Is The Study Claiming That All Women Are Bisexual Or Lesbians Worthless?

Published November 9, 2015
Updated December 12, 2015

Results of a recent study made the rounds on the Internet this past week, tantalizing (and angering) social media users with the idea that women are “never straight,” but either bisexual or lesbians.


A clip from “Blue is the Warmest Color,” a film that generated its fair share of controversy for its portrayal of women. Image Source: YouTube

In a recent study meant to learn more about female sexuality, researchers at the University of Essex showed 345 female participants clips of naked men and women, and documented their responses — such as if their pupils dilated while watching the clips. Based on these observations, the Essex research team came to the conclusion that participants were extremely aroused by both sexes irrespective of their stated sexual orientation, and therefore wrote that the purely heterosexual woman does not exist.

“Even though the majority of women identify as straight, our research clearly demonstrates that when it comes to what turns them on, they are either bisexual or gay, but never straight,” said Dr. Gerulf Rieger, the leader of the study.

Such findings might seem “revolutionary,” but when researchers use totalizing words like “never” when describing a highly intricate concept, they tend to reduce complexities more than they highlight them, which further perpetuates the familiar (and problematic) narrative of the woman as a highly sexual — and unknowing — object, and the scientist as the superior, omniscient being.

Queen’s University Meredith Chivers came to that conclusion after conducting a 2007 study similar to that of the Essex researchers. Said Chivers, who presented participants clips of naked men and women and monitored viewers’ blood flow, “To conclude that women are bisexual on the basis of their sexual responding overlooks the complexity and multidimensionality of female sexuality.”

Regardless of whether you buy the idea that sexual orientation can be defined by something as primal as pupil dilation, or that the study is just the latest example of expert attempts to define and “know” female sexuality more than the sexuality possessing woman herself, the study generated some impassioned responses by the media and public writ large:

AskMen calls study “ludicrous”

“Saying “sorry ladies, but you’re all a buncha queers” because they express a minute physical response at the sight of, well, anything is ludicrous. I don’t have access to the full study text to check the methodology and control parameters, but I’m willing to bet that if you tell people they’re participating in a study about human sexuality and will be viewing some sexy videos, their pumps are going to be somewhat primed.

Here’s a better way to identify who (and what) people are attracted to, if you need that information for some reason: Ask them, and then believe them.”

Policy Mic says blanket statements about sexuality aren’t exactly nuanced statements about sexuality

“Evolutionary explanations aside, Rieger’s findings overlook a host of outside factors, particularly the sexualization of women in the media, which could contribute even to straight women’s perceptions of other female bodies as sexual objects. Men’s bodies aren’t sexualized or objectified in the same way (in fact, it’s not even close). Our culture’s tendency to objectify women’s bodies, which has been chronicled again and again and again, teaches us to conclude that women are invariably sexual objects, regardless of whether we actually want to have sex with them.

Furthermore, Rieger’s study neglected to address the fact that it’s generally more socially acceptable for women to self-identify as bisexual than it is for men, due in no small part to cultural tropes that fetishize women having sex with other women. Such tropes, combined with the idea that women in general are more likely to be objectified than men, might play a role in conditioning women to respond to other female bodies with sexual arousal, regardless of whether they self-identify as straight or gay.”

Pundit at conservative site American Thinker says that researchers conducted study to make gays and lesbians seem more “politically powerful”

“All kidding aside, this sham “study” reminds me of global warming “studies.” Simply because a pupil dilates does not mean that someone is sexually excited. A pupil may dilate at the sight of a car wreck. Or at the sight of men wearing Doberman Pinscher masks spanking each other. That doesn’t mean there’s anything sexual involved. It can be shock or surprise.

You can get a study to say almost anything. Remember the study that said that women become lesbians if they don’t have enough access to men? The real purpose of this study is to inflate the number of lesbians and bisexuals to make it seem like a larger and more politically powerful group.”

And then Twitter users took issue with the article for entirely different reasons

Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Cox, Savannah. "Is The Study Claiming That All Women Are Bisexual Or Lesbians Worthless?.", November 9, 2015, Accessed May 21, 2024.