Erick Janssen is Senior Scientist & Director of Education & Research Training at The Kinsey Institute, which is based at Indiana University in Bloomington. Dr. Janssen’s research interests include the determinants of sexual desire and arousal, the effects of emotions on sexual response and behavior, and sexuality and relationships. In 2011, he conducted a major study, “Patterns of sexual arousal in homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual men.” Janssen received his Ph.D., at Universiteit van Amsterdam (The Netherlands), 1995.
There are many people who claim that bisexuals do not exist. What does the latest science tell us?
From a scientific perspective, from the sort of research that we have conducted, there is something unique about, in terms of sexual arousal, men who self-identify as bisexual. From that specific perspective you have to say they exist.
You conducted a major study on bisexuality in 2011. How did you go about measuring arousal patterns?
Bisexuality was, is, a relatively understudied topic and still is to some degree in terms of psychophysiological studies or laboratory studies or studies on sexual arousal.
What would you predict as a scientist?
You would say, well, we would want to see something that shows you have a bisexual arousal pattern. So, what would that mean? It could mean that you require bisexual men to become equally aroused to men or women. This has been done in some research and we felt that it was not necessarily the best approach because you could consider yourself bisexual but not necessarily become equally aroused by men or women. Or, turned on. Or, not by everybody. It depends on context or situation on who you are with, etc. So, we considered the possibility that there would be more variability there.
In this study, we measured arousal using a little device that a man can place on their penis in private and that allows us to measure the circumference of the penis of a measure of erection. And, we also ask men after the film was completed how aroused they felt during the videos.
What was significant about your study?
What was new about this study is that, as far as we know, this is the only study in which men of different sexual orientations were presented with a video of two men having sex together including with a woman, so three people. And all three were engaged in sexual activity together. And only the bisexual men — the self-identified bisexual men — really became substantially aroused by that. Gay men did not become very aroused by that. And self-identified straight men did not become very aroused by that.
Were you surprised by your findings?
I can’t really say I was surprised by our findings. If anything, I was surprised by how clear cut the findings were. It would have been possible that self-identified gay men and self-identified straight men would respond relatively strongly to the depiction of two men and a woman having sex as well because it contained, at least to some degree, things or people that they are generally attracted by or are interested in — men for the gay men and a woman for the straight man. But the responses were really lower than I anticipated or expected. And it was really the bisexual men who became aroused by this.
Any final thoughts?
From a scientific perspective, I come up with thousands of questions but we have to before all the puzzles are solved, we have to live together, and we have to share this planet together, and just like we see in so many other aspects of our lives we are not all the same, there is variation and whatever people feel is real and we can explore underlying mechanisms and implications for it, peoples’ responses to peoples’ emotions, all those things are part of the larger puzzle. But, I think for me, it all ends and starts with respect and tolerance.