A Look Back At Bisexuality Studies And Their Weird, Troubling History

A Look Back At Bisexuality Studies And Their Weird, Troubling History

By Kate Hakala | Nerve

Today marks the 15th annual Celebrate Bisexuality Day — a day dedicated to bringing respect, visibility, and awareness to all people who identify as having fluid identities. Since more than half of the LGBT community is comprised of bisexuals (1.8 percent of the total American population), it's important to give recognition to a group that includes people of all gender identities from cis to trans and sexual orientations from queer to pansexual. We're talking everyone from Anna Paquin, to Cynthia Nixon, Chirlane McCray, Tom Daley, Angelina Jolie, Billie Joe Armstrong, Megan Fox, Clive Davis, Megan Mullally, Andy Dick, David Bowie, and Lady Gaga. Bisexuality can sometimes feel like a largely invisible orientation because of its historic neglect and ridicule in both the media and sciences. Often times, bisexuality can be portrayed as "greedy," "a bridging mechanism" to homosexuality, or worse, "imaginary." All of which, of course, are inaccurate. In honor of bisexual visibility, Nerve took a look back at landmark scientific investigations which discussed both the validity and invalidity of bisexuality through the decades. This is how we got from Alfred Kinsey to Tom Daley.

1886 — The Bisexual Pressure Point
The early case studies of Richard von Krafft-Ebing, author of the seminal work Psychopathia Sexualis, found that most bisexual-identifying men have sex with women due to societal pressures, but in truth have sexual attraction primarily to men. While his theories proved to be problematic, Krafft-Ebing's findings would be utilized in research on homosexuality and bisexuality throughout the 20th century.

1940s — Introducing the Kinsey Scale
Alfred Kinsey, 20th century sex researcher, declared in his 1948 work Sexual Behavior in the Human Male that "46 percent of the male population had engaged in both heterosexual and homosexual activities, or 'reacted to' persons of both sexes, in the course of their adult lives." As for women, Kinsey found between 6 and 14% of women have homosexual experiences in their past. The results were groundbreaking. Kinsey had developed his own scale to accommodate his belief in sexual fluidity — ranging from 0 (heterosexual) to 6 (homosexual) and found many landed somewhere in between. Kinsey brought forth the notion of sexuality lying on a continuum. Bisexuality, instead of being directly in the middle of homosexuality and heterosexuality, could identify those with varying degrees of sexual attraction over time. "Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual," he wrote. "The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats."

1979 — Is Bisexuality Different from Homosexuality?
A 1979 study of 30 men found that those who identified themselves as bisexuals were indistinguishable from homosexuals on measures of arousal while viewing different erotic material. "In terms of physiological arousal, the erectile responses of the homosexual and bisexual groups were indistinguishable, a finding which questions the existence of male bisexuality as distinct from homosexuality or as a different sexual orientation in males," the study concluded. Over 25 years later, a disturbingly similar study would be published.

1994 — Bisexuality as a Way to Come Out
A 1994 survey published by The Advocate, a gay-oriented magazine, found that, before identifying as gay, 40 percent of gay men had described themselves as "bisexual." Which means, according to this well-publicized survey, almost half of all bisexual men were actually just gay, thus cementing the idea that bisexuality was a transitional stage or a safer way of coming out of the closet. While this transitional bisexual stage is true of some bisexual identifying men and women, this cultural narrative set things back for bisexuality being seen as its own distinct orientation. Pundits Andrew Sullivan and Dan Savage have been criticized for statements reaffirming that bisexuality is just a stop before gay for many.

2005 —Bisexual Men Don't Exist
In 2005, researchers at Northwestern University shook things up when they claimed the 1.7 percent of men who identified as bisexual were perhaps mistaken. Or, in the words of Carrie from "Sex and the City," "I'm not even sure bisexuality exists. I think it's just a layover on the way to Gay Town."In the study, a team of psychologists measured genital arousal patterns of bisexual men in response to erotic imagery of both men and women. The results showed that men who identified as bisexual were often exclusively aroused to either men or women (not both), and were most often exclusively sexually aroused by men.The study was conducted with 33 bisexual men and largely sourced subjects from publications in gay-oriented newspapers. Still, the study made hundreds of newspapers, like the famous New York Times headline: "Straight, Gay, or Lying?" which inferred that orientation was either dichotomous or fallacious. Men who continued to be attracted to both genders were understandably confused by these findings.

2008 — Bisexuals Are Mostly Women
About 1.5 percent of American women identify themselves as bisexual. And, for whatever reason (some studies suggest sexual fluidity in women is an advantage for child rearing), bisexuality appears easier to demonstrate in the female sex. A 10-year longitudinal study published by researcher Lisa Diamond in 2008 attempted to test out the "transitional theory" — that bisexual women would eventually get together with men after a series of college experimentations. The study found that at the end of the 10 years, more women adopted bisexual identities than relinquished them. Bisexual women also had stable distributions of arousal to men and women in genital arousal studies. In fact, women who report the highest sex drives also identify as being attracted to both men and women rather than just exlusively men or women. You can throw the "putting on a show for the boys" idea out the window.

2011 — Actually, Bisexual Men Do Exist
In 2011, Northwestern University came back and apologized for the six years it had rejected the validity of an entire sexual orientation and bisexual men's experience. Their 2005 study had mainly sourced participants from gay mags, but this time around, the researchers found subjects who identified as bisexual and who had both sexual and romantic relationships with both men and women. While watching videos of female and male same-sex encounters, the bisexual men doing the study were aroused all around. All combinations of videos gave them boners. Meaning, bisexual men were just what they said they were: bisexual men. Why did this study and not the study from 2005 validate bisexuality? The study sample was more accurate and took into account a key part about sexuality: it's complex. Physical arousal is only one component of sexual orientation. Romantic attraction, emotional intimacy, and perceived attraction also play a large role in who we're attracted to — it's not just purely boners hooked up to machines. Many bisexuals were both relieved and sort of offended by the new findings.

2013 — Bisexuals Have It the Hardest
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Cynthia Nixon once said, "I don’t pull out the “bisexual” word because nobody likes the bisexuals. Everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals." Nixon isn't ready to identify as bi, despite the fact that she is attracted to both genders. And Nixon's feeling of rejection from outside communities might have a lot to do with the overall prejudice against bisexuals. A 2013 survey conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that of 1,500 people surveyed, 15 percent of the respondents did not believe bisexuality was a legitimate sexual orientation. Straight men were the most likely to have negative attitudes towards bisexuals, while female bisexuals were seen more favorably than male bisexuals. Another surprising finding? Those who identified as gay or lesbian also responded less positively to the idea of bisexuality than those who were bisexual. Bisexuals can feel marginalized by even those within the LGBTQ community. These feelings of isolation can lead to high instances of substance abuse, depression, and risky sexual activity, the study reported. The historical belief that bisexuality is an invalid identity is not just more prevalent than you might think, it's also incredibly damaging. By changing our own framing of the orientation — from something "weird" or "confused" or "experimental" to a legitimate identification, we can change the underlying social and scientific prejudice against bi-identifying individuals. Because let's face it, everyone. Bisexuality exists and it's wonderful.

This story originally appeared on Nerve as: "The Weird And Troubling History Of Bisexual Studies"

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Before You Go

Megan Fox

In a 2011 Esquire interview, Megan Fox confirmed her bisexuality, stating, "I think people are born bisexual and then make subconscious choices based on the pressures of society. I have no question in my mind about being bisexual. But I'm also a hypocrite: I would never date a girl who was bisexual, because that means they also sleep with men, and men are so dirty that I'd never want to sleep with a girl who had slept with a man."

Billie Joe Armstrong

The Green Day front man opened up about his sexuality in a 1995 interview with The Advocate: "I think I've always been bisexual. I mean, it's something that I've always been interested in. I think everybody kind of fantasizes about the same sex. I think people are born bisexual, and it's just that our parents and society kind of veer us off into this feeling of 'Oh, I can't.' They say it's taboo. It's ingrained in our heads that it's bad, when it's not bad at all. It's a very beautiful thing."

Margaret Cho

Comedian Margaret Cho has long been open about her sexuality. In August 2013, Cho discussed the semantics surrounding her open marriage to artist Al Ridenour, saying that she's "technically not able to stay with one person sexually because I’m bisexual,” and joking that she just “can’t stop up that hole.” She also identifies as queer, and opened up about her sexuality in an interview with HuffPost Gay Voices Editor-At-Large Michelangelo Signorile.

Clive Davis

Twice-married record executive and music mogul Clive Davis came out as bisexual in his 2013 memoir, The Soundtrack Of My Life. Davis opened up about two long-term relationships he had with men after his divorce from his second wife.

Anna Paquin
Anna Paquin is adamantly open about her bisexuality. The actress told "Zooey" magazine in a 2009 interview, "For me, it’s not really an issue because I’m someone who believes being bisexual is actually a thing. It’s not made up. It’s not a lack of decision."
Megan Mullally
After telling The Advocate in 1999 that she was bisexual, Mullally clarified her statements in an interview with Queerty, telling the blog: "I said that I thought that everybody is innately bisexual. I think there are different levels of awareness attached to that, so I may believe that everybody is innately bisexual, but somebody who is very homophobic may not see that quality in themselves in any way, shape or form. That’s on a very philosophical or even metaphysical level, you know what I mean? It’s not something that I think people are ready for yet. I think if you ask the average guy on the street if he was innately bisexual, he’d be like, ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ and then he’d punch you in the face. So, we’re not quite there."
Azealia Banks
The rapper has been openly bisexual since the early days of her career: "I mean, I'm bisexual, so it makes sense. But I don't want to be that girl who says all gays necessarily hang out together, of course! I have people say to me, 'Oh wow, my friend is gay, too,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, so?'"
Andy Dick
Many people mistakenly assume that Andy Dick identifies as gay. However, he told The Washington Post in a 2006 interview that, "just because I've been with guys, and I'm bi, doesn't mean I'm gay."
Bai Ling

Actress Bai Ling is openly bisexual -- and the identity category has often provided some humorous mix-ups involving her first name. According to GLAAD, she discussed it in-depth in a 2009 interview with Entertainment Weekly: "[A]t first when I was in the United States I didn't always have an interpreter in interviews and I didn't speak English so well. There was some confusion. My name is pronounced 'bi,' so when I was asked, 'Are you bi?' I said, 'Yes, I am Bai.' Do you like men? 'Of course!' Do you like women? 'Why yes!' And later I found out what that means and I said, 'Sure, I am bi!' But I think the interpreters and the reporters thought that I didn't know what I was saying because I was so open about it. They were uncomfortable about it. Such a thing is not important for me."

Carrie Brownstein

The "Portlandia" star and former guitarist and vocalist for Sleater-Kinney is often assumed to identify as gay. However, she told "Willamette Week" in 2012 that, "It’s weird, because no one’s actually ever asked me. People just always assume, like, you’re this or that. It’s like, ‘OK. I’m bisexual.’”

David Bowie
Though David Bowie has historically played coy surrounding his sexuality, he clarified the subject in a 1976 interview with "Playboy." "It's true -- I am a bisexual. But I can't deny that I've used that fact very well. I suppose it's the best thing that ever happened to me."
The always-polarizing Snooki sat down with The Huffington Post in February 2012 and sought to clarify her sexual preference. "I would consider myself bi. I've done stuff with girls before. But I would never be with a girl because I like... penis. But I've experimented."
Amber Heard
Amber Heard has been openly bisexual for quite some time, and discussed this aspect of her identity in "Elle." The model and actress told reporters: "[I] didn't want to look like I was hiding anything."
Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie has been open about her sexuality for quite some time, having had numerous encounters and relationships with women. She reportedly told OK Magazine that, "I have loved women in the past and slept with them. I think if you love and want to pleasure a woman, particularly if you are a woman yourself, then certainly you know how to do things a certain way."
Evan Rachel Wood
Evan Rachel Wood came out on Twitter in 2012: “I myself am bisexual and have always ‘joked’ about Miley giving me gay vibes. Not a bad thing! Just an observation.”
The author of Push, the book that inspired the critically acclaimed film "Precious," describes herself as bisexual.
Drew Barrymore
Drew Barrymore originally came out in an interview in Contact Magazine in 2003, saying, "Do I like women sexually? Yeah, I do. Totally. I have always considered myself bisexual... I love a woman's body. I think a woman and a woman together are beautiful, just as a man and a woman together are beautiful. Being with a woman is like exploring your own body, but through someone else."
Frenchie Davis
This former "American Idol" and "The Voice" contestant came out in 2012, telling her fans that she had been in a relationship with a woman for the past year and had dated men and women.
Vanessa Carlton
Musician Vanessa Carlton came out publicly at 2010's Nashville Pride, announcing to a crowd of 18,000 that, "I've never said this before, but I am a proud bisexual woman!"
The Black Eyed Peas front woman confirmed speculation surrounding her sexual identity in 2009 through an interview with The Advocate: "Q: After you discussed past sexual experiences with women in an interview with 'The Sun' in May, headlines everywhere read, 'Fergie Admits She’s Bisexual!' A: The funny thing is that I was very open and honest about that from the very beginning, and everyone was acting like it was some new trend. Go back four or five years, people, and you’ll see the same answer."
Pete Townshend
In his book, Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend, this musician confirmed that he is "probably bisexual" and cited his attraction to Mick Jagger, calling him "the only man I've ever seriously wanted to fuck."
Tila Tequila
Tila Tequila is not one to shy away from anything. The former Myspace celebrity did several reality shows centered around identifying as bisexual, beginning with "A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila." She was also the girlfriend of Casey Johnson, the Johnson & Johnson heiress, who passed away in 2010.
Amber Rose
Amber Rose has long been perceived to be openly bisexual without actually addressing the way she identifies. In an interview with Complex magazine, the model sought to clarify the rumors: "They label me a bisexual freak stripper that fucks Kanye on a daily basis. To answer that: I’m extremely open with my sexuality. I can be in love with a woman, I can be in love with a man. I’m not into bestiality, but as far as humans go, I definitely find beauty in everybody, whether they’re heavy-set, super-skinny, if they’re white, black, Indian, Asian, Spanish. I can see beauty in anybody. I’m not into threesomes or orgies and shit like that. If I see a women and I think she’s beautiful and I like her, and she likes me back we can definitely try to be in a relationship together."
Cynthia Nixon
Currently married to wife Christine Marinoni, Nixon confirmed in a January 2012 interview with The Daily Beast that she is bisexual. The "Sex And The City" star stated, "I don’t pull out the 'bisexual' word because nobody likes the bisexuals. Everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals... We get no respect."
Jillian Michaels
The first lady to ever come out in "Lady's Home Journal" as bisexual, "Biggest Loser" coach and personal trainer Jillian Michaels told the magazine in 2010: “Let’s just say I believe in healthy love. If I fall in love with a woman, that’s awesome. If I fall in love with a man, that’s awesome. As long as you fall in love… it’s like organic food. I only eat healthy food, and I only want healthy love!”
Kim Zolciak
Former "Real Housewives Of Atlanta" star Kim Zolciak was in public relationships with both the mysterious "Big Poppa" and DJ Tracy Young before marrying Kroy Biermann. In a 2010 interview with Life & Style, interviewers posed the following question for the reality queen: "Q: Do you feel you're giving a voice to other bisexual parents? A: I'm among the millions of parents who have been in a gay or lesbian relationship. It hasn't been an easy road lately, but I feel there are no mistakes in my life. Everything happens for a reason. To have the opportunity to speak for myself and to have people understand what I'm going through is really special. I myself was confused and scared at first. Being able to speak from my heart and get this all out, it's a huge relief for me."
Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga has been open for quite some time about her bisexuality, initially coming out in a 2010 interview with Barbara Walters.
'Mama June' Shannon
Charles Norfleet via Getty Images

The star of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" revealed that she's bisexual in an "Inside Edition" interview in April 2015. Her daughter "Pumpkin" Lauryn Thompson also came out as bi at the same time.

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