Are Bisexual Guys More Sexually Jealous When They’re Dating Men Or Women?

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Many psychologists believe that jealousy has evolutionary roots. The theory is that heterosexual men evolved a tendency to worry about their partner being sexually unfaithful because they want to avoid ending up in a situation in which they are expending resources to raise a child that is not their own. In contrast, it is thought that women evolved a tendency to be worried about their partner being emotionally unfaithful because if he leaves, she may need to fend for her children all by herself. A variety of studies have provided support for this theory, indicating that men are more jealous about the prospect of their partner sleeping around, while women are more jealous about the thought of their partner establishing an intimate relationship with someone else [1]. But what happens when reproductive concerns don't factor into the equation? Research has revealed that both gay men and lesbians typically show more concern with emotional infidelity than sexual infidelity (i.e., the pattern doesn't really change for women, but it does for men) [1]. These findings suggest the intriguing possibility that bisexual men might show different jealousy patterns based upon the sex of the person they’re dating.

In order to test this idea, a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships surveyed 134 men and women who identified as bisexual and were currently involved in a monogamous relationship [2]. Participants were recruited through LGBT organizations and ranged in age from 19-68. Everyone was asked the following question:

Please think of a serious committed romantic relationship that you have had in the past, that you currently have, or that you would like to have. Imagine that you discover that the person with whom you’ve been seriously involved became interested in someone else and this distresses you. What would distress or upset you more (choose only one):

1. Imagining your partner enjoying passionate sexual intercourse with that other person

2. Imagining your partner forming a deep emotional attachment to that person

After selecting which option was more distressing, participants were asked about the gender of the person they were thinking about to ensure it was the same as the gender of the partner they were currently dating. Results indicated that men dating women were more concerned about sexual infidelity than women dating men (49% vs. 17% chose the first option), which is consistent with the results typically obtained in research on heterosexuals. In contrast, men dating men and women dating women both showed relatively low levels of concern about sexual infidelity and did not significantly differ from one another (26% vs. 25% chose the first option).

Overall, these findings tell us that the only bisexuals for whom sexual infidelity is frequently perceived as more distressing than emotional infidelity are men who are involved with female partners, which is consistent with a reproduction threat-based perspective in which men’s jealousy stems from concerns about their female partners getting pregnant by other guys. These findings also tell us that bisexual women’s concerns with infidelity do not seem to depend upon the sex of their partner.

Of course, there are some important limitations to this research, one being that participants were forced to pick one of the two options (sexual vs. emotional infidelity). Some people may be equally distressed by these options, and some people may perceive that emotional infidelity necessarily implies sexual infidelity (so perhaps emotional infidelity is more distressing because it is perceived as a double threat). In addition, participants were not asked about the gender of the person they imagined their partner cheating with, which may have muddled the results as well (e.g., are bisexual men still highly concerned with sexual infidelity if they imagine their female partner having sex with another woman?).

In short, these results tell us that the nature of jealousy is not necessarily consistent across genders and sexualities. There is a lot of variation in what people consider to be cheating and what sparks feelings of jealousy. It is important for people in all relationships to recognize this, communicate, and establish appropriate boundaries to reduce the risk of hurting one another.

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[1] Carpenter, C. J. (2012). Meta-analysis of sex differences in responses to sexual versus emotional infidelity: Men and women are more similar than different. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36, 24-37. doi:10.1177/0361684311414537

[2] Scherer, C. R., Akers, E. G., & Kolbe, K. L. (in press). Bisexuals and the sex differences in jealousy hypothesis. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi:10.1177/0265407513481446

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