Aporia: Sexual Identity

by Jason Stotts

What is sexual identity?  Is it simply being gay or straight?  Is it all possible facts about our sexuality?  Is it how we structure our relationships and love as well?  Does my sexual identity include facts about whether I’m monogamous or practice polyamory?  Should it include whether a person has sexual integrity?  Should fetishes and desires be included?

This issue has captured my attention recently while contemplating sexual orientation.  People often refer to a person’s sexual orientation as their “sexual identity,” yet, that seems much too thin to me.  I certainly don’t think that describing a person as straight or gay exhausts their sexual identity: in fact, it seems like more of a basic starting point than any deep information.  If all straight people were the same as each other, if all bisexual people were the same as each other, if all gay people were the same as each other; then sexual orientation might exhaust sexual identity.   But this is plainly not the case.  Sexual identity must be something more than simply orientation, although orientation is definitely a part of it.

But what else should sexual identity include?  It seems, at least at first blush, like it should include anything and everything about a person’s sexuality to which they are firmly committed and which form the core of their sexual experience.  By this I mean that if a person can’t think about sexuality without thinking of it through the lens of BDSM, then this is an important part of that persons’ sexual identity.  If a person can’t imagine becoming sexually aroused without their fetish, then this is an important part of their sexual identity.  So, tentatively, let us say that anything without which a person couldn’t imagine their sex life being good for them is an important part of their identity.

But, this raises the question, should literally anything be included?  Should we have to include anything in a statement of our sexual identity?  Should I need to say that: “I’m into {a,b,c,f,u}, but not {d, z, r, t}, and sometimes {q, j}?”  That seems much too cumbersome.  Of course, on the other hand, it’s not too likely that any particular person has a large set of sexual things that are very important to him.  Most people could probably communicate their identity with something like: I’m a bisexual woman who is mostly monogamous with slight polyamory leanings and also like some light BDSM.  It certainly seems like the stronger you hold a desire, the more it is part of who you are.

Perhaps it would be useful to delimit identity to just a couple of axes that are the most important, like: orientation, level of overall desire, sexual openness, relationship and love openness, and interest in kink.  Each of these could have a scale of 0-6 denoting orientation (Kinsey Scale), overall level of desire (asexual – nymphomania?), (monosexual – polysexual), (monogamous – polyamorous), (none – very kinky).  It’d be a little awkward to get it going, but it’d be easy to communicate your overall desires to someone quickly as “I’m a {6,6,0,0,6},” which would be a very kinky, very horny, homosexual.

Even if the scale idea doesn’t take off, and there’s no doubt it’d be a lot to get people to go to it and it might not even be worth it, I think I’m at least correct that sexual identity is much more than simply sexual orientation and if we at least move to a richer view of sexual identity, then we will have a better chance to understand our own sexuality and communicate it to others.

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