Whether a bisexual guy is more concerned with sexual or emotional infidelity depends on whether he's dating a man or a woman, new research finds.
The study bolsters the idea that jealousy is evolutionarily designed: Men tend to worry about sexual infidelity, because they want to know that their female partners' children are their own, and women tend to worry about emotional infidelity, stemming from a time when they had to worry about men allocating resources to their relationship.
Under this theory, it makes sense that bisexual men dating women would be more worried about sexual infidelity than bisexual men dating men, who can't get pregnant, said study researcher Cory Scherer, a social psychologist at Pennsylvania State University Schuylkill. Previous research suggests that people in same-sex relationships tend to worry more about the emotional aspects of cheating than the sexual aspects, Scherer said. [5 Myths About Gay People Debunked]
"Bisexuals kind of fit both aspects of this jealousy," Scherer told LiveScience. "You can make predictions of what kind of jealousy they may be distressed by depending on whom they're dating."
Scherer and his colleagues recruited 134 self-identified bisexuals from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations across the country to fill out an Internet questionnaire. The survey asked the participants to imagine being cheated on and to identify the gender of the cheating partner. They then had to choose whether they would be more upset about the sexual aspects of the cheating or the emotional betrayal.
Forty-eight of the participants were bisexual women dating men, 36 were bisexual women dating women, 27 were bisexual men dating women and 23 were bisexual men dating men.
The answers showed that the men dating women were far more likely than other groups to be most stressed by sexual infidelity. Among bisexual men dating women, 49 percent said they would be most bothered by the sex. For comparison, only 16 percent of men dating men said that the sex would bother them more than the emotional betrayal.
Women's concerns about infidelity weren't as affected by their partner's gender. Of women dating women, 25 percent said the sex would bother them more than the emotional infidelity, the same answer given by 17 percent of women dating men. The researchers reported the results online April 9 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Sexual and emotional jealousy aren't mutually exclusive, of course — that would lead to a world where women didn't mind at all that men spent all day having sex with other women as long as they came home at night, Scherer said. Forcing people to make a choice about which bothers them more can illuminate intriguing gender differences, though, he said.
The bisexual participants' answers support the idea that a threat to reproduction helped lead to the evolution of jealousy, Scherer said. A man dating a man doesn't have to worry about accidentally raising another man's baby if his partner gets pregnant. But if that same man is dating a woman, he can't be entirely sure that any baby she has is his, which could have led to more anxiety about sexual fidelity.
One limitation of the study is that it didn't take into account the gender of the person the partner was cheating with, Scherer said. That person's gender could complicate matters — for example, a man whose female partner cheated with another woman wouldn't have to worry about a surprise pregnancy, so perhaps emotional jealousy would become more important.
Scherer also said he wants to extend the research over time. If the reproductive threat hypothesis is correct, a bisexual man dating a man will be more concerned about emotional fidelity, but if he breaks up with his male partner and starts dating a woman, his concerns should flip, with sexual jealousy becoming more prominent.
Other research has lent credence to the idea that jealousy depends on relationship type. Couples in polyamorous relationships, in which non-monogamy is consensual, report happiness for their partners rather than jealousy when they find others to love. And studies show that in those relationships, men and women don't show the typical gender schism between sexual and emotional jealousy.