Arousal Used as Key Metric in New Male Bisexuality Study

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday July 30, 2020

Skepticism about male bisexual identity is the focus of a recent study by J. Michael Bailey (Northwestern University) and colleagues, "Robust Evidence for Bisexual Orientation Among Men," published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). With a rigorous study, the researchers aim to establish a male bisexual identity that is "on a continuum rather than dichotomously" — or, where skepticism toward bisexuality is concerned: Debunking the problematic notion that bisexual men, in particular, are really either straight or gay.

Bailey, et al. reference the Kinsey scale as a barometer for their study. Noting that "female bisexuality has been less controversial," the study examines data from subjective genital arousal patterns of cisgender male participants self-identifying as: exclusively heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, bisexual leaning heterosexual, bisexual, bisexual leaning homosexual, mostly homosexual, and exclusively heterosexual. Participants wore gauges around their penises to measure levels of arousal from erotically stimulating video clips, which were selected to decisively determine arousal in participants.

A sample of 606 men was whittled down to 474 total. 96 participants were excluded for "insufficient genital arousal for meaningful analysis," and some because they did not provide "self-reported data"; and finally, six participants "were excluded for reporting arousal scores of 0 for all stimuli." Additionally, the study purposefully overrepresented the polarities — exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual — in order to determine if participants' sexual orientation more closely aligns with the Kinsey scale, and how that might compare with their self-reported data.

Of the self-reported data collected, researchers also considered ethnicity as a factor in understanding the reach of sexual orientation and identity; as well as education level, although the question of why and how this pertains to sexual orientation identity is unclear. While the study's focus on arousal certainly demonstrates the role of sexual attraction in determining identity, it does not account for emotional and romantic components of orientation.

Nonetheless, in U.S. News, Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, explains the significance of such a study:

"People who identify as bisexual — especially men — are often viewed with suspicion, and this includes a perception that they won't commit to being gay. They are often discriminated against and stigmatized."

An earlier study discusses how approximately four in ten LGBTQ+ people identify as bisexual. Because of many factors — including discrimination, stigmatizations, the state of relationships with family, and not prioritizing sexual orientation as central to their identity — the Pew Research Center found that bisexual men, in particular, are not as likely to be out to family or close friends.

Ryan believes the study by Bailey, et al. could have broader implications:

"These findings are important, since research routinely shows higher mental health risks and experiences of rejection for bisexual youth and adults related to stigma."

Read the study at PNAS here.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

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