Okay, so the data is really good in some ways, but the way it was collected, the way it's presented and analyzed, and how it's interpreted all present us us with a few problems in regards to concluding that testimony regarding sexuality is systemically less reliable than quantitative data. I'm just gonna rattle these off.
- All subjects had committed criminial offenses or where criminas, that's kind of a huge selection bias. We can't be sure how that influenced results or measurements
- The vast majority of subjects had a previous history of sexual assaults or rape, often with multiple counts. So, maybe not average people we're dealing with here, in terms of sexuality.
- All subjects were men. Selection bias again. We might expect different results with women or with a sample representative of a broader population.
- There's a category error that we subtly perform, when we equivocate sexual attraction with what people in everyday life are talking about when they talk about sexual attraction. Because our language has no words widely used for romantic orientations, those ideas get conflated. And to what extent the asked person is actually witholding information, or just relaying culturally learned romantic patterns with attraction is uncertain. Within that degree of uncertainty lies the beauty of qualitative testimony. It's here that we find nuance and possibility to escape existing boundaries and rigid semantic structures. That nuance, all dissappears, when we try to operationalize.
- Phallometric data, although considered some of the most reliable attraction data in experimental psychology, has been frequently shown to be not ecologically valid. Phallometric data collection has systemic problems that present themselves if you try to generalize it to real life sexual and romantic behavior, or even to other forms of attraction measurements, that capture different facets of the human responses to other humans. There's a lot of situation context which is important to human sexual behavior that is not at all measured here. Like, imagine if images just don't do it for you. What if you're a person that needs to be touched or to feel certain things from your partner. This test doesn't capture your sexual experience at all, in this case. In my own case, for example, I can be a somewhat insecure person, and it can help me to be in a safe environment for me to get aroused. If I was in a lab with a weird device strapped to my penis and under observation, you can bet you'd get some pretty unreliable and invaid measures from me.
Furthermore, aside from these problems, the data actually supports what I said more than it discredits it. The vast, vast majority of men studied here were found to have a phallometric response congruent with their testimony. 89% of subjects responded to sexual stimuli in relation to their proposed orientation, and the rest were on average non-responders. That is to say, they got much less aroused by any of the images. It's possible that simply seeing pictures didn't turn them on, they needed some kind of act or to situate the object of attraction in some kind of specific act or setting.
This suggests that if you just asked someone, you would get a congruent orientation at least 89% of the time, and the other 11 you'd probably get some non-responders, som not people that are lying about their orientation, and also a good portion something we don't even understand or know how to quantify, but which was forced to respond in a weird binary.
Blanchard et al. also admit, that their model isn't perfect. They know that it doesn't apply reliably to all members of the population, conceding that self-reported sexuality sometimes is a more important indicator of who a person is, that can override the assumptions made when creating this model:
"Bisexuality in male teleiophiles raises a special problem for the bipolar model. The phallometric responses of bisexual teleiophiles could be plotted against an X-axis like that used in Figs. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7. The phallometric profile should be V-shaped or U-shaped. Such a profile could not, however, be described by the bipolar model equation; it would require the summation model equation. This would be a limitation for the bipolar model; how serious a limitation depends on the proportion of self-reported bisexual teleiophiles who actually produce V-shaped or U-shaped phallometric profiles."
And with 'shemales' as well. Probably pre-op trans women or NB people.
"There is at least one other class of men whose existence is unquestioned, and whose behavior cannot be explained by the bipolar model. Those are the gynandromorphophiles, men who are sexually attracted to those individuals colloquially known as “she-males.” She-males are biological males who have partially feminized their bodies with estrogenic hormones or breast implants but have not undergone surgical modification of the genitals, thus creating the appearance of a woman with a penis (Blanchard & Collins, 1993)."
So again here, even the guys writing this paper use some qualitative evidence evidence to override the assumptions they've made on the basis of their bipolar model of human sexuality, and a lot of that evidence is looking at performative aspects of human sexuality, which include testimony, which is actually interesting. I think that paper is worth a read. I'll put a reference at the bottom of this post for you. It's a mark of the time that blanchard made his research in, that this attraction is classified as a disease and that the discussion of it's origin is referred to as etiology! Another way that our society otherises and problematizes trans people. This is a very dated view of human sexuality, imo. I can't wait to dive deeper into this, though, it's very interesting.
So all in all, I'd say, a really interesting read, but not evidence for testimony being unreliable. It specifically illustrates some of the ways in which testimony has invaluable utility in holistically understanding sexuality, and how testimony is absolutely needed to criticize and examine models based only on operationalizing and quantitatively examining sexuality. As long as you remember that people can only relate to you what they themselves have a declarative semantic understanding of, and which they feel comfortable disclosing, there's a wealth of knowledge here, the validity of which, should not be ignored by anyone.
BLANCHARD, R., & COLLINS, P. I. (1993). Men with sexual interest in transvestites, transsexuals, and she-males. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 181(9), 570-575. doi:10.1097/00005053-199309000-00008