by Terje Gammelsrud
Thirty-three bisexual men who took part in a scientific survey of bisexuality had a sensor fastened to their penises. They were then shown an eleven minute long non-sexual film and four two-minute pornographic films, two showing girls having sex and two with men having sex.
When a team of researchers consisting of psychologists from Chicago and Toronto analysed the results, they found that the majority of the men were most aroused by the pornographic films with only male participants, while a smaller group were most aroused by the films with women. Whilst conceding that bisexual men “clearly exist” in terms of identity and behaviour, the team found no evidence that the bisexual men were significantly aroused by both the all-girl and the all-male films.
Straight, gay or lying?
The survey received little attention before it was published in The New York Times in July 2005 under the title “Straight, Gay or Lying?” After that it rapidly became newsworthy in the American media.
Many conservative Christian Americans in particular, and also some gay men favoured the theory that bisexuals are actually homosexuals, and subsequent media coverage revealed strong anti-bisexual attitudes.
Bisexual communities prepared to fight for their existence and their right to define their sexuality without being placed in narrow categories in which they did not feel they belonged. They received solid support from research and media communities with a more positive attitude to bisexuals who did not attach much credibility to either the survey itself or the coverage it had received. One concerned report after the article inThe New York Times suggested that the researchers might have a hidden agenda.
The bisexual communities in the USA are still in a high state of alert, as we discovered ourselves when we discussed the research results with attendees at a conference of the American Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) held in Mexico in November 2009. Men who have sex with men, and not least heterosexual men who have sex with men, was the subject of a fair number of the presentations at the conference.
“By far our most important task now is to make bisexuals visible”, says John Sylla, a director of the American Institute of Bisexuality. “And one of the key questions we ask ourselves is why we don’t know more about the arousal patterns, identity and behaviour of bisexuals. Whether a man feels himself to be bisexual is not just a matter of erections. Unfortunately, research on bisexuality is still in the early stages.”
Homophobia as a money magnet
“Conservative Christian America is not interested in nuanced discussions about sexual diversity. With their long tradition of simplification – either you go to heaven or you go to hell, and your sexuality is either clean or dirty – it fits best for you to be either straight or gay. It’s so much simpler to classify all men who have sex with men as homosexuals”, says Eric Anderson, sociologist and researcher at the University of Bath in England.
“The most important thing for conservative Catholic environments in the USA is to present homosexual men – they actually don’t care so much about Lesbian women – as a serious threat to traditional family values and the teachings of the church. But in the final analysis it is also a question of money. Using homosexuals as scapegoats has proved lucrative for congregations who have been obliged since the end of the 20th century to step up their financial creativity when they found that their income fell in direct proportion to the decline in church-going. The homosexual threat picture was actually a very effective money magnet,” says Eric Anderson.
Lead me not into temptation
But the bisexual threat is something else again. Picture a dyed-in-the-wool straight man who realises that he has considerable sexual desires for women in common with bisexual men, but that the bisexual also has other desires for men. Could he be led into temptation himself? “Clearly this could be experienced as a particular threat to the identity, morals and life view of the heterosexual,” says John Sylla, who also sees some positive signs in American everyday sexual behaviour. “Today’s attitudes to gender and sexuality have become so much more tolerant, and in due course this will lead to even more experimenting, honesty and openness about preferences and identity.” And according to Professor Anderson, the conservative Christian communities are now also finding that a new generation of Americans, using television and the internet in particular, is undermining their attitudes, and possibly also their ability to raise funds to fight against gay rights.
With the opening of the SSSS Conference in Mexico came the news that voters in Maine, as the 31st state of the USA, had voted down a bill on the right of homosexuals to marry. “Yes, the conservative Christian lobby wins this round, thanks to a well-lubricated propaganda machine, financed not least by funds generated by fear of homosexuality. But get back to us in ten years, and they’ll have lost”, asserts psychologist Clive M. Davis at Syracuse University, New York.
Have sex with both genders, but are not bisexual
The conservative Christian attitudes carry far more weight in the USA than in Norway. But on one point there is a distinct similarity: People do not define themselves as bisexual even if they have a bisexual behaviour pattern. When a representative selection of the population, of either the USA or Norway, is asked to state their sexual orientation, only a marginal percentage state that they are bisexual. According to The New York Times’ coverage of bisexual research, 1.7 per cent of all men state that they are bisexual. In the Norwegian National Institute of Public Health’s 2002 survey of sexual habits, 1.1 per cent of the population defined themselves as bisexual.
But if you ask people if they have had sex with the same gender, at least in Norway, where we know the statistics, we see that homosexual experience is becoming part of the heterosexual concept. From 1987 to 2002, the percentage of men who stated that they had had same-gender sex rose from 4 to 11 per cent, and the percentage of women from 3 to 12 per cent. Although there are no scientific data to confirm that this trend is continuing, the figures are beginning to approach what Alfred Kinsey found in his major American survey of the 1940s, where mostmen and women indicated that they had had homosexual experiences.
Straight men with male lovers
“Why do none of the men in your project define themselves as bisexual? We have statistical material, not least from Kinsey’s research, which indicate that at least some of them should have had homosexual experiences.” The speaker is William R. Stayton, professor of psychology at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, in a commentary following a presentation at the SSSS conference of a project that describes men who have male lovers, but who do not regard themselves as either gay or bisexual.
“I don’t know. Maybe they will come out later as bisexuals. But the project has not involved testing the participants’ definition of their own sexuality,” answers Professor Robert Heasley of Indiana University, Pennsylvania, who has also described his project in an article on page 30 of this edition of Cupido. He has chosen to focus on heterosexual men who are sure enough of their sexuality to test the boundaries of what intimacy with other men is “permitted”. “We have to accept that there is room for more than one kind of heterosexuality and more than one kind of masculinity,” maintains Robert Heasley.