Bisexuality: A Closer Look
What makes a man bisexual? Is it as simple as being sexually aroused by both males and females? Or does it have more to do with self-identity? Well, the science is far from settled on that topic.
In a Gallop Poll that surveyed more than 300,000 Americans, 42% of respondents who claimed to be members of the LGBT community were men. Around 2% of all men in the United States identify as bisexual. It’s certainly a grey area within both demographics – men in general and the LGBT community.
Some people think that bisexual men are actually homosexuals who are “on the down low” or simply confused about the nature of their homosexuality. Other experts uphold that bisexual men are indeed attracted to both men and women.
- Michael Bailey is a sexuality researcher at Northwestern University. In 2005, he and a team of colleagues conducted a study that has drawn criticism for the past 15 years. Male participants in the study were shown pornographic representations of females and males.
There were 30 heterosexual, 33 bisexual, and 38 homosexual men participating in the work. They were connected to a ring that encircled their penises with the intention of measuring their level of genital arousal when shown sexually suggestive images of men and women.
Bailey’s findings were controversial. He reported that most of the men who purported to be bisexual responded with a greater tendency toward homosexuality in terms of genital arousal. He summarized that bisexuality “appears primarily to represent a style of interpreting or reporting sexual arousal rather than a distinct pattern of genital sexual arousal.”
The broader implication of Bailey’s study was that bisexuality in men was being disqualified as a sexual orientation. According to Bailey and his team, men who identified as bisexual were just homosexual men who chose to identify as bisexual for a number of different reasons.
Why Would A Man Falsely Identify as Bisexual?
The case of bisexual identification is complex, just as any other form of sexual preference is complicated. Is bisexuality an identity complex or a case of adaptive flexibility? The simple answer is – the man likes what he likes. Yet, there are other reasons why a straight or homosexual man might identify as something in between.
Some men who are attracted to other males might not want to jeopardize their social or cultural standing to fully identify as gay. They might make certain exceptions for instances when and where attraction to other men is acceptable.
For example, some men who become incarcerated might “go gay for the stay”. They don’t identify as members of the LGBT community in their normal lives but find an exception in their circumstances for homosexual ideation and behaviour while they are in prison.
Some men are married or in straight relationships and they don’t want to identify as homosexual to their partner. This might endanger their family’s reputation or lead to a separation. So, this person might engage in homosexual activity “on the down low.”
Another reason a man might falsely identify as bisexual is to be included in the LGBT community. That might sound strange to some people – the idea that someone who is straight would fake being attracted to someone of the same sex, but this does occur. It can be beneficial for someone who is straight to lie and say that they were bisexual to seek employment, increase their social or political standing, or simply to fit in with current cultural trends.
This is just a smattering of reasons; there are many, many others.
Revisiting the Case for Male Bisexuality
The findings of the 2005 study led to more research about bisexuality in men. Even J. Michael Bailey decided to revisit his original findings and make a more comprehensive analysis of male bisexuality. Bailey participated in a review of his own work and other studies just this year.
In a paper published through Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers determined that men who identify as bisexual do indeed exhibit genital arousal toward both males and females.
The original study had fewer than 100 participants, but the follow-up review included the findings of eight previous studies. The conclusions drawn from this study were far more widespread. The only problem is the criteria by which the researchers judged sexual perception. It also completely ignored the fact that sexual arousal isn’t a one trick pony.
Yet, they agree that genital arousal did occur in the participants of the study who identify as bisexual and therefore bisexuality in men does exist. Hold on for a second though. Why are scientists trying to determine whether bisexuality is real?
Should scientists even be trying to validate a person’s sexual identity at all? The idea that a person’s sexual preference or identity must be first validated by science is condescending and ethically questionable.
Related: What is a Lumbersexual?
Scientists should study social behavior and sexuality. However, challenging scientific theories and notions is exactly how we reach a more comprehensive understanding. In the case of male bisexuality, the scientific research should’ve taken into account a fuller range of lived experiences and perspectives.
Researchers should focus less on whether a person’s sexual preference is indeed real and focus more on the nature and characteristics of the actual person. In other words, sexual arousal does not identify a man. His sexual identity serves to further illuminate his personage and it expands his capacity to love.
For now, researchers should not try to identify whether bisexuality is real. The main reason is that so many men already identify as bisexual. It’s real because they say it is real.