A scientific study has confirmed some men are bisexual. If that finding appears so obvious you wonder why we are reporting it, you're probably unaware of a previous high-profile paper claiming all men who identify as bisexual are all either homosexual or heterosexual. Most significantly, the author of the previous paper is also an author on this one, effectively admitting he bungled, big time.
In 2005, Professor J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University attached measuring devices to the penises of 33 men who identified as bisexual and showed them porn designed for gay and straight men, along with control groups of heterosexual and homosexual men. Based on their responses, Bailey concluded these men were not genuinely attracted to both sexes, claiming most were gay and a few straight. Moreover, from this limited sample he extrapolated to claim bisexual men in general do not exist.
The combination of sex, controversy, and a result that was both surprising and deeply satisfying to some people’s prejudices was irresistible to many media outlets and the paper got phenomenal publicity. Many people have used it to erase bi men’s existence ever since.
Bisexual men, their loved ones, and people simply committed to good science pointed out numerous flaws in the work. Bailey has now co-authored a new study addressing at least some of these problems in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the results are very different.
For the new study, Bailey and lead author Jeremy Jabbour combined results from eight small studies. Where Bailey’s original sample used men who identified as bisexual, each of these used a broader pool, asking participants to rate their sexuality on the seven point Kinsey scale. The volunteers then had their genitals hooked up to strain gauges before being shown a variety of erotic and neutral stimuli involving both men and women.
Individually the studies had small sample sizes, with not enough near the center of the Kinsey Scale for statistical significance. By combining the data from all the studies, however, Jabbour and Bailey had 588 men. This was easily enough for the pair to show men who identified with Kinsey scores of 2 or 3 had roughly equal levels of arousal to male and female erotic images. Those with scores of 1, 4, or 5 were also attracted to both sexes, albeit more strongly to one than the other.
The study also found a very strong correlation between men’s self-described levels of arousal and what the measuring devices found.
All eight studies were conducted in North America or the UK, with most participants in their late 20s, so the sample was hardly globally representative. However, the study's importance lies not in an estimate of the frequency of sexual distribution, but in discrediting the claim it doesn't exist, for which random sampling is not required.
The New York Times article on the 2005 paper was titled “Straight, Gay or Lying”, part of a widespread pattern using it to conclude bisexual men are untrustworthy. The study was extensively quoted as a reason not to date bisexual men since attraction they expressed was likely fake.
There's no greater vindication of the scientific method than a high-profile scientist admitting he was wrong. Sadly, that's one thing that may prove hard to replicate.