Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Science time! Are bisexuals real?

It's been a while since we've looked at some peer-reviewed gay, so let's have at it.

So there's a new paper in Developmental Psychology (produced by the American Psychological Association--oooouuuu, faaaancy) that discusses bisexuality in women; namely, are bisexual women really bisexual, or is it just a transition between being gay and being straight, or is it just an artifact of everyone's ability to..."adapt" to social situations. ;)

So Lisa Diamond, of the University of Utah, got about 80 women who identified as lesbian, bisexual, or unlabeled, and asked them questions about their sexual identities, their past (growing up, socio-economic situation), and their sexual attractions. She then followed up with them every two years for the next ten years. This is UBER-cool, because most studies released up until now haven't followed participants that long.

Her idea was that the womens' identities could fall into 3 patterns:
1. Bisexuality as a "transitional phase": this would be suggested if it were found that women tended to drift from bisexual or unlabeled identities to either lesbian or heterosexual identities as time passed.
2. Bisexuality as a 3rd orientation: this would be suggested by finding that women tended to keep their bisexual/unlabeled identities and their relative attrations to males versus females.
3. Bisexuality as an example of sexual fluidity: would be suggested that as women mature and become more in touch with their sexuality, there would be a shift of participants to the bisexual/unlabled identities.

So, interesting findings? Um, YEAH! So get this: the women's identities did change (quite often actually--67% of the women had changed sexual identities by the end of the 10-year study), but the interesting thing is that the majority of the transitions were to or within the bisexual or unlabeled identities. Further more, the transitions tended to reflect the womens' sexual activity over the past year (i.e. previously "unlabeled" women who were in a long term relationship with a man or a woman tended to change to a heterosexual or lesbian identity).

HOWEVER (and this part is SO cool) despite the women's change in identity, they reported much less actual change in sexual attraction! Basically even those women who initially identified as bisexual/unlabeled and then changed to a lesbian identity STILL reported attraction to men. I think that this is the most important finding of the whole study, because it validates an idea that I have had for a while.

That idea being that people adopt heterosexual or gay identities, despite actually having bisexual orientations or tendencies. Why would anyone do this, you ask? Because our society is less receptive to the idea of bisexuality than it is to homosexuality! And just imagine how un-receptive THAT must be! ;)

I, in fact, do consider myself to have some attraction to women (I must, since I was in a number of long-term heterosexual relationships, none of which were "for show"), but that is outweighed by my attraction to men. However, it's difficult to even explain that to people that I meet, let alone expect them to accept the idea as valid (and not assume that I was just lying or trying to "pass" as straight). So I identify as gay, even though I know that it's not 100% true.

Reading between the lines, this study says a lot about how even now, "sexually liberated" people still have a difficult time being completely honest when presenting their sexuality to other people. There are limitations to the study (the participants were mostly white; can the results be extrapolated to males; are 80 women really a representative population) but all in all it's a great springboard for future studies.

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