The following are just some of the many criticisms about the new
Northwestern U. Dept. of Psychology study that supposedly focuses on lack of
bisexual arousal in sighted (assumably U.S.-acculturated) males, and the below
also parses the New York Times article's flawed reporting the study. (The Times
was asked to change the headline on its website but reportedly refused.) The
below are based on the NGLTF's fact sheet
, discussions among bi activists and
researchers, emails and calls we've received at BiNet USA, and more. It is
incomplete and truncated, but it's a start in case anyone confronts you with
what they might have heard on a talk show or seen in the newspapers.
The NYT article asserts the study “casts doubt on whether true bisexuality
exists, at least in men,” accepting the study’s hypothesis that arousal as
detected in the study equals orientation.
To determine “arousal,” the study relies entirely upon measuring male
genital arousal with penile plethysmograph while the men watched filmed lesbian
sex acts and gay male sex acts. There is considerable literature that questions
the plethysmograph's validity as a scientific instrument. Further, the lack of
uniform sets of visual stimuli or scoring procedures with this methodology is a
glaring issue never mentioned in the article.
Besides not questioning the serious flaws in the study’s methodology and
underlying premises, the article fails to report the many serious controversies
that have plagued one of the study’s authors in the past; misstates some of the
study’s conclusions; and fails to reflect the views of any leaders in the
More than one-third (35%) of the study participants did not show “sufficient
genital arousal for analyses” and the article acknowledges this but accepts at
face value a statement by one of the authors that this “lack of response did not
change the overall findings.” Since the article also quotes one of the authors
as saying, “that for men arousal is orientation,” does this mean that more than
one-third of the participants had no sexual orientation? Any mechanical
device that purports to accurately assess a condition and is unable to do so one
out of three times is surely suspect.
The study is based on a small study population — only 104 participants (30
heterosexual, 33 bisexual and 38 homosexual men) — of whom only 68 (65%) showed
“sufficient genital arousal for analyses.” In fact, only 22 of the men who
identified as bisexual showed “sufficient genital arousal for analyses” (p.
581). This is an extraordinarily small sample upon which to base such sweeping
conclusions. The article does not make this clear, but calls the study “the
largest of several small reports….” In fact, it is not.
Participants for the study were recruited from advertisements in
“gay-oriented” magazines and an alternative newspaper in Chicago. The article
does not note the problems with the sample and its selection.
The article fails to mention the controversies that have plagued one of the
authors of the study, J. Michael Bailey, whose conclusions and methods have been
relentlessly challenged by academics and activists. He has called homosexuality
an "evolutionary mistake" and wrote a book that defamed transsexuals; he later
lost his position as department chairman.
The title of the article, suggest bi-identified men are lying about their
sexual orientation, even though the study itself never suggests this.
The study, with all its underlying flaws, does not, in fact, “cast doubt on
whether true bisexuality exists, at least in men,” as the article states. The
study states, “In terms of behavior and identity, bisexual men clearly exist.”
Rather, the primary conclusion of the study is that “male bisexuality appears
primarily to represent a style of interpreting or reporting sexual arousal
rather than a distinct pattern of genital sexual arousal”
The study found that the study subjects’ subjective arousal to the visual
stimuli did show that the men who identified as bisexual had “bisexual arousal
patterns” but the article does not mention this finding, again buying the notion
that arousal, alone, is orientation.