Behold the splendor of the nude male form: sleek and powerful, a miracle of sculpted sinew, striding confidently across the sand or stretching out before you in ever-uncoiling glory. So say scientists at the frontiers of research on the eternal question of what women find erotic, the latest answer to which seems to be: not naked guys, or at least not simply naked guys.
Chivers, a research fellow at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto, says she has data to support this assertion. She recently published results of a study in which she showed people video clips of naked men and women in various sexual and non-sexual situations and measured their genital arousal.
Heterosexual women, Chivers and her colleagues found, were no more excited by athletic naked men doing yoga or tossing stones into the ocean than they were by the control footage: long pans of the snowcapped Himalayas.
When straight women viewed a video of a naked woman doing calisthenics, on the other hand, their blood flow increased significantly. What really matters to women, Chivers said, at least in the somewhat artificial setting of watching movies while intimately hooked up to a device called a photoplethysmograph, is not the gender of the actor, but the degree of sensuality.
Even more than the naked exercisers, they were aroused by videos of masturbation, and more still by graphic videos of couples making love. Women with women, men with men, men with women: It did not seem to matter much to her female subjects, Chivers said. They responded to the level of activity. Chivers' work adds to a growing body of scientific evidence that places female sexuality along a continuum between heterosexuality and homosexuality, rather than as an either-or phenomenon.
Even in a culture that often cycles through moments of bisexual chic -- Britney and Madonna, make way for Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson photographed smooching in Cannes, France -- and despite survey data showing that young people, in particular, are open to sexual experimentation, bisexuality still tends to be treated as a novelty, a phase or even a cover for homosexuality.
Chivers herself was an author of a study using similar methods that found that men who called themselves bisexual were significantly more aroused by one gender, usually by men. But women, some researchers say, are fundamentally different. A University of Utah researcher, Dr. Lisa M. Diamond, published a study in January in the journal Developmental Psychology that followed the love lives of 79 non-heterosexual women who variously labeled themselves lesbian, bisexual or none-of-the-above. Over 10 years, Diamond found, the women continued to be attracted to both sexes.
Women's response to images of coupling extends even to other species, Chivers found. In a experiment, and again in the recent study, published in the December Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Chivers and her colleagues found women slightly but significantly aroused by footage of bonobo chimps mating.
Men showed no such response. And when Chivers asked her subjects to rate their own arousal to the videos they watched, the women, whether gay or straight, tended to give higher ratings to films showing women. She did allow that the apparent flexibility of women "may be related to greater potential for bisexuality in women than in men.
The makers of "Bi the Way" draw their own conclusions. That's a conclusion Chivers, for one, is not ready to draw. Blockman, 27, who holds a master's degree in medical anthropology from Harvard, said she got the idea for the film when she channel-surfed across "The OC" and saw Mischa Barton 's character kiss another young woman. On second thought, perhaps you'd prefer not to.