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.
"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 findings.
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 learn."
E-mail commentary about Bailey's new claims:
Andrea James (1)
Andrea James (2)
I was disheartened to see the Times giving credence to pseudoscientific fringe element psychologists in “Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited” by Benedict Carey on July 5. J. Michael Bailey’s recent work is based on results from a half-century old genital “lie detector” so unreliable it’s inadmissible in court, and based on the generally discredited Kinsey Scale of sexuality. Bailey’s scientifically and ethically questionable work and his tendency to jump to overreaching conclusions led to secret sanctions against him by Northwestern University last year, and he subsequently relinquished the Chair of his department.
I can’t wait for Mr. Carey’s next piece, “White, Black, or Lying: Mixed Race Revisited.” I’m sure it will be just as “scientific” and “balanced.” Bailey’s colleagues in the neo-eugenics movement can supply Mr. Carey with the “science” behind the provocative headline. They have a cottage industry built on this kind of science by press conference.
I suggest checking out Columbia Journalism Review’s “Blinded by Science” regarding the unfortunate tendency to present crackpot findings for “balance”:
could send the link to all your health and science writers and
editors to avoid this kind of pathological science from being
taken seriously in the future.
Sent: Tuesday, July 05, 2005 9:58 AM
Subject: Re: "Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisted"
Note by Lynn Conway: Robin Pinnel's similarly titled press release about Bailey's book can be found at the following link. As you'll see, "Gay, Straight or Lying" is a favorite media-alerting catch-phrase and classification scheme of Bailey's. Of course Benedict Carey didn't plaigerize it outright, but instead modified it a little bit by reversing the first two words (Gay and Straight).
From: IASR Friend
Date: Thu, 07 Jul 2005 08:51:26 -0700
Subject: Bisexuality article's timing
Dear Mr. Calame:
Since I wrote to you yesterday about “Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited” by Benedict Carey in the July 5 Health section, it has come to my attention that the timing could not have been more fortuitous for the authors. The authors’ science by press conference about a paper not yet available to read and review came just as the International Academy of Sex Research conference was beginning in Ottawa, Canada. According to a sexologist at the conference, the authors are basking in the glow of this carefully orchestrated “controversy.”
I believe this has risen to the level of a potential breach of ethics on the part of Mr. Carey. I do not make this accusation lightly. Either Mr. Carey has been unwittingly manipulated into a perfectly timed media coup akin to Clonaid or cold fusion, or he was coordinating this with the authors. I am now requesting a formal investigation into the timing of this article and will be working with media watchdog groups in uncovering how this irresponsible article managed to have such impeccable timing for those whose work is featured.
From: Loraine Hutchins (lorainehutchins AT starpower.net)
To: Bisexual Activists' Discussion List ; BiNetUSA AT yahoogroups.com
Sent: Friday, July
Subject: Coordinated LGBT Response to NYTimes & Its Ripple Effects
A number of us on these two lists, and friends with folks on these lists, just collectively experienced an historic occasion - a joint conference call of bi activists and leaders with leaders from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) to strategize about how best to coordinate responses to the offensive July 5th NYTimes piece, "Gay, Straight, or Lying."
The call was instigated by NGLTF's director, Matt Foreman, who feels really strongly that its the right time for all allies of bi people to help us educate society about the true nature of bisexuality. We pulled it together in a little over a day and it involved almost two dozen people from around the country, mostly bi, including a lot of bi men, and multiple staff from both GLAAD and the TF. As Lani said to me after the call, "This is REALLY the LGBT community working together, something we've been working for for years and years!!!"
Bottom line recommendations/conclusions of the call:
1. Keep those letters to the Times coming, get them in by the end of this weekend, Monday a.m. latest!
(See previous thing from GLAAD i forwarded or go to their site and . If you want to see an e-file copy of the original journal article by Bailey et. al., entitled "Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men," which is not yet in print, OR a draft list of talking points being rewritten for people to use and riff offa, please e-mail me privately off line and i will forward either/both to you to aid your writing this weekend).
2.Send cc's of your letters to both GLAAD ( lund AT glaad.org ) and NGLTF (rsklar AT thetaskforce.org) , as well as to this list, so that we'll all have a sense of what the Times is getting. The word is that the Times is considering running "some" letters "early this week." THE MORE THE BETTER, whether they run them or not.
3. Both GLAAD and NGLTF will develop press releases within the next few days that quote more reputable researchers and academics -- such as Paula Rust, Ron Fox, Lisa Diamond, Fritz Klein, Beth Firestein, Karl Hamner -- countering and critiquing what Bailey et. al. are claiming.
4. Longer-term: work with all of our own local press contacts to use the current furor over the Times story (and the faulty research it toots) to pressure editors of both gay and mainstream papers to write more informative op eds on bisexual people's stories. We will keep you all up to date with what we hear about this. GLAAD is working on getting a meeting(s) with various Times editors, at which NGLTF and spokespeople from the bi community can also be present, to state our case. We are developing a Talking Point Fact Sheet, a Bi Resource list, and a list of bi men and bi researchers available for media interviews. This all has the potential to make both the gay and mainstream media better educated on bisexuality, but us using it and working it and walking the walk and talking the talk will make all the difference!
It's also the perfect time to catch the wave with two new bi books just out (Bi America and Getting Bi) and two more coming (Pete Chvany & Ron Suresha's "Bi-Men: Coming Out Every Which Way" by Haworth Press later this year and Beth Firestein's new advice anthology for therapists about how to work with bi clients, forthcoming from Columbia Univ. Press, title still unknown), as well as continuous great research being published through the Journal of Bisexuality.
Let's sustain this incredible energy and keep it going!
From: Ron Suresha
Bailey study, as reported by NY Times,
demonstrates bisexual erasure:
J. Michael Bailey's 2003 book, "The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transexualism," presented case studies of transpersons so distorted and outrageous as to cost him the psychology department chairmanship at Northwestern University. Declaimed by the transgender community and the GLBTQ activist community, the Lambda Literary Foundation was forced to withdraw its award of a Lammy to "The Man Who Would Be Queen," eventually causing LLF president Jim Marks to resign.
Recently, the discredited "sexpert" J. Michael Bailey turned the focus of his distorted vision of human sexuality from transpersons to bisexual men in recently published research conducted despite strong public outreach efforts by the Chicago GLBTQ community to dissuade men from participating in Bailey's study. The study concludes that bisexual men, despite claims to bisexual identity and activity, experience a disparity of sexual attraction to one gender or another, usually favoring men. It bases this conclusion of "no true bisexuality" on the premise that sexual identity and human sexual attraction are measured merely by penile engorgement.
Astonishingly, a July 5th, 2005, NY Times article by Benedict Carey, "Straight, Bi, or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited," lends credence to Bailey's claims, ignoring many methodological problems of the research and Bailey's quite recent disgrace. Although it notes mild dissent on the issue of bisexual identity, the article carefully avoids contact with bisexual advocates to present a counterpoint.
More significantly, the Times piece made no note of a controversial article published in Stanford Law Review, "The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure,," written by esteemed Yale legal scholar Kenji Yoshino. Yoshino's 30,000-word article concludes that gays and straights ("monosexuals"), for differing yet overlapping cultural and political reasons, abide in an unspoken and unconscious agreement to "erase" bisexuals and to pretend that bisexuality doesn't exist.
Bailey's motivation to conduct questionable research on bisexual male sexual response in order to create controversy, and the NY Times unquestioning acceptance of his research without adequate response from the bisexual activist community, excellently illustrate Mr Yoshino's premise.
In today’s sexual world, the straight, gay, and lesbian communities still often refuse to accept the reality of bisexuality. My forthcoming nonfiction anthology, "Bi Men: Coming Out Every Which Way," confronts head-on the limiting views that bisexuality is a transitional phase of sexual evolution or a simple refusal to accept being either homosexual or heterosexual. This pioneering collection of moving personal essays by bisexual men and those who love them explores what it means to be bisexual in today’s monosexually oriented society. "Bi Men" refutes the denial and lies about bisexual men from gays like Michael Bailey, and perpetuated by straight mainstream media such as the New York Times.
"Bi Men: Coming Out Every Which Way," which I edited with bisexual activist Pete Chvany, is forthcoming next month (August 2005) as a double issue of the Journal of Bisexuality. Review copies are available from Haworth Press onlline. Please also visit my Website for more information.
Author, Bears on Bears: Interviews & Discussions
New London, Connecticut
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
New York Times Suggests Bisexuals Are "Lying"
Paper fails to disclose study author's controversial history
In a lead article in the New York Times' July 5 Science section, headlined, "Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited," Times writer Benedict Carey reported that an upcoming study "casts doubt on whether true bisexuality exists, at least in men." In suggesting that men who claim a bisexual sexual orientation are liars, the Times relies heavily on a single study whose senior researcher has a career marked by ethics controversies and eugenics proposals--facts that were not presented to readers.
According to the Times, the study "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 leaping to dramatic conclusions from a single study with a small population, Carey echoes the study's authors, who seem equally eager to generalize from scant evidence--and to confuse the study's assumptions with its conclusions. Carey quotes the study's senior author, J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University, who acknowledges that bisexual behavior exists, but argues that "in men there's no hint that true bisexual arousal exists, and that for men arousal is orientation."
But that arousal equals orientation seems to be assumed, not proven. The study measured men's self-identified orientation against their physical arousal while watching various kinds of pornography; bisexual men's self-identified orientation did not correspond with their physical arousal, according to the study, with some being aroused much more by on-screen men and a smaller group responding much more to on-screen women.
This finding could just as easily be read as evidence that arousal in bisexual men does *not* equal orientation--that simple measurement of arousal does not predict people's behavior or identity. But the Times reporter himself uses the phrase "true bisexuality," which suggests that people with bisexual behavior and identity might still not qualify as "true" bisexuals.
Well into Carey's piece, some cautionary or critical viewpoints were aired. None of those viewpoints, however, gave readers any hint of Bailey's controversial history. In 2001 Bailey co-authored an article that argued that, if it became possible for parents to determine the sexual orientation of their fetus, "selecting for heterosexuality seems to be morally acceptable…. Selection for heterosexuality may tangibly benefit parents, children and their families and seems to have only a slight potential for any significant harm" (Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 30, No. 4, 2001). The fact that a researcher has promoted the eugenic elimination of homosexuality would seem to be relevant background for gauging the credibility of his studies of bisexuality.
Bailey more recently came under fire for his 2003 book, "The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism," which defended the discredited theory that transsexual women are not female-gendered people born with male bodies, but "are extremely feminine gay men or are sexual fetishists who are 'erotically obsessed with the image of themselves as women'" (Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/10/04). Bailey profiled a handful of transsexual women for his book, many of whom filed complaints against him for not getting their consent to be studied (Times Higher Education Supplement, 5/28/04).
The book shares remarkable similarities to Bailey's new study on bisexuality: In both, the researcher denies people's own evaluation of their identities, suggesting that bisexuals and transgender people are lying about who they are.
In fact, the Times' headline could have been taken from the press release for Bailey's book, which was headlined, "Gay, Straight, or Lying? Science Has the Answer." A new study by the same author, peddling a very similar theory, should have been a red flag to journalists, and readers should have been informed of the author's controversial history in order for them to better evaluate the study.
When the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation asked the Times to retract its inflammatory headline, the paper argued that "gay, straight or lying" is "a commonly used phrase among many gay people" (GLAAD.org, 7/7/05). It's unclear why a derogatory stereotype about one group--bisexuals--should be more acceptable in a headline because it is attributed to another group--gay people.
ACTION: Please ask the Times' new public editor, Byron Calame, to examine the Times' report on bisexuality, particularly the lack of relevant information about the senior researcher's controversial background and the headline's suggestion that an entire sexual minority is "lying."
New York Times
Byron Calame, Public Editor
Phone: (212) 556-7652
As always, please remember that your comments have more impact if you maintain a polite tone.
Read the Times article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/05/health/05sex.html
See also GLAAD's action alert: http://glaad.org/action/write_now_detail.php?id=3827