Differences in Subjective Sexual Arousal in Heterosexual, Bisexual, and Lesbian Women

By Blackford, Lara; Doty, Shannon et al. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Differences in Subjective Sexual Arousal in Heterosexual, Bisexual, and Lesbian Women


Blackford, Lara, Doty, Shannon, Pollack, Robert, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


ABSTRACT: Although psychologists have conceptualized sexual orientation as either dichotomous or continuous, psychological studies of sexuality and sexual orientation have often included bisexuals and homosexuals in the same group, rather than treating bisexuality as a unique orientation. This study addresses the presumed uniqueness of bisexuality by testing the hypothesis that bisexual women will differ from lesbians and heterosexual women in their self-reported sexual arousal to three videos depicting different female-female and female-male sexual scenarios. Twenty participants in each group (ages 18-28) were given a self-administered questionnaire that included a consent form, a question assessing the respondent's self-identified sexual orientation, and three different pencil-and-paper measures to assess sexual arousal during and subsequent to viewing the videos. Mixed mode ANOVA revealed significant overall main effects, while pair-wise comparisons showed differences among the three groups. The finding that bisexual women differed from lesbian and heterosexual women in their arousal to the video stimuli is consistent with the concept that bisexuality is a unique orientation.

Key words: Sexual arousal Sexual orientation Women Bisexuality Homosexuality Heterosexuality

Bisexuality is the capacity to feel erotic attraction toward or to engage in sexual interaction with both males and females (Allgeier & Allgeier, 1991). Despite Kinsey's identification of a heterosexual-homosexual continuum of behaviour and attraction (Kinsey, Pomeroy & Martin, 1948; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin & Gebhard, 1953), most sexuality research has focused on two orientations, heterosexual and homosexual. Less attention has been given to the concept of bisexuality, and to the characteristics of individuals who are so identified. Public perceptions have incorrectly identified bisexuals as homosexual because they engaged in sexual activity with same-sexed partners. Others, including some in the gay/lesbian community, may have initially viewed bisexuals as simply unwilling to "come-out", and hence a threat to group solidarity. Indeed, some researchers have variously identified bisexuality as a transitional stage between orientations, an inability to make a serious emotional commitment, or an act of denial of homosexuality (MacDonald, 1981, 1983; Paul, 1984; Altshuler, 1984). It would appear that bisexuality has had insufficient recognition as an orientation (Spiers, 1976; Paul, 1985), and hence has lacked either a clear political voice or a social identity.

Although the idea of a bisexual orientation has been difficult for many people to accept, there is increasing reason to accept and integrate the concept into our culture. Numerous researchers have reconsidered the idea of a heterosexual-homosexual continuum in order to better accommodate a broad concept of bisexuality (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1976; Berkey et al., 1990; Spiers, 1976). Several publications have reported differences between groups identified as bisexual, homosexual and heterosexual (MacDonald, 1983; Blumstein & Schwartz, 1976, 1977; Van Wyk, 1984; Spiers, 1976; Money, 1987; Nichols, 1988). Blumstein and Schwartz (1976) proposed that bisexual women and men were characterized by sets of different needs, some that could be best or only met by their own sex, and some by the other. Dixon's (1985) study made it clear that women identified as bisexuals highly enjoyed sexual activity with partners of both sexes. Bressler and Lavender (1988) found that bisexual women differed from heterosexual women and lesbians in reports of orgasm and sexual fulfilment, as well as orientation. For example, bisexual women had more total orgasms per week, and stronger orgasms, than did either lesbian or heterosexual women. Had they ignored the category of bisexuality and placed all women who engage in same sex sexual activity in the homosexual group, their study would have confounded an understanding of either group. …

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