Bisexual women exhibit more masculine, dark personality traits and sexual tendencies.
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Bisexual women exhibit more masculine, dark personality traits and sexual tendencies.

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Bisexual women exhibit personality traits and sexual behaviors that are more similar to those of heterosexual men than heterosexual women, new research has found, including greater openness to casual sex and more pronounced dark personality traits. However, these patterns are less pronounced or absent in exclusively homosexual individuals, suggesting that different sexual orientation groups have distinct characteristics rather than lying on a simple continuum. The results were published in Archive of sexual behavior.

Previous research has shown that men generally score higher than women on the Dark Triad traits—narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Narcissism is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy for others.

Psychopathy includes antisocial behavior, superficial charm, low empathy, impulsiveness, and lack of remorse. Machiavellianism refers to a manipulative and deceptive interpersonal style in which individuals focus on personal gain, often at the expense of others. These Dark Triad traits are associated with a greater tolerance and preference for casual sex.

Women, on the other hand, are more cautious about casual sex, reporting higher levels of sexual inhibition and lower levels of sexual arousal. These patterns raise intriguing questions about how sexual orientation might affect these well-documented gender differences.

By examining these traits and behaviors in a more diverse sample, the researchers hoped to expand our understanding of the diversity of sexual orientations and their intersection with typical mating strategies and sexual behaviors. The study also aimed to test the “sex change” hypothesis, which suggests that non-heterosexuals may exhibit personality traits and behaviors more typical of the opposite sex.

“Understanding how traits differ across sexual orientation groups gives researchers clues to better ways to classify and understand them. Patterns of personality variation also tell us which theories are more likely to apply to the development of these patterns of attractiveness,” explains study author Scott W. Semenyna, assistant professor of psychology at MacEwan University.

“This study builds on previous research that has shown that bisexual women and men do not necessarily constitute a ‘midpoint’ between exclusive same-sex attraction and heterosexual attraction, but are distinct groups. This study extends that research by considering four sexual orientation groups (heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, bisexual, and exclusive same-sex attraction) and measuring traits such as sociosexuality (interest in casual sexual behavior), sexual arousal (tendency to be easily sexually aroused), and sexual inhibition (tendency to suppress or restrict sexual arousal).”

The study was conducted on a large sample of 2,047 undergraduate students from two Canadian universities. Participants, who were recruited online, completed a series of questionnaires designed to assess their personality traits, sexual behaviors, and sexual orientation. The researchers used a seven-item Kinsey scale to classify participants’ sexual orientations, ranging from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual. The final sample consisted of 1,474 women and 573 men, with an average age of about 21.

Participant responses were analyzed to identify differences in these traits and behaviors across groups with different sexual orientations. The researchers compared heterosexuals, primarily heterosexuals, bisexuals, and homosexuals within each gender to determine whether non-heterosexuals exhibited “gender shifting” in traits and behaviors typically associated with the opposite sex.

The results confirmed established gender differences in personality traits and sexual behavior. As expected, men scored higher than women on all three Dark Triad traits—narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Men also showed higher levels of sociosexuality, indicating greater openness and a preference for casual sex, and higher sexual arousal, meaning they were more easily aroused. Women reported higher levels of sexual inhibition, both in terms of fear of performing and fear of negative consequences, such as being judged or contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

When examining differences in sexual orientation, researchers found notable patterns, particularly among women. Women who were primarily heterosexual and bisexual showed higher levels of sociosexuality and sexual arousal than their exclusively heterosexual counterparts. They also scored higher on psychopathy.

“There are now several replications showing that heterosexual women, for the most part, are more likely to be trait psychopaths than other sexual orientation groups,” Semenyna noted. “Psychopathy in this context simply means less concern for other people’s feelings, social expectations, and impulse control. For the most part, heterosexual women score higher than heterosexual men on this trait, but it’s not clear why. It may simply be that these women are less concerned about what others think of them, and are less constrained by social mores that would view same-sex attractions or behaviors as negative.”

Interestingly, exclusively homosexual women did not show the same increases in sociosexuality and sexual arousal, suggesting that predominantly heterosexual and bisexual women form distinct groups.

Among men, the results were somewhat different. Mostly heterosexual men reported higher levels of sexual arousal compared to exclusively heterosexual men. However, there were no significant differences in sociosexuality or Dark Triad traits between homosexual and heterosexual men.

Homosexual men showed higher levels of sexual inhibition, which was more consistent with patterns typical of women. This suggests that while heterosexual and bisexual men may be more sexually aroused, exclusively homosexual men show increased caution and inhibition in sexual contexts.

“The results showed that the characteristics associated with having primarily heterosexual, bisexual, or exclusive same-sex attractions were somewhat distinct. Participants who were primarily heterosexual and bisexual tended to have higher sociosexuality and sexual arousal, but the same was not always true for those who reported exclusively same-sex attractions,” Semenyna told PsyPost.

“Sexual orientation is a spectrum, but these kinds of patterns tell us that we shouldn’t assume that the spectrum is a fluid continuum. For the most part, heterosexuals and bisexuals form recognizable groups, and scientists probably need specific theories to understand them. I suspect that they are different from theories that explain exclusive same-sex attractions.”

This study provides new insights into how sexual orientation intersects with personality traits and sexual behaviors. However, as with any study, there are limitations that must be considered. The cross-sectional nature of the data means that they cannot establish causality—only associations. The sample was mostly young and educated, which may limit the generalizability of the results to other age groups or populations.

“This is a sample of students from two Canadian universities, so there’s no way to know how broadly these patterns apply to the general population,” Semenyna said. “Good scientific reasoning always waits for more replications in higher-quality samples, so it’s important not to overinterpret one small piece of evidence.”

Gaining insight into the relationships among sexual orientation, personality, and sexual behavior is important for developing more accurate theories about the developmental origins of sexual orientation. This nuanced understanding can enable researchers and clinicians to provide better support for individuals across the spectrum of sexual orientations.

“This line of research aims to determine the best ways to systematically classify the sexual orientation spectrum,” Semenyna explained. “Better classification helps us be more precise in the theories we use to explain the same-sex attraction spectrum. Some of these theories may address the entire spectrum, but others may be specific to explaining bisexuality without telling us anything about exclusive same-sex attraction (or vice versa).”

“Some may be concerned that people with predominantly heterosexual or bisexual attractions are portrayed negatively in this study, because these individuals tend to be more interested in casual sexual behavior or are higher in psychopathy (in the case of women),” Semenyna added. “It’s important to remember that we’re measuring normal human variation in these traits. A more positive interpretation of the data is that these individuals are boldly embracing their sexual attractions in the face of societal pressure to conform to heterosexual ideals, and certain personality traits protect them from feeling that pressure as acutely.”

The study, “Gender and Sexual Orientation Differences in Dark Triad Traits, Sexual Arousal/Inhibition, and Sociosexuality,” was authored by Scott W. Semenyna, Paul L. Vasey, and P. Lynne Honey.