Science's sexuality is massively understudied, and it remains a "taboo" issue. Often, men's experiences are assumed to be the norm in scientific research, yet there are significant differences between men and women.
On the topic of bisexuality, roughly 3.2 percent of the UK population over the age of 16 identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual in 2020: women were much more likely to identify as bisexual than men (1.6% of women vs. 0.9% of men).
When it came to the findings, a University of Notre Dame study found that women were three times more likely to identify as bisexual. "Women have a greater likelihood than men of being attracted to both men and women," said researcher Elizabeth McClintock.
Women are far more likely to identify as bisexual than men, according to the research. Could it be that women are more innately bisexual? Or may it be that women are more culturally accepted for women to be sexually fluid or to identify as a lesbian or bisexual than for men to identify as something other than straight.
Although cultural and biological differences are difficult to distinguish, research into sex differences in genital arousal might offer insights.
Arousal of women in bisexual form
Genital sexual arousal or physiological arousal is the bodily response to sexual content. It's measured by changes in the penis circumference, but in women, it's measured by changes in blood flow in the vagina.
Despite their sexual orientation, women are more likely to display a bisexual pattern in their sexual arousal, according to a 2016 study, while women are more likely to display genital sexual arousal in response to sexual videos of both men and women.
In many other arousal areas, including pupil dilation, and brain reactions, a more bisexual arousal pattern has been observed in women.
Our lab at the University of Essex has continuously found that women are more likely to have bisexual physical responses than men. Gerulf Rieger's research demonstrated that straight women had a similar sexual arousal response to both male and female sexual videos.
What is the significance of this?
The most well-known hypothesis as to why women develop a bisexual arousal pattern is what's called the preparation hypothesis. This paper attempts to explain why women have evolved to become physiologically enthused by sexual situations, even if they don't like or are dissatisfied with them.
This is presumably due to physiological arousal, which allows the vagina to become lubricated, thus reducing the likelihood of genital trauma as a result of sexual abuse.
While watching animal sex, one recent study suggested that women displayed genital arousal (bonobo chimpanzees). However, a 2018 study of 20 women found that watching sexually explicit films did not necessarily result in vaginal lubrication.
The results suggest that there are flaws in the scientific belief that women are turned on by anything sexual. Indeed, it is likely that many women reading this believe they don't need a study to assure them they aren't a result of any sexual situation.
Another theory we are currently looking into is whether empathy might explain women's bisexual arousal. Studies demonstrate that women are naturally more empathetic than men, especially toward other women.
Women are also more able to synchronize their own emotions with those of someone else. This means that women may be more able to comprehend and feel what somebody else is feeling, due to her empathy.
While this new hypothesis is still being investigated, it's clear that due to the complexity of cultural and biological influences involved, as well as because of limitations to current hypotheses, conclusions can only go so far.
Although the findings suggest that women are much more likely to identify as bisexual and have an increased amount of bisexual arousal than men, further investigation is required before we can fully grasp why this is the case.
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