May 5, 2007

Monosexuality as a Monolith: Response to Riegers, Chivers & Bailey (Aug 2005) Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men

*Note: I wish I could link to the article, but the only copy I could find on the web was one that requries a password. You may be able to find it through your library's electronic journal service.

Citation: Rieger, G., Chivers, M.L. & Bailey, J.M. (Aug 2005). Sexual arousal patterns of bisexual men. Psychological Science, 16(8), 579-584.

A few researchers at Northwestern University have reported that bisexual men don't exist. They say that all the men the studied were either heterosexual or homosexual, and no men were bisexual. What follows is an analysis of the flaws with the research, including both methods, theory, and cultural and practical implications.

Simply enough, this article is extremely heteronormative. Heteronormativity is the cultural preference for heterosexuality over all other forms of sexuality. This is different that homophobia, which implies a dislike or fear of homosexuals. Heteronormativity often plays out as the assumption that everyone is heterosexual until told otherwise. This is why it is always socially interesting to find out who is identified themselves as homosexual, bisexual anything else, because so many people assume that most people are heterosexual.

The researchers suggest that practically all men are either heterosexual or homosexual. They note the difference between attitudes and behaviors, that people can have a sexual orientation that is not reflected in their behavior (i.e. a self-identified bisexual who only have sex with people of the same gender). They also cite a few articles that found that many homosexual men previously identified as bisexual (up to 40%). This suggests that bisexuality is just a pre-cursor to homosexuality, or heterosexuality in rare cases.

The researchers write that self-reporting one's own sexual identity and orientation is not enough. There has to be a more objective measure for sexual orientation. To do this, the researchers measured the change in penile circumference while watching pornography featuring either two men having sex or two women having sex (a cephalograph). There is more than one problem with this.
  1. The researchers assume that all gay men will be aroused by watching two men have sex, and all heterosexual men will be aroused by watching two women have sex. What about heterosexual men who like to watch pornography with a man and a woman? Anecdotal as well as academic research suggests that heterosexual men like to watch a variety of pornography over the population. In other words, there are a bunch of different kinds of guys who like to watch a bunch of different kinds of porn.
  2. Is level of erection an ideal measure of sexual orientation? The researchers suggest self-report measures can be inaccurate because people may be misleading in their answers for a variety of reasons.
  3. This also implies that men who identify as bisexual are more likely to "lie" than people of either monosexuality (heterosexuality or homosexuality). Other researchers have found in studies of biphobia (like homophobia, but towards bisexuals) that some of the stereotypes about bisexuals include that they are likely to lie to their partners, are disease-carrying, and generally disliked.

They use the Kinsey Scale as a self-report measure of sexual orientation. (The Kinsey Scale was developed by Albert Kinsey. The scale ranges from 0 to 6, with 0 being "sex exclusively with people of other genders/heterosexuality" and 6 being "sex exclusively with people of the same gender/homosexuality" and "sex with 50% same gender and 50% other gender/bisexuality" being a Kinsey 3. A person can fall anywher on that scale from 0-6, and Kinsey found that most people were not 0s or 6s, but somewhere in between.)

Anyway, the problem with the Kinsey scale is that it only measures behavior. It does not take in to account, fantasies, desires, attractions, sexual values, etc. Other valid scales have been used to measure sexual orientation that include more than one quality, like the Klein Grid and more recently the Intimate Career (Peplau, 1999).

Basically, they find that none of their participants had strong penile reactions to the both kinds of pornography. This relates back to the flaws discussed earlier, specifically the major flaws with the pornography and the researchers operational definitions of bisexuality.

I have moral qualms with the research as well. I don't think that anyone has the ability to instruct another person on how to identify themselves. If a group of men, women, or people of any other gender choose to identify as bisexual, then who cares? The researchers are making a point to show that people who identify as bisexual are not being really honest to other people about their sexual identity.

There are many flaws with this research about bisexual men. It follows the theory that sexuality can only be heterosexuality or homosexuality (monosexuality). Also, it heavily implies that men who identify as bisexuals are "lying" with that identification. This is not suitable for modern psychological research (or any other kind of research for that matter), and should not be accepted by anyone in the academic community, or anyone else either.

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