to be bisexual to have pulled that off?

And then came the even more baffling news from writer Terry McMillan that her soon-to-be-ex-husband is gay. The man inspired her 1996 best-seller, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." Wasn't the groove partly about sex? Is this man gay or bisexual?

Research on bisexuality is sparse, but a few intrepid scientists have tried to get data by wiring up a group of gay, bisexual and straight men to a machine that monitored their arousal when exposed to erotic images of men and women. The researchers found that, while some of their subjects called themselves bisexual, their male anatomy showed a notable preference for one sex or the other. That led to headlines proclaiming that bisexual men don't exist. Testing for bisexuals: A study that found none

Well, of course, you can't test a couple of hundred guys and then say that something "doesn't exist." But, still, a third of these research subjects reported themselves to be bisexual... and weren't. Well, let's read on:
But such a proclamation would seem to depend on how you define bisexual. Does a person have to be absolutely equally attracted to both sexes? If you like both but prefer one, do you qualify? Scientists don't know. What they do know from tracking the spread of HIV is that a number of men who have sex with men also have sex with women. A report from the Centers for Disease Control notes that 13 percent of white men who reported sex with other men also had sex with women. Among black men it was 34 percent, and among Hispanic men, 26 percent. Men can and do go both ways.

"This is something we don't quite understand," says Gerulf Rieger, a psychology graduate student at Northwestern University and lead author of the study. Rieger, who told me he's gay, said he, too, is a bit baffled by the way other gay men manage to marry women.

In his study, he didn't see evidence for "bisexual arousal" among the 101 paid volunteers, recruited using alternative weeklies and gay publications. Of those, 38 identified themselves as gay, 33 as bisexual and 30 as straight. The researchers showed the men short films: one with two women having sex, one with two men having sex. They used lesbian sex because previous research showed it is more exciting to heterosexual men than male-female pornography.

(Uh, guys, that makes some kind of sense, right?)
But what really surprised Rieger was that some of those who identified as bisexual liked the women much more than the men. In that sense they reacted like the straight men. Why would a heterosexual man pose as bisexual?

"Maybe they're very open," Rieger says. "I'm not a straight guy, so I don't know."

An article on the subject in the New York Times appeared under the headline "Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited." Rieger said the headline came from an expression often used in the gay community and was not meant to imply that bisexuals are liars, though that is what it implied. "Some might be truly confused - that's far from being a liar," he says.

But it may be the scientists who are confused. Lisa Diamond, a professor of psychology and gender identity at the University of Utah, said there's no agreed-upon definition of bisexual either in science or in society. Some people define their orientation by whom they're attracted to, others say it's whom you fall in love with that matters. "We have this delusion that we're all talking about the same thing when we talk about arousal and desire and orientation," she said.

If you're lucky, you can focus all those feelings and sensations on one person, and he/she will feel the same way about you. It's a good groove if you can get into it, but it doesn't always last.

Let's just say the case is not closed. Turns out men in this study reacted predominantly one way or the other, but also showed some reaction to the "opposite" scene. The point is, nobody responded equally to both the movies.

That is one interesting finding, though, that some guys who called themselves bisexual actually strongly preferred women, physiologically speaking. That could really be an opening for the "ex-gay" movement. Here's what ya need to do. Find those guys, hook them up with some women, and call it proof that "change is possible." If you start with a guy who prefers women in the first place, your chances of producing a heterosexual seem much higher.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a frequent reader of Vigilance, but this is my first time posting a comment.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that it doesn't matter whether bisexuality exists or not. Can't we trust individuals to be able to identify their attractions and enter into mutually fulfilling sexual relationships? If our answer is yes, then sex ed is important because it should prepare young adults to act responsibily on those attractions. That means both warning them of the dangers of various sexual practices AND giving them accurate information about controceptives.

So the two sides in this sex ed debate really shouldn't be too far apart. The problem is that the CRC people DO NOT TRUST PEOPLE to handle their attractions responsibly. They would like to instruct everyone to wait to be sexually active until they enter into an official heterosexual marriage -- which would be great if we could enforce that, but unfortunately we live in the real world. I worry that abstinence-only instruction would lead couples to marry before they are ready (so that they can finally have sex already!), which in turn would lead to more divorces and broken families, which would affect the lives of children more than anyone else. Compounding the problem with the CRC's obsession with marriage is that currently in Maryland, same-sex couples may not officially marry, which is a convenient way for the CRC to assert that no one should ever have sex with someone of their own gender because it's either premarital or adulterous.

Hmmm... Perhaps we should simply encourage young adults to make sure they know, trust, and love someone before having a sexual encounter with them. Of course, many students would not follow this advice, but it's a nice way of "setting a responsible example" without "moralizing" or being "heterosexist," and it promotes stable relationships -- whatever the gender of the people involved.

August 15, 2005 12:04 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon, thanks for commenting here. You made my day.


August 15, 2005 3:29 PM  
Blogger Kay2898 said...

Very well said Anon.

Kay R

August 15, 2005 5:10 PM  

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