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.

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