Isn't He Lovely: Male Bisexuality Doesn't Exist...Oh, Wait, It Does!

poster for humpday the movie showing to white shirtless men wearing jeans and looking at each other with their arms crossedDesigner Tom Ford once told Details magazine: "There's one indulgence every man should try in his lifetime. If you're straight, sleep with a man at least once, and if you're gay, don't go through life without sleeping with a woman."

Gucci's sartorial savant could—pardon the following phrase—"get away with" that—pardon the following adjective—"edgy" quote since he's an out gay man. Having already wandered away from the heteronormative fold, of course it's fine for him to explore both male and female physical contact. A straight guy saying that? Whoa, buddy, you've gotta be gay. Because male bisexuality doesn't exist, right? Oh, wait.

That Ford quote popped up in 2009 Daily Beast column discussing how male bisexuality was so hot right then. Well, for starters, Ford wasn't explicitly advocating for bisexuality but open-minded heteroflexibility. Its interpretation as a bisexuality plug isn't all that surprising, however, since the cultural conclusions we draw about male-on-male sexual activity are far more black and white than those we make regarding females. If, say, Adam Levine had written "I Kissed a Boy and I Liked It?" do you think it would've been as well received as Ms. Perry's pop single? I think not.

That 2009 column argued that pop culture "bromances" were bringing male bisexuality into the mainstream, but that thesis was tenuous at best. The "bro" in "bromance" offered a linguistic cue that any guy pals labeled as such were merely platonic, not gettin' physical like Oliva Newton John. And not until earlier this year has scientific research dismantled the whole "gay, straight, or lying" sexual stereotype imposed on men.

Some brief background:

A 2005 study found that male participants exhibited distinctly diverging patterns in arousal when watching erotic movies involving only women or only men. In other words, the guys were either into the the guys or into the women on screen. No middle ground. Their conclusion in a nutshell? Male bisexuality is bunk.

Then, New York Times magazine featured an article in 2009 detailing the differences in male and female genital arousal when viewing erotic interactions, which implied that it's far easier to for women to swing both ways:

No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, they showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men.

A pertinent problem with denying the existence of male bisexuality is that it, by extension, denies men the sexual fluidity afforded to women. Yes, female bisexuality is eroticized and objectified in a negative way that derides such sexual behavior as a performance to satisfy the heterosexual male gaze. But society is nevertheless more comfortable with it. For bisexual men, it's another story. We aren't sure what it looks like and how to negotiate it and calmly, rationally accept it as part of the sexual spectrum. So instead, we call them liars? That can't be good for anyone. Dan Savage has offered personal anecedotal evidence of (usually) younger men who claim bisexuality to delay or avoid coming out completely, and additional academic research confirms that pattern. But again, extrapolating such evidence to frame male bisexuality as some sort of stop along the way toward Gaytopia, a gateway drug to full-blown phallic addiction, isn't helping us either.

Fortunately, a study published this summer offered an empirical reason to reexamine this mistrust of male bisexuality. A psychology team from Northwestern University tightened the criteria for recruiting bisexual men and found that, lo and behold, the arousal patterns indeed matched their self-identification. The study authors noted "bisexual participants in past studies were partly or exclusively recruited from the gay community," and did not rely on actual bisexual behavior or relationship, all of which could understandably skew results. Adjusting for those potential pitfalls, the Northwestern psychologists discovered something that sounds a lot like sexual fluidity to me:

On average, the bisexual men in our sample had distinctly bisexual patterns of both genital and subjective arousal. That is, their arousal responses to their less arousing sex tended to be higher than those of homosexual and heterosexual men.

What does this bisexuality talk have to do with the beauty/body image bent of Isn't He Lovely? No, I don't have any findings about what bisexual men see in the mirror and how they internalize and externalize the heteronormative media messages bombarding us all. But sexuality—and the acceptance of one's sexuality, both personally and publicly—eventually traces back to the body. Healthy perspectives on sexuality tend to correlate to healthy physical perspectives as well. Imagine for a moment how you'd feel if people constantly called your sexual identity and biological arousal a fraud. Not too sexy, I'd wager.

Comments

13 comments have been made. Post a comment.

This is a side note to your

This is a side note to your actual argument, but I feel the need to state it because these studies often get thrown around so blithely as "evidence." Another problem with this type of research is that it measures what people get aroused WATCHING, which cannot be conflated with what people enjoy DOING. For a lot of people there are things they get aroused watching but that they don't particularly enjoy doing, and conversely, there are things that people often enjoy doing but that they don't get particularly aroused watching. I therefore get very irritated when people use this type of methodology to study sexuality at all. From the data, you often cannot draw the kinds of conclusions people want to draw.

Seconded. Also, these sort

Seconded.

Also, these sort of tests oversimplify sexuality. People aren't exclusively turned on by gender--the dynamic between the actors and specific act(s) may impact one's level of desire.

Don't you think that perhaps

Don't you think that perhaps some people might get turned on by sensual touch no matter the gender? I have no solid data to support this opinion, but I feel like I wouldn't need much anyhow. At least we have some data, and bisexual men accused of lying can have some proof to cite.
Although I agree somewhat on the front that some people may be turned on by sexual acts themselves and not just the genders performing them, if these are the exception the way to rule them out would be by performing the study on multiple men. If they're the majority, maybe you should do a different study.

Male Bisexuality

I really wanted to thank you for this wondering little article. I've dated many bisexual men and it always strikes me as odd (at one point, it did get to my head) that people would say there's no such thing as a bisexual man.... of course there is! Awesome blurb!

Great

Thanks for this! Well written and great points. I am now just curious about what the author - and others who have seen it - think about the movie pictured in the post - Humpday? To me it really represented a failed opportunity to explore male bisexuality or at LEAST male experimentation in an interesting way. Thanks for a great post!

Thank You

Thank you for writing such a great article I am bisexual and female, and I cannot count how many people have said to me that I am not bi and just confused. It is beyond irritating and makes me really depressed, so it is nice to read your great article!

Great point, I'm with ya!

Great point, I'm with ya! Also, another little pet peeve I have as a bisexual is people thinking it's somehow "half" straight, or "half" gay. I had a friend who referred to female bisexuality as "the diet Coke of lesbianism." So when I see stuff like:

"...personal anecedotal evidence of (usually) younger men who claim bisexuality to delay or avoid coming out completely, and additional academic research confirms that pattern."

...I get so frustrated! I'm not HALF as attracted to women as a lesbian or a straight man, or HALF as attracted to men as a gay man or straight woman. I'm attracted to both! At the end of the day, when I come out to someone, I still have to say, "I'm attracted to women." I always wonder why sometimes I'm afforded more understanding when I come out to friends or people I know casually, because they feel like I'm only half-different from them and can still relate to the "straight half" which they can identify with and see as normal.

Anyway, I didn't mean to completely sidestep the issue at hand, which is specifically male bisexuality, just my two cents for the day.

"Fluidity" really is the keyword, here

The thing that really irritates me about these studies is that the methodology completely fails to capture (or even acknowledge) a significant part of what my experience as a bisexual man has been: specifically, that I don't always want the same things. Some days, my attractions are more or less balanced, sure. Ask me a day later, and I might express a distinct preference for women. Check in again after a week, and I might not be able to take my eyes off men. Occasionally, I can't bring myself to be interested in anyone! For me, it's not a strict, constant set of attractions, and it's not a straight/gay toggle switch that sometimes gets stuck in the middle. If you tie a sensor around my privates and sit me in front of a slideshow of porn for three minutes, then sure, maybe I'd read as gay. If you asked me to come back the day after, you'd almost certainly get a completely different set of results, because that's just how my sexuality works. Even the bisexual-positive study completely failed to account for any kind of fluid sexuality, as far as I can tell. Their sample group was less biased, but they still committed a lot of the same mistakes that crippled the 2005 experiment.

I do not even begin to speak for all bisexuals when I say this, but I am certainly not alone in feeling this way. And it's infuriating to see ostensibly professional researchers all but ready to declare that I don't exist, when they clearly have no idea what they're even looking for.

Although the methodology

Although the methodology didn't account for that kind of fluidity, the study discussion did bring it up in more clinical terms. To me, even though the study methods weren't perfect (which is nearly impossible to do when you're trying to gauge something as abstract and fluid as sexuality, in my opinion), the researchers were at least more attuned to identifying a bisexual population study. If anything, this research offers clear evidence that "science of sexuality" is almost oxymoronic at times.

I have a very similar

I have a very similar experience but would probably would have passed their test during most times of my life. However two things when I have a heart breaking break up with a woman I have tended to find male partners and was disinterested in women during the heart break time. So there is an emotional component. Also I am generally repulsed by any form of anal sex in fact if I look at gay porn I get so repulsed by that I turn it off during those scenes but get very excited by oral sex and kissing. Most straight porn is good but anything that appears abusive or drugged turns me off. Big Boob porn will always turn me on but some female bodies I may be more ambivalent. Hense the accounting of body types, activities etc. have a lot to do with it. BUT the bigger issue is WHY are we interrogating people on their professed sexual orientation and preferences? It seems odd that so many people have felt the need to do so to me personally. And that sience becomes yet another grand inquisitor. It is a sick sick sick thing. If a gay man who claims to be bisexual says he is bi - really who gives a shit! They are just going to have sex with men anyway. But there are a multitude of men with dual attractions and sexual interests. The outright denial by the gay community has been a huge problem and has marginalized many men to near complete invisibility.

I understand

I get what your saying as I am the same way. I am a 32 year old married man that is married to a bi woman. She has a strong preferences for women but I guess I was the lucky guy that caught her eye. I swing wildly from one side to the other. Even withing a single day my eyes can wander from men to women. I don't know why I am the way I am but its who I have always been. I wish there were better studies because we need them but they need to take a lot into account when they do such a study. Its crazy to see how many other bisexual men are out there like me. Thanks for posting.

I am a bisexual male. The

I am a bisexual male. The girls are still winning. But this issue is really much more complex. 25 female partners 19 male partners - yes promiscuous but I've been very safe and pretty vanilla with the boys with a no penetration any which way rule. But as far as partnership? It really is certain personalities. Currently I am with three women and no men. I am polyamorous. My primary I am completely emotionally involved with she has a very different personality than mine - a matter of fact kind of girl. My poly partner is the hottest sex I have every had she is androgynous and very analytical like a traditional male personality. And my "friend" she wanted to have sex with me because she feels very comfortable - but we both acknowledged it is not that passionate - we are both ENFP personalities. So girls who are the opposite personality I have passionate sex And love relationships with but men with the same personality I have passionate sex with provided that they are very feminine. My two best boyfriends were both INFP personalities and lovely to be with. What these test don't do is measure love.

I'm a Bi male

I am mostly attracted to women. At puberty I was exclusively attracted to girls for a few years. It wasn't until I had a homosexual experience midway through high school that I started to be attracted to guys at all. I usually seek out women, I mostly think about women, I dream about women. However, I am occasionally attracted to men. With women I am very easily attracted. When it comes to men, a guy has to be super hot to catch my eye. So, I'm definitely not headed to "Gaytopia", I hope to settle down with a woman. I could go the rest of my life without having sex with men, but I still think some men are hot. So you are either hetero or homo or you're lying is either a lie or I am one in 7 billion.