Sex Question Friday: Are Bisexuals Usually More Attracted To One Sex?

May 10, 2013 by Justin Lehmiller

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know whether it icommon for bisexual individuals to be more attracted to one sex than the other.

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?

Thanks for this interesting question. 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.

For past Sex Question Friday posts, see here. Want to learn more about The Psychology of Human Sexuality? Click here for a complete list of articles or like the Facebook page to get articles delivered to your newsfeed.

[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.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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