Sexual Orientation and Gender are significantly important areas of research and understanding especially for those people who fall outside societal expectations such as Intersex's, homosexuals and bisexuals. One of the most difficult things for many people who do not identify as heterosexuals to do is understand and accept their sexuality. Psychological and cultural research has combined to create a way of understanding and analysing individual sexuality, so that we can all find our own place in society.
When we are young we are taught that there are two genders (Male and Female) and one type of sexuality (heterosexuality). As we grew up we discovered that there is an amazing array of sexualities and in some cases different genders as well. Probably the most famous of all sexuality theories was developed by Kinsey in his groundbreaking work on human sexuality and sex in the middle of the twentieth century. Kinsey developed a scale of sexuality to help define and understand the differences of sexuality.
The Kinsey Heterosexual-Homosexual Scale provided our first understanding of sexual orientation. On the Kinsey scale, sexual behavior is represented as a continuum from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual. To make it easier to quantify behavior for research purposes, the scale has 7 equal, numbered intervals, but it is a continuum and in-between points (such as 1.5 or 2.67) may be used.
The sexuality continuum is also described as a scale from black to white with varying shades of gray in between. At one end of the scale is exclusive heterosexuality while at the other end of the scale is exclusive homosexuality.
The Kinsey Sexual Continuum is excellent at showing that there are different types of sexuality and his research has shown that only four percent of the population falls at either end of the scale with the rest falling somewhere in between. In the middle of the scale are true bisexuals who do not have a preference for either sex. However the Kinsey scale is an excellent way of describing situation sexuality, (situational being current or present circumstances), it cannot adequately show that people's sexuality is actually fluid and can change over time based on
Kinsey's scale does not allow us to fully explore all the aspects of our own sexuality including our sexual identity which can be different than our own sexuality. To discover and explore sexuality more Fritz Klein developed a more extensive series of sexuality continuums and scales. Similar to Kinsey's work in using a scale between Other Sex and Same Sex, Klein also considers the past, present and ideal of the individual in exploring a person's sexuality. There are eight scales in the Klein system each with a corresponding pattern of past, present and ideal.
Past: - Past refers to what or how we have acted in the past.
Present - Present refers to what we currently do, act or feel.
Future - Future refers to how we act or think we will act or what we will think in the future.
The scales are:
Our sexual attraction describes who we are most attracted to sexually, not necessarily who we have sex with.
Who we actually have sex with
Who we fantasize about when we are having sex or fantasizing sexually
Who we want to be with and share emotionally
Who we prefer to spend time with in social situations
What segments of society we most identify with
How we identify ourselves sexually
How we identify politically towards sex and sexuality - not political party or belief.
It is very important to understand that there is no right or wrong answer in sexuality and everyone will be significantly different. Straight and gay people will have some similarities between there answers on some of the questions, in particular it has been found that straight men tend to associate more with other straight men, as do straight women tend to associate with other straight women Gay men tend to associate with more females than they do other men. This can be explained by gay men feeling comfortable around women who do not judge their sexuality.
One of the most important and significant results of sexuality research is that sexual identity and behavior can change. Now this doesn't mean that if you are gay you can have therapy to change your sexual identity. Instead this suggests that at times during our lives our sexual behavior can and does change. Once upon a time it was suggested that only the young would be involved in sexuality changes, where young girls and boys experiment with each other i.e. same sex sexual behavior. However research does show that often people do have different experiences which they thought they might never have. One of the most common changes in sexuality is for someone who may be confused about their sexuality, or where they are close to the middle ground (on either side) of bisexual. At times they may identify as gay and at other times in their life identify as straight or bisexual.
Another very important concept to understand is that the sexual behavior of someone will not always correspond with their sexual identity. This can be quite confusing for some people who need to categorize people into boxes, but it is important that we try not to box someone in to one or another sexuality. A common misconception about homosexuality is that men who sleep with other men must be gay or at the very least bisexual. This is simply not the case at all, with a significant number of straight men having had sex with other men. Their behavior may identify them as gay or bisexual, they themselves identify as straight. This behavior sometimes called situational homosexuality is often fund in places where there is a large concentration of single sexes such as prisons and single sex boarding schools.
Another way to look at the difference between behavior is to consider professions such as celibate ministers. They may identify as being attracted to the same sex, but their behavior is such that they don't act on these impulses. Another aspect of this is for young gay men who identify as gay but sleep with women to adhere to societal expectations. This sort of differential between behavior and identity is very common especially in cultures and societies that have strict rules against homosexuality or where the situation demands it such as at school or through peer group pressure.
There is no easy way for someone else to determine what your sexuality is, after all your sexuality is your own personal issue and it does not have to be communicated to all people. In understanding your sexual orientation you must be comfortable with the fact that you are unique and how you feel about yourself is going to be different than how I feel about myself. You have to decide what your sexuality is for yourself, through asking yourself questions and experimentation. But don't feel pressured to box yourself into a sexuality or a course of behavior that you do not feel comfortable with!
The sexual continuum is an ideal way of further exploring your sexuality, it is not a definitive test of sexuality and is not meant to box you into a sexuality, rather it is meant to help you explore your own sexuality! I strongly believe that sexuality is a continuum and we all fit somewhere on the scale, no matter where. We may not always act on our sexual orientation, and some of us do, but regardless of where we fit in, there are others out there just like us!