Are Bisexuals Equally Attracted to Both Sexes?

How common is it for bisexuals to be equally attracted to both sexes? I ask because I personally identify as bisexual, but I have a heterosexual preference--I am predominately attracted (at least romantically) to men, and have had more long-term relationships with them than women.

I have spoken to a few other bisexuals I know who claim that I am not alone--that they too have a slight (or major) preference for men or women, and that in fact this seems to be the case for most individuals who identify as bisexual. I'm wondering how common this is and if there are many bisexuals who actually "don't" prefer one gender over the other?

When people hear the word “bisexual”, most people seem to assume that it means having equal levels of attraction to both men and women. However, based upon the research I’ve read it would appear that having a bisexual identity can mean different things to different people.

Two recent studies are particularly relevant here. In each study, heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual men watched a series of porn videos that either featured men or women. (1,2) While watching the videos, the men were hooked up to penile strain gauges, devices that measure the amount of blood flowing into the penis, thereby providing an indication of genital arousal. The men also completed a survey that asked how aroused they felt while watching each video.

Although there were some important differences between the findings of these two studies (you can read more about those differences here), one thing was consistent: regardless of whether you look at the genital arousal measure or the psychological arousal measure, bisexual men typically showed stronger levels of arousal to one sex compared to the other. The direction of this difference varied across participants—indeed, some were more attracted to women and others were more attracted to men.

This tells us definitively that bisexual men are not closeted gays, as some of the most common stereotypes suggest.

Based upon the results of these studies, it would appear that “bisexual” means showing high levels of arousal to both men and women, but not necessarily equally high levels of arousal. That said, I would not argue that it is impossible for bisexual persons to be equally aroused by men and women or that you shouldn’t believe anyone who says that they are; rather, it just appears that being at least slightly more attracted to one sex is a common experience among bisexuals.

Of course, it is important to note that these studies had very small sample sizes, which means we don’t know how representative the participants were of the bisexual population at large. Additionally, these studies only looked at men, so we can’t necessarily assume that the same pattern is true of women.

However, any way you look at it, this research tells us that bisexuality does indeed exist, but that it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.

1. Rieger, G., Chivers, M. L., & Bailey, J. M. (2005). Sexual arousal patterns of bisexual men. Psychological Science, 16, 579-584.
2. Rosenthal, A. M., Sylva, D., Safron, A., & Bailey, J. M. (2011). Sexual arousal patterns of bisexual men revisited. Biological Psychology, 88, 112-115.

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Justin_lehmiller
Dr. Justin J. Lehmiller

Dr. Justin J. Lehmiller is a social psychologist, relationship researcher, and sex columnist living and working in Boston, Massachusetts. He has published over 20 scholarly works, including articles in some of the leading scientific journals on sex and relationships. His research has been featured prominently in numerous media outlets, including Psychology Today, The Globe and Mail, Men's Health, The Sunday Times, and the National Geographic Channel. Dr. Lehmiller writes a column entitled Lusting, Loving, and Leaving on the Science of Relationships website, as well as a sexuality and relationships blog at Lehmiller.com, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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