Note: September 16 through September 23 is Bisexual Awareness Week. Jack and Jill Adult asked our contributors to share their thoughts about bisexuality to commemorate the week.
In 2005, researcher Professor J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University released a study in which he concluded that bisexual men did not exist. Setting aside the methodology (comparing genital arousal responses to two binary genders) and vanishingly small sample size (a whopping 33 bisexual men), this study felt biphobic, even for 2005. And it’s been used to dismiss bisexuality and perpetuate biphobia ever since.
Even more astonishing, fifteen years later, Professor Bailey is at it again. Only this time, he’s decided that – based on his own 2005 study and seven others, with a total of 588 participants – bi men do exist after all!
Bisexual people don’t need studies to prove that we exist
As a bisexual person, there are pretty much three certainties in life: accusations of being unfaithful or a cheater, demands to “prove” your sexuality, and hearing you don’t really exist.
I’m here to tell you that we are absolutely sick of it.
Bisexual people (and pansexual, omnisexual, and polysexual people) have always existed, and we will continue to exist. We know who we are, and we know who we like. Bi men didn’t suddenly stop dating, loving and sleeping with people of multiple genders when that study came out in 2005.
We don’t need studies to prove that we exist. We never have, but especially not in 2020. It’s absurd that people still debate this.
These “studies” views sexuality through a ridiculously reductive lens
How these studies worked, in a nutshell: putting sensors on the penis and showing the man pornography featuring (presumably cisgender) men and women, and measuring genital response.
What’s wrong with this approach? Let’s count the problems:
- It makes an assumption that bisexuality means having an equal attraction to “both” sexes. In reality, someone can be 95 percent attracted to one gender and 5% attracted to another, and still be bisexual.
- It assumes genital arousal as a reliable indicator of attraction and orientation. In reality, arousal non-concordance (where psychological arousal and genital response are not aligned) is really common. Emily Nagoski, PhD, in her incredible book Come As You Are, reports that cisgender men only experience complete arousal concordance around 50 percent of the time. In other words? Genital response is not a reliable indicator of arousal even from moment to moment, let alone as a means of defining someone’s entire orientation.
- It makes assumptions about what people find attractive. Even if one of the test subjects were the mythical bisexual man whose attractions were split exactly 50/50, if you showed him porn starring a man who was exactly his type and then porn starring a woman who was not his type at all… his response would be different. Bisexuals aren’t attracted to everyone of the genders they like!
In a nutshell, these studies are not only biphobic in premise, they’re also bad science.
“But surely having it proved is a good thing, right?”
I can see where this argument comes from. Who can argue with science, after all?
But imagine if scientists decided to do a study called, “Do straight people really exist?” where they hooked up heterosexual folks’ genitals to sensors and showed them porn to determine if their attraction was legitimate.
Does that idea sound bonkers to you? I’m willing to bet it does. And if it would be a ridiculous thing to do to straight people (or gay people), it’s also a ridiculous thing to do to bisexual people.
Here’s a radical idea for what to do instead: believe people about their sexuality.
How science could support bi people instead
I’m not saying scientists shouldn’t study bisexuality. In fact, I think sexuality research is sorely needed as anything outside of heterosexual, vanilla monogamy is still widely stigmatized and misunderstood. But variations on “Do bi people really exist?” again and again and again is not the way to do it.
Bisexuals, overall, experience worse mental health and higher instances of suicidal ideation compared to our gay and straight peers, according to Mind. The reasons for this are debated, but rampant distrust of bi people and casual biphobia from both straight and gay communities is generally considered to be a factor.
In addition, the Open University’s Bisexuality Report (2011) found that healthcare professionals often treat bisexuality as a disorder in and of itself. I can attest to this. My first therapist told me that I only thought I was bi because my dysfunctional childhood caused me to hide behind promiscuity!
The LGBT Foundation found that bisexual women experience higher risk of domestic abuse (10.8%) than both straight women and lesbians. We are also five times more likely to experience sexual violence than straight women.
Imagine the work that could be done and the difference that could be made if researchers with funding and backing from powerful institutions turned their hand to these issues. It would surely be more useful than yet another variation on, “Do you exist? Science says… maybe.”
Did you hear about this study? How does it make you feel? Do we need studies to prove the existence of any type of sexuality? Let us know what you think in the comments below!