Bisexual women exhibit more male-like dark personality traits and sexual tendencies

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New research has found that bisexual women exhibit personality traits and sexual behaviors more similar to those of heterosexual males than heterosexual women, including greater openness to casual sex and more pronounced dark personality traits. However, these patterns are less evident or absent in exclusively homosexual individuals, suggesting that different sexual orientation groups possess distinct characteristics rather than fitting into a simple continuum. The findings have been published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

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

Psychopathy involves antisocial behavior, superficial charm, low empathy, impulsivity, and a lack of remorse. Machiavellianism refers to a manipulative and deceitful interpersonal style, where individuals focus on personal gain, often at the expense of others. These Dark Triad traits are linked to a greater tolerance and preference for casual sex.

Females, on the other hand, tend to be more cautious regarding casual sex, showing higher levels of sexual inhibition and lower levels of sexual excitation. These patterns raise intriguing questions about how sexual orientation might influence these well-documented sex differences.

By examining these traits and behaviors in a more diverse sample, the researchers aimed to enhance our understanding of sexual orientation diversity and its intersection with typical mating strategies and sexual behaviors. The study also sought to test the “sex-shift” hypothesis, which suggests that non-heterosexual individuals might exhibit personality traits and behaviors more typical of the opposite sex.

“Understanding how traits vary across sexual orientation groups gives scientists clues about better ways to classify and understand them. Patterns of personality variation also tell us what theories are more likely to apply to the development of these attraction patterns,” explained study author Scott W. Semenyna, an assistant professor of psychology at MacEwan University.

“This study built on past research showing that bisexual females and males aren’t necessarily a ‘midpoint’ between exclusive same-sex attractions and heterosexual attractions, but are instead distinct groups. This study expanded this research by considering four sexual orientation groups (heterosexual, mostly-heterosexual, bisexual, and exclusively same-sex attractions) and measuring traits like sociosexuality (interest in casual sexual behavior), sexual excitation (the tendency to become easily sexually aroused), and sexual inhibition (the tendency to suppress or constrain sexual arousal).”

The study was conducted using a large sample of 2,047 undergraduate students from two Canadian universities. The participants, who were recruited online, completed a series of questionnaires designed to assess their personality traits, sexual behaviors, and sexual orientation. The researchers employed the seven-point Kinsey scale to classify participants’ sexual orientations, ranging from exclusive heterosexual attraction to exclusive homosexual attraction. The final sample consisted of 1,474 females and 573 males, with an average age of around 21 years.

Participants’ responses were analyzed to identify differences in these traits and behaviors across different sexual orientation groups. The researchers compared heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual individuals within each sex to determine whether non-heterosexual individuals displayed a “sex-shift” in traits and behaviors typically associated with the opposite sex.

The findings confirmed established sex differences in personality traits and sexual behaviors. As anticipated, males scored higher than females in all three Dark Triad traits—narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Males also exhibited higher levels of sociosexuality, indicating a greater openness and preference for casual sexual encounters, and higher sexual excitation, meaning they became sexually aroused more easily. Females reported higher levels of sexual inhibition, both in terms of performance anxiety and fear of negative consequences such as being judged or contracting sexually transmitted infections.

When examining sexual orientation differences, the researchers found notable patterns, particularly among females. Mostly heterosexual and bisexual females demonstrated elevated levels of sociosexuality and sexual excitation compared to their exclusively heterosexual counterparts. They also scored higher in psychopathy.

“There are now several replications showing that mostly heterosexual women are higher in trait psychopathy than other sexual orientation groups,” Semenyna noted. “Psychopathy in this context just means being less concerned with other people’s feelings, social expectations, and having lower impulse control. Mostly heterosexual women score more like heterosexual men on this trait, but it’s not clear why. It could just be that these women are less concerned about what others think of them, and less constrained by social mores that would view same-sex attraction or behavior negatively.”

Interestingly, exclusively homosexual females did not exhibit the same increases in sociosexuality and sexual excitation, indicating that mostly heterosexual and bisexual females form distinct groups.

Among males, the findings were somewhat different. Mostly heterosexual males showed higher levels of sexual excitation compared to exclusively heterosexual males. However, there were no significant differences in sociosexuality or Dark Triad traits between homosexual and heterosexual males.

Homosexual males did exhibit higher levels of sexual inhibition, aligning more closely with female-typical patterns. This indicates that while mostly heterosexual and bisexual males may be more sexually excitable, exclusively homosexual males show increased caution and inhibition in sexual contexts.

“Results showed that the traits associated with having mostly-heterosexual, bisexual, or exclusive same-sex attractions were somewhat distinct. Mostly heterosexual and bisexual participants tended to be higher in sociosexuality and sexual excitation, but the same wasn’t always true of individuals who reported exclusive same-sex attractions,” Semenyna told PsyPost.

“Sexual orientation is a spectrum, but these kinds of patterns tell us that we shouldn’t assume this spectrum is a smooth continuum. Mostly heterosexual and bisexual people form discernible groups, and scientists likely need specific theories to understand them. I strongly suspect they are different from theories that explain exclusive same-sex attractions.”

This study provides new insight into how sexual orientation intersects with personality traits and sexual behaviors. But as with any study, there are limitations to consider. The cross-sectional nature of the data means that it cannot establish causality — only associations. The sample was predominantly young and educated, which may limit the generalizability of the findings to other age groups or populations.

“This is an undergraduate sample from two Canadian universities, so there’s no way to know how widely 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 to not over interpret one small piece of evidence.”

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

“This line of research is all about figuring out the best ways to classify the sexual orientation spectrum in a systematic way,” Semenyna explained. “Better classification helps us be more precise in the theories we use to explain the spectrum of same-sex attractions. Some of these theories may apply to the entire spectrum, but others may apply to explaining bisexuality while telling us nothing about exclusive same-sex attractions (or vice-versa).”

“Some may worry that people with mostly heterosexual or bisexual attractions are being portrayed negatively in this research, since these individuals tend to be more interested in casual sexual behavior or show higher trait psychopathy (in the case of females),” Semenyna added. “It’s important to keep in mind that we’re measuring normal human variation in these traits. A more positive interpretation of the data is that these individuals are bravely embracing their sexual attractions in the face of social pressures to conform to heterosexual ideals, and certain personality traits protect them from feeling this pressure as acutely.”

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

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