A study came out this week finally "proving" that bisexual men experience (measurable) sexual attraction to both women and men. For many of us, our first reaction was an amused and annoyed "duh!"— Why do we need scientists to tell us that bisexual men are attracted to both men and women?
The answer is we don't, but that doesn't mean that this research is absurd or unimportant. Sadly a lot of people still question the existence of bisexuality— especially male bisexuality. While we shouldn't have to prove our existence, let alone our right to be who we are, identity maintenance is one of the harder challenges of being bisexual in our society. What is identity maintenance, you ask? Long story short, like gays and lesbians, bi people go through a process of self-discovery and settling into an identity where, ideally surrounded by supportive community, they can finally grow and thrive as their true selves. There are different models to describe this process, but for bi people, there is an additional step that gays and lesbians don't have to deal with called identity maintenance— it’s where bi people have to put in work— over and over— to convince people that we are still bisexual, that we haven't changed our mind and “chosen a side” (gay or straight identity). Basically, it's fighting against bi erasure on an individual level. We see it all the time when celebrities who come out as bi are expected to re-affirm their bisexuality on a regular basis. While we shouldn't have to prove our existence, scientific findings are a tool that we can use to do just that. The work of scientists helps to prove that what we are saying about ourselves is true. This is a powerful tool for persuading the public that bisexuality is not a choice, that it's something hardwired in our bodies.
Keep in mind that unfortunately many people still do not believe that bisexuality is a real thing. Even members of the LGBTI community routinely come up with biphobic comments like "just pick a team". The stigma against bisexuality is in part due to the fact that it can be difficult for people to relate to those who are different from them, and many people find it reassuring for their own identity to believe that everyone is gay or straight. This is further compounded by the fact that some people do identify as bi before they eventually come out as gay. Additionally, most bi people end up in monogamous relationships; relationships in which their bisexuality is no longer on visible display. Given our society's default assumptions of monosexuality (believing everyone is gay or straight), in the minds of everyone else, their bisexuality is erased out of existence. This means that a lot of people feel like they know someone who went through a "bi phase." All this is to say that there is a real need to convince society of our existence.
Consider the effect that “born this way” had on spreading acceptance of gay people. Using scientific studies like these proved to the world that homosexuality was not a choice and helped to destigmatize homosexuality. The "born this way" campaign paved the way to greater societal acceptance and legal gains like marriage equality in 29 (and counting) countries. That said, the debate about whether or not to argue for our rights based upon the idea of sexuality being inborn goes back to the 1860s, to the early days of the LGBTI movement— it's not without its critics. Still, with those victories behind us, should we really close ourselves off to similar tools that could help advance greater societal acceptance and wellbeing for bi people?
Studies like "Robust Evidence for Bisexual Orientation Among Men" help us to better understand human sexuality and pave the way for future, more insightful, research. Of course bi men exist. But our sexuality is so much more than a yes or no question. It provides hard evidence that male sexuality exists on a spectrum, consistent with self-reported positions on the Kinsey Scale. Even within the bi community, many people worry that they are not "bi enough", that they need to be equally attracted to men and women. Findings like these can help us to educate people that there is no one right way to be bi.
I think it's also important to note that this study was conducted by the same researchers (plus others) whose study over a decade ago failed to find bisexual arousal patterns in men was reported prominently in the New York Times as "Straight, Gay, or Lying". Although the general public doesn't generally think in these terms, this is how science works: people revise, improve, and update their hypotheses as more evidence becomes available. This study has helped us further our objective understanding of human sexuality, so we aren’t left with upsetting arguments about subjective experiences. By providing more and more evidence that bi men really are attracted to both men and women, we can make it harder for people to invalidate, erase, or otherwise belittle the experiences of bi people.
As outlined in the AIB model, sexual orientation has three different but related dimensions: attraction, identity, and behavior. Studies like these can really only measure one component of our sexual orientation— attraction. No study can refute how we identify or behave. But, if we base our understanding of bisexuality solely on self-reported identity and/or behavior, we risk overlooking the experiences of so many bi people who are not out or who have only dated one gender.
So, do we need scientists to tell us that we exit? No. Does that mean that these studies are without value? Also, no.