STATS ARTICLES 2005

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Is Bisexuality Among Men a Myth?
July 06, 2005
Trevor Butterworth
Hot new study has no hard evidence

According to a new study, another essential truth about the human condition has been resolved: You can’t really have it both ways – at least if you’re a guy.

Yes, as first reported in the New York Times, true bisexuality among males is a crock.

Apparently, three quarters of the self-described “bisexual” men in a study undertaken by Northwestern University and the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto turned out to be turned on only by homosexual erotic movies.

In other words, their arousal patterns, which were unerotically monitored by electronic sensors, were identical to gay men who watched the same movies.

But does this really tell us anything concrete about male bisexuality? The Times was up front about the difficulty in drawing conclusions from such a small sample of subjects (there were only 101 men in the entire study, 33 of which identified themselves as bisexual).

And, as the paper noted,

“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.”

But there is another more substantial problem with the research, which is scheduled to be published in the journal Psychological Science, and which, predictably, was missed in the media coverage: The study is not a longitudinal study, meaning, it did not follow its subjects over time. Thus, if the 33 self-described bisexual men were to be subjected to arousal monitoring today, in six, 12 and 18 months time, the results could be completely different.

Even if you believe that arousal from erotic films accurately indicates sexual orientation (which is open to serious question), it is entirely plausible that “bisexual” men are sometimes aroused by men, sometimes by women, but rarely both at the same time. (This might be particularly true for those men who were serially monogamous). In that case, what’s arousing today might be distinctly less exciting in a month’s time.

Which, when you think about it, is a pretty good description of the media's coverage of unpublished scientific studies.