Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Another Note on the Study of Bisexuality

People are reacting quite harshly to the study on sexual arousal in bisexual males described in the previous post, especially in the comments here (Lindsay actually takes a level-headed approach to the study, though some of her commenters do not), here, and here. One commenter even went so far as to label the research "Bell Curve-esque," arguing that no matter how good the study is, we should not accept it, writing,
"Reform" in this case is capitulation to an anti-democratic, anti-human agenda, couched in terms of "scientific freedom of inquiry."
This level of hyperbole is just plain absurd, especially coming from people who haven't read the study! Criticize Bailey for being dramatic and going beyond his data, but don't dismiss scientific results just because you don't like them, or argue that studies on the topic of sexual arousal in different groups shouldn't be done. The questions that motivate such research are interesting, and potentially important. It's true that some people, including (perhaps) Bailey will misuse the results, but that's where scientists and supporters of scientists have to step in and say, "No! Look at the data, not the spin." That's what I tried to do in the last post, but for the most part, people commenting on the study have been blinded by the NYT spin (which is, in part, Bailey's spin).

I personally think the study raises all sorts of interesting questions about sexual orientation, the relationship between subjective and physical arousal in different contexts, the connection between sexual attraction and physical arousal, and so on, that are largely unanswered and warrant further research that can shed a great deal of light on human sexuality. It's a damn shame that the New York Times, Bailey (though not entirely -- see again the quote from the discussion section of his paper in the previous post), and the blog commenters are ignoring those questions, that all of them are doing so for ideological reasons, and in the case of the blog commenters and, in all likelihood, the NYT reporter, without having read the fucking research. You simply cannot evaluate a study based on an article about it in the New York Times (a fact, I should note, that Lindsay is well aware of, and is even now looking to the research reports before she comments further on the topic). It is undeniable that ideology can drive scientific work, but it is also undeniable that even ideologically-driven research can raise interesting questions and lead to new, interesting, and important research directions.

Here, by the way, are some quotes from the research article that explicitly avoid some of the ideological-biases that Bailey displays in the NYT quotes:
Sexual orientation refers to the degree of sexual attraction, fantasy, and arousal that one experiences for members of the opposite sex, same sex, or both.
Note that here, unlike in the article, Bailey and his students define sexual orientation with reference to much more than simple physical arousal.
In terms of behvior and identity, bisexual men clearly exist. Skepticism about male bisexuality must therefore concern claims about bisexual feelings, that is, strong sexual attraction and arousal to both sexes. The primary methodological challenge for investigating this issue is to employ a measure of sexual feelings that does not depend on self-report. At present, this is possible only for genital sexual arousal.
In other words, bisexuality does exist, but questions about it remain. This study is an attempt to answer one of those questions, and the authors note that their ability to do so is extremely limited because only genital sexual arousal is easily and reliably measurable. This qualifies any interpretation of the data they gather, and they note this both in the introduction and discussion sections of the paper. Furthermore, the finding of subjective arousal clearly shows the existence of strong sexual attraction to both sexes, even if this attraction does not correlate with genital sexual arousal. Once again, this means that the study raises more questions than it answers, but the questions are interesting, and should be explored.

18 comments:

coturnix said...

Here's the material for your post #3 on this topic:
http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=745962005

Chris said...

Oh god. I don't think I could post on that report, or even that research, without typing an expletive four or five times per sentence. Why, oh why, did you have to show me that?

bza said...

One consideration that I haven't seen discussed is the possible importance of adding a longitundinal dimension to this research. I've heard several bisexual acquaintances describe themselves as alternating between phases in which they're more attracted to men and phases in which they're more attracted to women. If this pattern is common among bisexuals, then the results of the present study would be just what you'd expect, and you'd want to retest the same subjects after six months or a year in order to address this possibility.

Chris said...

bza, I thought of that too, because I've had a similar experience with bisexual friends (they liked men sometimes, women sometimes, and both sometimes). It would be interesting to see if bisexual arousal levels while viewing male-male or female-female vidoes varied over time in a way that straight and gay male arousal levels didn't.

coturnix said...

Sorry! Expletives were streaming out of my mouth while I was reading that, too. I wanted to let someone calmer to comment on that - I do not want to lose the PG ratings of my blog, either.

(Though I wouldn't mind seeing YOU use a bunch of expletives, ha-ha).

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