October 7, 2014

Is Bisexuality A Distinct Sexual Orientation In Men?

Research by The Kinsey Institute's Erick Janssen and Jerome Cerny reveals unique sexual arousal pattern in bisexual men.

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Image depicting interconnected symbols for female and two males.

Image depicting interconnected symbols for female and two males.

What is the controversy?

Large-scale survey studies that have employed a multidimensional measure of orientation (by asking about fantasies, attraction, and behavior in addition to identity) clearly indicate that there is a bisexual orientation. However, experimental psycho-physiological studies that examine sexual arousal and include bisexual men are limited and have yielded mixed results. More specifically, previous studies have reported either that bisexual men showed arousal to both heterosexual and homosexual stimuli and therefore are a distinct group or that bisexual men had stronger responses to one kind of stimuli (e.g., homosexual content) and therefore are not a distinct group. Based on research of the latter type, the New York Times published an article in 2005 with an unfortunate title suggesting that bisexual individuals are “lying” about their orientations. Perhaps related to media of this nature, a study conducted by Friedman and colleagues found revealed that 15 percent of adults surveyed disagreed that bisexuality is a real sexual orientation. Notably, previous psycho-physiological research consistently exposed men to brief erotic stimuli that were either heterosexual (man-woman) or homosexual (man-man) in content. This is a limitation because there is limited research on which aspects of erotic stimuli (e.g., behavior of actors, sexes of actors) are important for distinguishing arousal among men and none of the previous studies included erotic stimuli that was bisexual in content (e.g., man-man-woman).

Research by Erick Janssen and Jerome Cerny

This was the context and justification for a study conducted by Jerome Cerny and The Kinsey Institute’s Erick Janssen. In their study, Cerny and Janssen exposed 59 self-identified bisexual, heterosexual, and homosexual men to four erotic videos each. The erotic videos were all four minutes long (two minutes longer than stimuli employed in previous research) and contained either heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual content. While the male participants were viewing the videos, the researchers measured genital response using penile strain gauges. The participants also self-reported their level of arousal after each video. Consistent with previous research that found bisexual men to be aroused by both heterosexual and homosexual content, Cerny and Janssen found that bisexual men in their study were similar to homosexual men when viewing homosexual content and similar to heterosexual men when viewing heterosexual and lesbian content. Importantly, the sexual response data also revealed that bisexual men responded much more strongly to bisexual content than both the heterosexual and homosexual groups.

Putting the controversy to rest

While there are remaining questions to be answered for research on sexual arousal and sexual orientation,  the results of this study clearly indicate that once a bisexual stimulus is included, bisexual men display a unique pattern of sexual arousal from heterosexual and homosexual men and are therefore members of a distinct sexual orientation.  This research, along with the findings of related research on bisexual individuals, is helping to settle the controversy about the existence of bisexual orientation. The New York Times has even published a more recent article discussing bisexuality as an orientation and the pressures that bisexual individuals face. If you have more questions about bisexuality, you may find more answers and resources at the American Institute of Bisexuality.