Bisexual people exist (again): News release for Cornell sexual orientation study

Cornell University issued the following news release:

Pupil dilation reveals sexual orientation in new Cornell study

There is a popular belief that sexual orientation can be revealed by pupil dilation to attractive people, yet until now there was no scientific evidence.

For the first time, researchers at Cornell University used a specialized infrared lens to measure pupillary changes to participants watching erotic videos.

Pupils were highly telling: they widened most to videos of people who participants found attractive, thereby revealing where they were on the sexual spectrum from heterosexual to homosexual.

The findings were published August 3 in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.

Previous research explored these mechanisms either by simply asking people about their sexuality, or by using physiological measures such as assessing their genital arousal.

These methods, however, come with substantial problems.

“We wanted to find an alternative measure that would be an automatic indication of sexual orientation, but without being as invasive as previous measures. Pupillary responses are exactly that,” says Gerulf Rieger, lead author and research fellow at Cornell.

“With this new technology we are able to explore sexual orientation of people who would never participate in a study on genital arousal, such as people from traditional cultures. This will give us a much better understanding how sexuality is expressed across the planet.”

The new Cornell study adds considerably more to the field of sexuality research than merely a novel measure.

As expected, heterosexual men showed strong pupillary responses to sexual videos of women, and little to men; heterosexual women, however, showed pupillary responses to both sexes.

This result confirms previous research suggesting that women have a very different type of sexuality than men.

Moreover, the new study feeds into a long-lasting debate on male bisexuality.

Previous notions were that most bisexual men do not base their sexual identity on their physiological sexual arousal but on romantic and identity issues.

Contrary to this claim, bisexual men in the new study showed substantial pupil dilations to sexual videos of both men and women.

“We can now finally argue that a flexible sexual desire is not simply restricted to women – some men have it, too, and it is reflected in their pupils,” says Ritch C. Savin-Williams, co-author and professor in Human Development at Cornell.

“In fact, not even a division into ‘straight,’ ‘bi,’ and ‘gay’ tells the full story. Men who identity as ‘mostly straight’ really exist both in their identity and their pupil response; they are more aroused to males than straight men, but much less so than both bisexual and gay men,” Savin-Williams notes.

The researchers are confident that their new measure will aid in understanding these groups better and point to a range of sexualities that has been ignored in previous research.

Sexual fluidity/bisexuality and alcohol

From http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-06/uom-sof060612.php

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Many young adults explore and define their sexual identity in college, but that process can be stressful and lead to risky behaviors. In a new study, students whose sexual self-definition didn’t fall into exclusively heterosexual or homosexual categories tended to misuse alcohol more frequently than people who had a firmly defined sexual orientation for a particular gender, according to University of Missouri researchers. These findings could be used to improve support programs for sexual minorities.

“Bisexuals and students whose sexual orientation was in flux reported the heaviest drinking and most negative consequences from alcohol use, such as uncontrolled drinking and withdrawal symptoms,” said Amelia Talley, MU assistant professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts and Science. “Those groups reported drinking to relieve anxiety and depression at higher rates than strictly heterosexual or homosexual individuals. One possible explanation is that people who aren’t either completely heterosexual or homosexual may feel stigmatized by both groups.”

The study followed more than 2,000 incoming college students for four years. Each fall and spring, study participants were surveyed about their sexual self-identification, attraction and sexual behavior. The students fell into different sexual orientation groups. One was exclusively heterosexual, but there were several sexual minority groups: exclusively homosexual, mostly homosexual, bisexual and mostly heterosexual. The survey also asked about frequency of alcohol use, reasons for drinking, and negative consequences experienced as a result of alcohol use.

“Exclusively homosexual and heterosexual persons drank at roughly the same rate and reported drinking to enhance enjoyment of social situations,” Talley said. “The other sexual minority groups tended to report more alcohol misuse. This suggests that it may be the stressful process of developing one’s sexual identity that contributes to problematic drinking, just as people in any difficult situation in life may turn to alcohol to alleviate stress.”

The study also found gender differences in sexual behaviors and self-definition of sexual identity.

“Females showed the greatest degree of sexual orientation fluidity,” Talley said. “They were able to admit a certain degree of attraction to the same gender without defining themselves as completely homosexual.” Talley suggested that “women may be more open to admitting to same-sex attractions because women are more likely to be objectified as sexual objects in our culture; hence, women are accustomed to assessing the attractiveness of other women in comparison to themselves.”

Males tended to define themselves as either heterosexual or homosexual. Talley speculated that this may be because many males aren’t aware that being “mostly straight” is a feasible alternative. Even a small degree of sexual attraction to other males may cause a young man to feel anxiety about his sexual identity due to strict masculine gender norms.

“Organizations could put our findings to use by providing a support network to help young people avoid using alcohol to cope with stress as they define their sexual identity,” Talley said.

The study was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Radio 4 programme on bisexuality

Radio 4 programme on bisexuality and sexual fluidity. BiUK mentioned on website! Nice one The Bisexual Index.

Listen again available for a week or so:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01jhdgl

Responses to the programme are being compiled here:

http://bisexualftw.tumblr.com/post/24559242078/reaction-to-bbc-radio4s-a-straight-question

Some people are bi

Today is international day against homophobia and transphobia but instead of the obvious post about the bi erasure going on in that title we’d like to celebrate a couple of bits of bi visibility that have happened this week.

First Stonewall introduced a facebook banner to add to their ‘some people are gay, get over it’ campaign. Good on you Stonewall!

Second, Amy Andre, the authors of Bisexual Health: An Introduction, is conducting a fascinating interview with researcher Lisa Diamond over at The Huffington Post.  Lisa is a committed bi ally and her work on sexual fluidity in women is really important for challenging fixed ideas about sexual ‘orientation’.

When Dr. Lisa Diamond gave a keynote speech at the recent BECAUSE conference, I just had to sit up and listen. As whipsmart as she is unapologetically outspoken, this University of Utah psychology professor has her finger on the pulse of human sexuality research — and the attention of homophobic and biphobic conservatives who try to twist her findings to further their own agenda. She’s the last person who’s going to take that lying down.

Dr. Diamond isn’t just the author of the groundbreaking book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. She’s also a lesbian, a self-identified ally to the bi community, and a social scientist who declares that bisexuals “represent the vast majority of individuals with same-sex attractions” and are the norm in the LGB (lesbian, gay, bi) population!

In this two-part interview I got a chance to learn more about Dr. Diamond’s research, her precedent-setting commitment to the truth about bisexual lives and lesbian desires, and how she stands up to bigots at the federal level. Here is part one:

Read more.