Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bisexuality and the Kinsey Scale

By Mister Curie

After acknowledging being attracted to men, I struggled with where to place myself on the Kinsey scale and how to interpret that placement. Despite how much I felt I had denied being attracted to men for my entire life, I couldn't deny that I had also had feelings of attraction for women. I quickly recognized that I was not a "6" on the Kinsey scale, but it was also apparent that I was not a "3" and I felt more attracted to men in general than to women. I felt that a bisexual should be equally attracted to men and women, so I accepted the gay label.  I returned to one of my earliest thoughts that I had not recognized my attraction to men because I focused more on my attraction to women, whatever amount of that which existed. I anticipated that as I acknowledged my attractions to men I would experience a sudden swing on the Kinsey scale, but that hasn't happened. While I am more able to actively recognize and appreciate my attractions to men now, I have not felt a major shift in my Kinsey scale. It appears that while years of being married to a woman couldn't remove my attractions to men, acknowledging my attraction to men also cannot remove my attractions to women (most notably, of course, my wife).

What does the research show with regard to Kinsey scale and self-labeled heterosexuals, bisexuals, and homosexuals?  Again from the "Dual Attraction" questionairre, for sexual feelings 97% of heterosexuals reported 0-1, 97% of homosexuals reported 5-6, and bisexuals spread out across the kinsey scale with 2% reported 0 and another 2% reporting 6, only 20% reporting 3 and in general exhibiting a slight over-representation toward the lower (heterosexual) end of the Kinsey scale.  For sexual behaviors, 100% of heterosexuals reported 0-1 (8.8% reported 1, which is a small degree of homosexual behaviors) and 100% of homosexuals reported 5-6 (8.8% reported 5, which is a small degree of heterosexual behaviors), and bisexuals were again spread out across the scale with 11% reported 0, 8.3% reported 6 and a more pronounced skewing of the data toward the lower (heterosexual) end of the scale.  For romantic feelings, 97% of heterosexuals reported 0-1, 97% of homosexuals reported 5-6, and bisexuals were widely dispersed, 23% reported 0, 4.5% reported 6 and the most pronounced skewing toward the lower (heterosexual) end of the scale. 
The researchers then looked at composite scores of sexual feelings, sexual behaviors, and romantic feelings for individuals.  65% of heterosexuals were pure heterosexuals (0 on all three measures on the Kinsey scale) and 58.3% of homosexuals were pure homosexuals (6 on all three measures).  Only 6.9% of bisexual men were pure bisexuals (3 on all three measures).  The largest category of bisexual men were heteroseuxal leaning bisexuals with 43.1% of bisexuals reporting an average of 2 or less on all three measures).  21.6 % of bisexual men were mid bisexuals with 2-4 on all three measures, 17.6% of bisexual men were homosexual leaning bisexuals with an average of 4-6 on all three measures.  The researchers also identified a category they called "varied bisexuals" who had a separation of at least 3 points between two of their Kinsey scale measurements.  In general "varied bisexuals" had significantly more  homosexual behaviors than their sexual and romantic feelings would predict. 
Based on these criteria, I would be classified as a "varied bisexual", but my behaviors are significantly more heterosexual than my feelings would predict.  The researchers noted one subject in their survey that seems to be a close match to my profile. "Only one bisexual showed a discrepancy of 4 scale points or greater across the three dimensions.  It was produced by having more homsexual sexual and romantic feelings but no homosexual sexual activity. (The profile was 404.)"
As expected, heterosexuals clustered near the low end of the Kinsey scale, homosexuals clustered near the high end of the Kinsey scale, and bisexuals were spread out, but seemed to cluster near the lower end of the Kinsey scale rather than the middle of the Kinsey scale. Thus bisexuals appeared to be significantly attracted to men, but slightly more attracted to women than men. This contradicts with my own feelings of attraction toward men being stronger than toward women in general.

The researchers also looked at the overlap in Kinsey profiles among the heterosexuals, bisexuals, and homosexuals.  They found that 87% of the heterosexuals that were not 0 on all three Kinsey scales overlapped with the heterosexual leaning bisexuals Kinsey profiles.  Similarly, 81% of the homosexuals that were not 6 on all three Kinsey scales overlapped with the homosexual leaning bisexual Kinsey profiles.  The researchers suggest that these areas of overlap may be people beginning to experience a change in self-labeling as they find that their feelings and behaviors do not entirely match their self-label and would be a particularly interesting group to study for researchers studying transition in sexual identity.  The researchers also suggest that "varied bisexuals" may be in a particularly unstable situation as behaviors tend to match closely with feelings.  These results also show that there is significant overlap in Kinsey scales among different self-labels. 
How does your self-label match with your Kinsey scale rankings of sexual feelings, sexual behavior, and romantic feelings?  How closely aligned are your Kinsey scale rankings?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bisexuality Coming of Age

By Mister Curie
After finally acknowledging to myself that I was attracted to men and I began applying the gay label to myself, there were moments that I felt frustrated that I hadn't accepted it earlier.  Certainly life seems more complicated when one comes out as gay after getting married and have a child with a woman.  Reviewing my life, there were plenty of experiences that should have given me a clue that I was attracted to men.  Somehow I had dismissed those experiences and managed to find a wonderful woman to marry.  I blamed my Mormon worldview for giving me the wrong idea about what "gay" was.  I blamed society for stigmatizing homosexuality beyond what Mormonism did.  I blamed myself for being in denial.  Yet somewhere among all of that, I managed to maintain a wonderful and fulfilling relationship with my wife, and having that relationship did not seem to contradict my core identity. 

Still, it was hard not to imagine how life might have been different if I had accepted being attracted to men earlier.  I got caught up in the challenges and triumphs of the younger MoHo community.  I wondered how many believing MoHos could be so aware of their attraction to men and struggle with it in their believing Mormon worldview, when I had been in complete denial of it, largely due to my Mormon worldview.  I felt that I had perhaps missed out on some gay coming-of-age event that I could have experienced if only I had come out to myself earlier in life. 

So it was with some surprise and potential self-recognition that I read the statistics compiled by the researchers who wrote "Dual Attraction", which I recently reviewed.  They sent out questionaires to people of all sexual orientation: heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual. Part of the questionaire asked about age of first attractions, behaviors, self-labelling, and coming out.  Heterosexuals reported their first heterosexual attraction at 10.2 years, bisexuals at 12.8 years, and homosexuals at 14.5 years (yes, some homosexuals did report heterosexual feelings).  For first homosexual attraction, homosexuals reported 11.5 years, bisexuals 17.1 years, and heterosexuals 21.9 years (yep, even some heterosexuals reported homosexual feelings).  Perhaps most interesting, homsexuals first used the homosexual label for themselves at 21.1 years (right at the age when young missionaries are returning home - and I've certainly read lots of MoHo accounts about coming out to themselves while on a mission or shortly thereafter) while bisexuals first labeled themselves as bisexual at 29 years of age (I first acknowledged to myself that I was attracted to men shortly before my 30th birthday).  Homsexuals first came out at an average of 23.6 years (so a couple of years after labelling themselves as homosexual) while bisexuals first came out to others at 29.2 years ( very shortly after coming out to themselves, which parallels my experience coming out soon after acknowledging to myself that I am attracted to men).

While one's age at self-labelling and coming out is probably not a reliable indicator of whether someone is gay or bisexual, and the standard deviations on the means I reported above are very large (on the order of 10 years in either direction), it was interesting to me that my story seemed to fit more into the bisexual pattern.  Rather than being a gay "late-bloomer", perhaps I fit squarely in the mean of the bisexual. 

As an aside, I don't really fit either pattern with regard to first attractions, I clearly remember having a crush on a girl in 1st grade and inviting her over to watch a movie and share a drink from a romantic glass with two straws and I also had a guy friend about the same time that I thought was very cute and I kissed on the cheek, for both experiences I was younger than the mean age at first attraction for either heterosexuals attraction for women or homosexuals attraction for men.

What has been your experience?  How old were you when you self-labeled and when you came out to others?  How old were you when you experienced your first attraction to men and/or women?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review: Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality by Weinberg, Williams and Pryor

By Mister Curie

For my studies of bisexuality, another book has been influential and I wanted to introduce it before delving into the details in future posts. 

"Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality" is a highly scientific book and largely reads like a particularly long scientific article, complete with tables and graphs.  It is based on a sociological observation study of self-labelled bisexuals living in San Francisco in the early 1980's.  The authors note that according to the Kinsey report, "nearly half of all men in the United States are not exclusively heterosexual or homosexual in their sexual feelings or behaviors" and that "most persons in the United States who behave bisexually do not adopt a bisexual identity."  In contrast, this report studies people who do self-label as bisexual, and thus may not be generalizable outside of self-labeled bisexuals or even outside of bisexuals living in San Francisco in the 1980's.  Of course, in my future posts I will ignore this as I try to generalize the information to my own situation and determine if the label bisexual seems to fit my situation and if it conveys the message I am trying to send.

The study began with observation and interviews with members of the San Francisco Bisexual Center.  In order to compare their observations of bisexuals with heterosexuals and homosexuals, the team utilized the information they gathered at the Bisexual Center to create an extensive questionnaire that was mailed to heterosexuals, bisexuals, and homosexuals identified through other San Francisco organizations, The Pacific Center for homosexuals and the San Franscisco Sex Information Service and the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality for heterosexuals.  The information was all gathered largely before the AIDS crisis, which erupted while they were compiling their initial results.  They decided to return to San Francisco to do a follow-up study on the impact of AIDS on bisexuals in San Francisco.

The book is largely a sociology study and does not attempt to integrate biology with the observations.  The authors specifically note that "the approach we take, in contrast to the biological one, emphasizes the standpoint of the people we are examining and tried to capture how they construct their sexual lives."  As a biologist myself, I found the book illuminating due to its alternative perspective as well as occassionally misguided due to its failure to take biological explanations into consideration.  As it was an observational study, the researchers emphasized behaviors, although they tried to account for self-reported feelings (sexuals and romantic) using the Kinsey scale.  The authors treated each number on the Kinsey scale as a discrete category and when comparing sequential Kinsey scale rankings by the same person, the authors noted changes in Kinsey scale.  Examining the data showed most changes were small, perhaps due to changes in interpretation of the meaning of numbers on the Kinsey scale rather than actual changes in Kinsey scale rankings, however the authors considered any change in Kinsey scale number as highly important. The emphasis on specific Kinsey scale numbers and behavior resulted in reports of the ability to change one's sexual orientation, which I don't think most of the study participants would agree with.

For me the most valuable part of the study is the rich demographic information collected from homosexuals, bisexuals, and heterosexuals.  This data provides a quantifiable description of the different categories that I can compare myself to.  It also provides data to refute or support the myths of bisexuality.  The data also enables me to compare the perceptions of bisexuality with its reality, enabling me to see what messages I am sending about myself with the bisexual label.