Monday, July 08, 2013

Why Scientists Don't Understand Anything about Sexual Orientation

Every so often, a study comes along that intends to further our understanding about sexual orientation. A recent column, entitled "Why Women Are More Likely to Be Bisexual" gets right down to it. While this study has its detractors, its hypothesis is at least compelling, and does not (for the most part) peddle over-the-top pseudo-science. Naturally, none of its findings can be conclusively proven, but the study does make for interesting speculation.

Bisexuality cannot be explained easily by science or humanity. Nor, in all fairness, can it often be defined without difficulty by those who identify as such. Studies like these have tragic flaws. For one, it's impossible to separate scientific theory from cultural attitudes, looking at both of these in strict isolation. The conclusion is automatically suspect. When conventional masculinity is no longer threatened by homosexual conduct and behavior, a truly objective survey might be possible someday. I once never believed the day would come, but it may well yet.

Understanding my own sexual orientation has been one of the most difficult endeavors of my life. Along the way, I've had the great fortune to have considerate, helpful LGBT friends inform me that they accept me as I am. A few of them may express some consternation that, in spite of their open-mindedness, they still can't guide me towards full self-acceptance. I have come a great distance but know that this journey towards inward exploration is ongoing. Perhaps it's more realistic to expect that I'll always be learning about myself, but without as much insecurity or doubt.

Auspiciously, the article begins like this.
Women may be more "hetero-flexible," or be primarily attracted to men with some same sex attraction, because same-sex behavior allowed women to raise their children with other women, a new study has proposed.

The hypothesis, published this April in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, suggests that more fluid female sexuality may have evolved because it benefited women's offspring. Some women who were raped or fathered children with absentee or deceased dads formed sexual relationships with other women, which may have made it easier to raise children together, according to the theory.

"Being born with the ability to [be attracted to men and women] may have been beneficial to ancestral women," said study co-author Barry X. Kuhle, a psychologist at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.
When I was in my early twenties, a bisexual girlfriend who was considerably older than me was fond of saying that all women were bisexual. Though her assertion is unlikely, it is possible that there was some glimmer of truth in the statement. Once again, none of this can be conclusively proven, but it does make for interesting speculation. Should I classify her as hetero-flexible, or say the same of any of the other bisexual women I have called friends?

Now that the stigma against men who have sex with men grows less damning by the day, one wonders if new research will entirely disprove the conclusion of this study. I recognize that this may be easy for me to say. I have the great fortune of living in a liberal bubble. In this blue city, it is possible for lots of gender-bending and stereotype-challenging to take place. Women who dress up and wear pantyhose for work conceal proudly unshaven legs displayed, of course, while not at the office. Men who seek other men signify their preferences by a particularly understood style of dress and haircut.

I was socialized a man. My vision will always reflect the view from the dominance of one particular lens. I find myself utterly unqualified to speculate about the particulars of female sexuality and I will not try. My role here is that of an informed observer. This study reports upon variables that are too subjective to be taken seriously and I look forward to whomever wishes to expend the energy to pick these conclusions apart.

The article continues.
But exactly why has been a puzzle. Researchers have proposed that women's sexual fluidity enabled women to bond with sister wives in polygamous marriages. Still others have argued that it's a byproduct of the fact that women have weaker sex drives that are therefore easier to channel to different objects of attraction, Kuhle wrote in the paper.

At what point does biology and societal conditioning meet? Was polygamy a product of a Patriarchal culture or honest human behavior? Polyamorous couples would likely opt for the second option, even though strict secrecy continues to be necessary to protect them against disapproving attitudes. Is it possible to divorce the two from each other and, in so doing, form a new identity? We may instead find different combinations, not the death of one and survival of another.

Personally, I'd like to know how it was determined scientifically that women have weaker sex drives. That would be my first question to whomever who worked upon this study. As I have grown more liberated myself, I've come to understand that much of my understanding about women was wrong at worst, distorted at best. Nevertheless, studies like these surface and are published, and the discussion begins anew. What can be set aside as inaccurate, and what can be preserved for posterity as truth?

We are drifting towards some greater destination, though I would be willing to wager that none of us know where that might be. The sterility of scientific certitude would remove doubts and disagreement once and for all, except that we live together. We are forever interacting, creating a blending of cultural mores and biological truisms. Educated guesses that discourage sloppy logic and sloppier science might be our best defense.  

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