Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dr. Brian Mustanski - Is bisexuality the same in men and women?

Recent research suggests that men have more rigid boundaries in their sexual arousal than do women. While straight men tend to be aroused only by images of women, and gay men by images of men, women do not tend to show a bias one way or the other in arousal, not matter how they identify.

Dr. Brian Mustanski looks at this topic in his Psychology Today blog, The Sexual Continuum, and discusses it with male sexuality researcher Dr. Brian Dodge in the video below.

Is bisexuality the same in men and women?

Video answers: is bisexuality the same in men and women?

There has been a lot of scientific and cultural interest lately in differences in the sexuality between men and women. For example, my colleague Dr. Meredith Chivers has been publishing some fascinating research showing major differences in the ways in which men and women experience sexual attractions. She has found that men are fairly specific in what turns them on sexually, whereas women in general have more flexibility. Men who identify as heterosexual become aroused when watching films of women but not men. Gay men tended to be aroused by films of men. This is very different with the women in her research. No matter how they identified in terms of their sexual orientation, they were more likely to show the same pattern of arousal to men, women, and both. Her research was featured in a New York Times Magazine cover story.

To help understand differences in sexual attractions and bisexuality in men and women, I sat down with Dr. Brian Dodge at a recent conference. As a Research Scientist and Associate Director of the Indiana University Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Dr. Dodge has conducted fascinating research on male sexuality, particularly bisexuality. In the video below he answers my question, "is bisexuality the same thing in men and women?"

~ Dr. Mustanski is the Director of the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. You can follow his work on the program's webpage. You can follow the Sexual Continuum blog by becoming a fan on Facebook.

Here is the beginning of the New York Times Magazine story referred to above. The interesting finding is that men have pretty clear agreement between their genitals and their brains when it comes to arousal.

On the other hand, women are physically aroused by seemingly ALL of the scenes involving intimacy, whether it's man/woman, woman/woman, man/man, or bonobos. Based solely on this research, it would seem that women are wired to be physically aroused by intimacy in general, no matter what their brains suggest. But the researcher is very clear in her findings - arousal does not equal consent.

What Do Women Want?

Published: January 22, 2009Meredith Chivers is a creator of bonobo pornography. She is a 36-year-old psychology professor at Queen’s University in the small city of Kingston, Ontario, a highly regarded scientist and a member of the editorial board of the world’s leading journal of sexual research, Archives of Sexual Behavior. The bonobo film was part of a series of related experiments she has carried out over the past several years. She found footage of bonobos, a species of ape, as they mated, and then, because the accompanying sounds were dull — “bonobos don’t seem to make much noise in sex,” she told me, “though the females give a kind of pleasure grin and make chirpy sounds” — she dubbed in some animated chimpanzee hooting and screeching. She showed the short movie to men and women, straight and gay. To the same subjects, she also showed clips of heterosexual sex, male and female homosexual sex, a man masturbating, a woman masturbating, a chiseled man walking naked on a beach and a well-toned woman doing calisthenics in the nude.

While the subjects watched on a computer screen, Chivers, who favors high boots and fashionable rectangular glasses, measured their arousal in two ways, objectively and subjectively. The participants sat in a brown leatherette La-Z-Boy chair in her small lab at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, a prestigious psychiatric teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto, where Chivers was a postdoctoral fellow and where I first talked with her about her research a few years ago. The genitals of the volunteers were connected to plethysmographs — for the men, an apparatus that fits over the penis and gauges its swelling; for the women, a little plastic probe that sits in the vagina and, by bouncing light off the vaginal walls, measures genital blood flow. An engorgement of blood spurs a lubricating process called vaginal transudation: the seeping of moisture through the walls. The participants were also given a keypad so that they could rate how aroused they felt.

The men, on average, responded genitally in what Chivers terms “category specific” ways. Males who identified themselves as straight swelled while gazing at heterosexual or lesbian sex and while watching the masturbating and exercising women. They were mostly unmoved when the screen displayed only men. Gay males were aroused in the opposite categorical pattern. Any expectation that the animal sex would speak to something primitive within the men seemed to be mistaken; neither straights nor gays were stirred by the bonobos. And for the male participants, the subjective ratings on the keypad matched the readings of the plethysmograph. The men’s minds and genitals were in agreement.

All was different with the women. No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, they showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men. They responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man, and their blood flow rose quickly — and markedly, though to a lesser degree than during all the human scenes except the footage of the ambling, strapping man — as they watched the apes. And with the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person. The readings from the plethysmograph and the keypad weren’t in much accord. During shots of lesbian coupling, heterosexual women reported less excitement than their vaginas indicated; watching gay men, they reported a great deal less; and viewing heterosexual intercourse, they reported much more. Among the lesbian volunteers, the two readings converged when women appeared on the screen. But when the films featured only men, the lesbians reported less engagement than the plethysmograph recorded. Whether straight or gay, the women claimed almost no arousal whatsoever while staring at the bonobos.

“I feel like a pioneer at the edge of a giant forest,” Chivers said, describing her ambition to understand the workings of women’s arousal and desire. “There’s a path leading in, but it isn’t much.” She sees herself, she explained, as part of an emerging “critical mass” of female sexologists starting to make their way into those woods.

Read the rest of this intriguing article.

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