Bisexual Men Exist, Say Scientists. Duh, Say Sex Educators

OK, first thing. I’m a serious sex nerd and I love reading good research about sex. Sex science has been a source of professional development, entertaining anecdotes, and cocktail party conversation for years. But sometimes, I really get frustrated by it.

The New York Times just posted an article about some new research confirming the existence of bisexual men. There’s a part of me that’s happy about this some previous research on the topic has claimed that bi men don’t exist, so this will be really useful from a scientific perspective. But it also highlights some of the flaws in sex research.

The problem is pretty common to a lot of research, but it’s often overlooked by a lot of scientists. Here it is, in the first two sentences of the abstract:

Men who identify themselves as bisexual report feeling sexually aroused by both men and women. However, past research has not demonstrated that such men exhibit substantial genital arousal to both male and female erotic stimuli, suggesting that they identify as bisexual for reasons other than their genital arousal pattern.

The flaw here is that it’s entirely possible to want to do something that you don’t want to watch. The assumption that measuring someone’s erection while they watch “erotic stimuli” (aka porn) is a reliable measure of their desires and practices is simply wrong. Sure, it’ll work for many people, but not everyone. And assuming that a bi man who doesn’t get hard while watching a movie is lying about his bisexuality is a real problem.

There are  also been lots of assumptions in what sorts of visual imagery bisexual men find appealing (among those who do). In the study that found that few bi men exist, the participants were shown movies of either all male or all female performers. The more recent one included movies with a MMF threesome, and they got different results.

As much as I appreciate sex research, I think it’s really problematic to boil orientation and desire down to the question of whether someone gets an erection while watching a movie that someone else picked. And it doesn’t even begin to look at the question of why we need this kind of research to validate people’s sexualities. I’ve known way too many men who have sex with people of different genders to have bought into the claim that bi men don’t exist.

So like I said, as much as I appreciate sex research, I’m not getting too excited about this report. I don’t think it really tells us much.

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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