Health

Once and For All, Are Bi Guys Liars?

Outdated stigmas make it harder for men to identify as anything other than straight or gay.
February 8, 2017, 1:00pm

Sometimes you have a sex question that's not just, you know, an idle passing thought. And in those times you need a real answer—one that's based on deep research and scientific rigor. In those times you need Hard Data.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that men can either be gay or straight, but never bisexual. Bi guys are seen, at best, as sexually confused—and, at worst, as liars.

I mean, just take a look at the results of a 2015 survey of nearly 3,000 Americans who were asked to respond to the statements "I think bisexual men are confused about their sexuality" and "I think bisexuality is just a phase." The vast majority either agreed or said they weren't sure, which tells us that most Americans aren't yet convinced that bisexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation.

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While the general public may have questions about whether male bisexuality is real, scientists don't. In fact, a growing body of research has emerged that provides unequivocal evidence for the existence of bisexuality among men. Let's take a look at the most significant research that has occurred so far.

First, consider a 2011 study in which gay, straight, and bisexual men watched a series of videos while devices attached to their penises recorded how sexually aroused they were during each one. The videos alternated between gay male porn, lesbian porn, and non-sexual content.

What the researchers found was that gay and straight men only showed strong genital arousal in response to videos featuring their desired sex—in other words, gay guys were really only turned on by dudes, while straight guys were really only turned on by ladies. By contrast, bisexual men demonstrated significant arousal in response to both kinds of porn, regardless of the gender of the actors in the videos.

Now consider a 2015 study in which gay, straight, and bisexual men were shown photos of men and women from popular magazines and fashion catalogs while hooked up to a gadget that recorded their eye movement patterns. Participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of the people in the photos; however, unbeknownst to the men, researchers secretly recorded how long they spent looking at each image.

As you might expect, gay guys gave higher attractiveness ratings to men and spent longer looking at male photos, whereas straight guys gave higher attractiveness ratings to women and spent longer looking at female photos. By contrast, bisexual men provided similar attractiveness ratings for photos of men and women. In addition, bi guys spent similar amounts of time looking at the photos no matter who was in them.

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While the previous studies are certainly important for making the case that male bisexuality exists, the most provocative evidence of all comes from a brand new study in which gay, straight, and bisexual men viewed erotic photos and videos of men or women while their brains were scanned by an fMRI machine.

This team of researchers was looking specifically for activity in a region known as the ventral striatum, which is part of the brain's reward system. When this area is stimulated by the neurotransmitter dopamine, it leads to feelings of desire. That's why scientists believe that activation of this area can be viewed as an indicator of sexual attraction.

The results followed the same pattern as previous studies. Once again, gay and straight men showed distinct responses to male and female erotic stimuli. In other words, their ventral striatum response tended to be much stronger for one kind of porn than it was for the other, with gay guys showing a much bigger response to male erotic imagery and straight guys showing a much bigger response to female erotic imagery.

By contrast, this highly distinct kind of responding didn't occur for bisexual men—their ventral striatum activation was far more similar for both kinds of pornography.

One thing that's important to note about all of these studies is that it wasn't the case that bisexual men showed equally strong attraction or arousal in response to both men and women. In most cases, attraction or arousal was at least a little stronger for one sex than it was for the other; however, the direction wasn't necessarily consistent. In other words, some bisexual men appeared to be a bit more into women while others were a bit more into men.

This makes sense because, as Alfred Kinsey established more than a half-century ago, sexual orientation is something that falls on a continuum. Indeed, his classic Kinsey Scale allowed for the possibility of many different kinds of bisexuality based on how strongly someone is attracted to a given sex. Equal attraction to men and women is therefore neither an essential nor defining feature of bisexuality.

Together, the results of all of these studies tell us that bisexual men aren't necessarily confused about their sexuality, nor are they lying about what turns them on. The truth is that these guys really are into both men and women. As such, the popular idea that all men are either gay or straight and nothing in between appears to be a myth—a myth that we should finally put to bed once and for all.

Justin Lehmiller, PhD is the Director of the Social Psychology Program at Ball State University, a Faculty Affiliate of The Kinsey Institute, and author of the blog Sex and Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller.