Every Friday on the blog, I answer sex questions submitted to me by actual college students. This week, we’re talking about bisexuality. Many students have asked me whether it is really possible for someone to be attracted to both men and women (a question I have previously answered here). However, the student who asked this week’s question wanted to know whether there is a difference between male and female bisexuality.
I have heard of research that determined men can only be attracted to one sex whereas women can legitimately be bisexual. Is this true?
Not exactly. Men’s attraction is not necessarily limited to one sex. In fact, a recent lab experiment found that bisexual men experienced high levels of sexual arousal in response to both male sexual images and female sexual images (to read more about this study, click here).1 The arousal pattern of bisexual men was distinct from that of heterosexual and homosexual men, who only experienced arousal in response to images of their desired sex (i.e., gay men were only aroused by images of men, while heterosexual men were only aroused by images of women). Were bisexual men equally aroused by both men and women? Not necessarily. Bisexual men usually experienced stronger arousal in response to one sex than the other (some were more strongly attracted to men, while others were more strongly attracted to women). However, this should not be taken to mean that bisexuality doesn’t really exist in men, because it does—it’s just that while bisexual men were indeed highly aroused by both sexes, they usually found one sex to be slightly more arousing.
Although it is clearly possible for men to have some degree of attraction to both sexes, women seem to have a more natural capacity for bisexuality than men. For instance, research has found that self-identified heterosexual women exhibit almost equally strong levels of genital arousal in response to male-male, female-female, and male-female pornography, whereas heterosexual men do not.2 Thus, men and women appear to have different levels of erotic plasticity, such that women of all sexual orientations are capable of being turned on by a wider range of sexual targets than are men. As some additional evidence of this, research has found that some women go back and forth between having relationships with men and women and change their sexual identity to be consistent with their sexual desires (a phenomenon known as “sexual fluidity”).3 No corresponding pattern of behavior has ever been documented among men. Women’s greater erotic plasticity is also evidenced by the fact that women are less likely than men to develop sexual fetishes (i.e., to become fixated on certain objects or body parts in order to receive sexual pleasure).
In summary, while it is indeed possible for both men and women to be bisexual, evidence from a variety of sources suggests that bisexuality may be a more natural occurrence among women than men.
For past Sex Question Friday posts, see here. Want to learn more about The Psychology of Human Sexuality? Click here for a complete list of articles or like the Facebook page to get articles delivered to your newsfeed.
1Rosenthal, A. M., Sylva, D., Safron, A., & Bailey, J. M. (2011). Sexual arousal patterns of bisexual men revisited. Biological Psychology, 88, 112-115.
2Chivers, M. L., Rieger, G., Latty, E., & Bailey, J. M. (2004). A sex difference in the specificity of sexual arousal. Psychological Science, 15, 736-744.
3Diamond, L. (2008). Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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