Archive for the 'Sexual Orientation' Category

Aporia: Sexual Orientation

by Jason Stotts

Aporia (Ancient Greek: ἀπορɛία: impasse; lack of resources; puzzlement; doubt; confusion) In philosophy, a philosophical puzzle or state of puzzlement;  In rhetoric, a rhetorically useful expression of doubt.

Sexual orientation is a confusing subject.  So confusing that some people have taken to the idea that your sexual orientation is whatever you want it to be, that whatever you self-identify as must be your actual sexual orientation.  But, I find that idea at least…problematic.  What about the issue of self-deception?  What about the issue of other-deception?  What about contexts in which it’s acceptable to be different and cultures where it isn’t?

If a person’s sexual orientation is simply what they self-identify as, then how do we treat a man who calls himself straight, but who only is aroused by men, who only has sex with men, and who has no desire to ever be in a relationship with a woman or have sex with one?  Certainly he’s at least self-deceptive, but isn’t he also wrong that he is straight?  If it’s true that this man does the opposite of what a straight man would do, then this man is not straight.

What about the man who calls himself straight, who is in a relationship with a woman with whom he regularly has sex, but who also feels a strong desire to have sex with men and does so on a regular basis.  He’s not self-deceptive because he knows his desires and acts on them.  He’s likely hiding his true orientation from others because of the stigma of being a male bisexual, but in so doing so he’s communicating something false about himself.  Should we simply consider him a liar?  A coward for not being true to himself?  He’s not wrong about his sexual orientation, since he actually does know what it is, but there is a problem here for other people who might want or need to know his sexual orientation (for example, the men with whom he has sex or his own partner).

So, no matter what sexual orientation is, it’s definitely not just whatever you might self-identify as.  Your sexual orientation is more than simply whatever you feel it is.

Part of the problem is that we have this polarized idea of sexuality: that everyone is either gay or straight and these are mutually exclusive categories.  But this is wrong and misses much of actual human sexuality.  Sexual orientation is not binary.  It is, at the very least, a continuum of sexual options.  I think this is best captured in the Kinsey Scale, which is 0-6, with 0 being a “perfect heterosexual” who only desires and has sex with those of the opposite sex and 6 is a “perfect homosexual” who only desires and has sex with those of the same sex.  Then there are, obviously, the vast majority of people who are somewhere in between.

One alternative scale involves ranking a person on two independent axes: androphilia and gynephilia, or desire for men and women (respectively).  So, a person could have 8/10 desire level for women and a 4/10 desire for men, making them a bisexual.  With this schema, the levels of arousal for men and women are independent and indicate desire for that sex.  Thus, one advantage of this system is that also measures level of overall desire for sexual activity as well as sexual desire for each sex.  I’m not sure which I think is better, but this system does capture more than the Kinsey system, which itself captures much more than the standard dichotomy of gay vs. straight.

Of course, there much these scales don’t capture, like propensity to form relationships versus simply having sex with a person, or a person’s overall level of sexual desire (perhaps their desire for men or women is only moderate, but they really enjoy masturbating), or the fact that a person’s sexual proclivities and orientation can change over time.  But, it does, at least, help move us in the right direction

Of course, one issue that we haven’t addressed head on is the issue of action versus desire.  Or, is being gay a matter of doing gay things or having gay desires or both.  I find this issue more confusing that some of the others.  For example, what should a man who considers himself a Kinsey 2 (bisexual – opposite sex leaning) because he has both desire for men and women, even though his desire for women is stronger, but who has never, due to lack of opportunity, had sex with a women and has only had sex with men?  He self-identifies as bisexual on the heterosexual side, but he’s never had sex with a woman.  On the other hand, it’s not because he doesn’t want to, but is merely frustrated by the situation.  This is further confounded by the fact that many men grow up in our culture with internalized homophobia and try to be bi as they come into their sexual maturity so they can maintain some semblance of being “normal,” when they really know their probably a K5 or K6.  But, leaving aside the issue of whether this particular man is being self-deceptive, what should he be considered?  I find it very strange to call him a K2 when he’s only had sex with men.  Perhaps sexual orientation is simply a matter of ideal situation and not of actual situation.  But that doesn’t seem right either.  I might wish I were a K6, but if I’ve only ever had sex with women, then that obviously seems wrong.  I don’t have an answer for the question of whether we should judge sexual orientation by action or desire, or perhaps both, but it’s an interesting topic that needs more investigating.

I wonder, though, what we should do about children, adolescents, and young adults.  Should we really consider a young person to be gay, bi, or straight when they have no actual sexual experience?  Is this not being at least somewhat…optimistic about their guessing powers?  Should we simply accept that this is what they think they would like to be or should be when they get older?  Should we consider their orientation an open question until they have some experience?  As unlikely as this last sounds, there would be some definite advantages to it: people wouldn’t try to force themselves to conform to their adolescent beliefs growing up and could approach the issue of orientation with an open mind.  Their sexuality could be treated as very tentative until they’re older, maybe even their mid-twenties.  Of course, perhaps it’d be better if we all held our sexuality less rigidly and treated it as at least something of an open question.

Ultimately, I still have more questions than answers on the question of sexual orientation, but I think the topic is a rich one and deserves more careful analysis that it usually gets.

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Female Sexual Fluidity in the News

by Jason Stotts

NPR just ran a story about female sexual fluidity, a fairly new idea and one that is rather controversial.  The idea is that female sexual orientation is “fluid” in the sense that a woman can change her sexual orientation over time and this is just the way female sexuality is, it is not a function of women being “fickle” or suppressing their homosexuality.

For many years, researchers assumed so-called “late-life lesbians” were simply repressed by society until they felt comfortable coming out. But that’s not entirely the case, says Lisa Diamond, a researcher at the University of Utah who is studying whether sexuality is fluid or fixed. Diamond has been studying a group of 79 women for 15 years to track changes in their sexuality.

“It does appear to be that women’s erotic desires are pretty tightly linked to their emotional feelings,” she tells NPR’s Guy Raz. “So for some of these women, they authentically did not feel attracted to women before they met one particular woman that they completely fell in love with.”

The theory of female sexual fluidity is very interesting and I recommend anyone wanting to learn more about it pick up Lisa Diamond’s book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire.

Personally, I think that conceptualizing sexual orientation into rigid categories is the wrong way to think about it and that a more dynamic approach, like the Kinsey Scale, makes much more sense.

Note: If you click on the link above and purchase the book, I will receive some small remuneration.

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Objectivism, Masculinity, Femininity, and Homosexuality: Initial Thoughts

by Jason Stotts

“For a woman qua woman, the essence of femininity
is hero-worship—the desire to look up to man”
~ Ayn Rand

In this essay I am going to present two views of masculinity and femininity: those of Ayn Rand and then my own. I will also present my reasons for my views and the differences between Rand’s so that you can understand the importance of the differences.

For Objectivism, we do not need to look too deeply to understand masculinity and femininity. Indeed, we need to look no farther than Atlas Shrugged to find Ayn Rand’s best presentation of these in the characters of John Galt and Dagny Taggart. John Galt is the Objectivist ideal: the man of uncompromised integrity, of absolute rationality, and dashing good looks. He embodies all of the virtues and is living his life to his potential: he is the great-souled man incarnate and the hero that Ayn Rand had always wanted to bring into existence. Dagny Taggart, on the other hand, is the Objectivist ideal woman (at least by the end of Atlas Shrugged, once she has resolved her inner conflicts). She is in every way John Galt’s equal: her character is virtuous, she is productive and excels in her field, and she in passionate about her values. Yet, it is more than moral perfection that attracts Dagny to John and John to Dagny. Indeed, one can have a deep respect for another person’s character and moral development without having sexual feelings (we call these people friends).

So what is it in John that Dagny is attracted to? Let’s have Ayn Rand explain in her own words:

For a woman qua woman, the essence of femininity is hero-worship—the desire to look up to man. “To look up” does not mean dependence, obedience or anything implying inferiority. It means an intense kind of admiration; and admiration is an emotion that can be experienced only be a person of strong character and independent value judgments. A “clinging vine” type of woman is not an admirer, but an exploiter of men. Hero-worship is a demanding virtue: a woman has to be worthy of it and of the hero she worships. Intellectually and morally, i.e., as a human being, she has to be his equal; then the object of her worship is specifically his masculinity, not any human virtue she might lack.

This does not mean that a feminine woman feels or projects hero-worship for any and every individual man; as human beings, many of them may, in fact, be her inferiors. Her worship is an abstract emotion for the metaphysical concept of masculinity as such—which she experiences fully and concretely only for the man she loves, but which colors her attitude toward all men. This does not mean that there is a romantic or sexual intention in her attitude toward all men; quite the contrary: the higher her view of masculinity, the more severely demanding her standards. It means that she never loses the awareness of her own sexual identity and theirs.

Thus, it is not only his moral character that is attractive to Dagny. Indeed we might say this serves as a necessary, but not sufficient condition for Dagny’s attraction to John, but it is John’s specifically male aspects that attract Dagny: his masculinity. What is John’s masculinity? It is his specifically male traits. What is Dagny’s femininity? It is her desire to worship John’s masculinity. It is clear, that if we are to understand the Objectivist position, we need to dig deeper.

Why is it that the feminine woman never loses sight of her femininity or a man’s masculinity and how are these things connected? They are connected because a woman’s femininity is a response to a man’s masculinity. It is through one’s awareness of the contrast of the opposite sexual essence that one is able to fully understand one’s own: that is, it is the contrasting sexual essence that makes one sexually visible. In the “sex speech” from Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand says that it is a woman’s surrender that allows a man to experience his full masculinity and we have already seen that the essence of femininity is to worship, and surrender, to a hero. Thus, the essence of masculinity is domination of the feminine. Now, Ayn Rand thought that this was a natural extension of the physical differences between men and women in a sexual context: that is, in a sexual context a man penetrates a woman’s vagina with his penis. The male is the (metaphysically) active partner in sex and the woman is the (metaphysically) passive partner, since the man penetrates, or dominates the woman, and woman allows herself to be penetrated by the man, or surrenders herself to him.

This, then, is Ayn Rand’s view of masculinity and femininity as best as I understand it.

For those of you worried about the implications of the Objectivist position towards homosexuality, you should be. Ayn Rand thought that one could not naturally be attracted to a person of the same sex, since masculinity could only be oriented to femininity and femininity could only be oriented to masculinity (much like magnetic North can naturally only attract magnetic South). “To classify the unique emotion of romantic love as a form of friendship is to obliterate it: the two emotional categories are mutually exclusive. The feeling of friendship is asexual; it can be experienced toward a member of one’s own sex.” The obvious implication of this is that romantic love cannot be experienced towards a member or one’s own sex.

At the Ford Hall Forum in 1971, after presenting her essay “The Moratorium on Brains,” Ayn Rand was explicitly asked about her position on homosexuality during the Q&A section. The question was this:

This questioner says she read somewhere that you consider all forms of homosexuality immoral. If this is so, why?

To which Ayn Rand responded:

Because it involves psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises, but there is a psychological immorality at the root of homosexuality. Therefore I regard it as immoral. But I do not believe that the government has the right to prohibit it. It is the privilege of any individual to use his sex life in whichever way he wants it. That’s his legal right, provided he is not forcing it on anyone. And therefore the idea that it’s proper among consenting adults is the proper formulation legally. Morally it is immoral, and more than that, if you want my really sincere opinion, it is disgusting.

I think Ayn Rand’s position on the subject is clear: homosexuality is immoral and, although she did not give her reasons explicitly, I think it’s clear that it is because it involves an unnatural orientation of the masculine for the masculine and the feminine for the feminine (just as magnetic north attracting magnetic north would be unnatural). Since the masculine necessarily involves the drive to dominate the feminine, for a man to be a bottom in a homosexual relationship is necessarily emasculating as he is assuming the role of the woman. (This was the same objection to men who were exclusively receptive homosexuals in ancient Greece: that they destroyed their masculinity by being passive like a woman.)

Now that we have seen Ayn Rand’s position on homosexuality, let me state formally that I completely disagree with her on this point. In order to understand why I think she is wrong, we need to reconsider the natures of masculinity and femininity, as it is here that her critical error lies.

What reasons do we have for assuming that masculinity is simply the desire to dominate the feminine? It is certainly a ubiquitous idea in our culture and we can certainly weave a story from the obvious physical differences between men and women. But is this enough or is it even accurate? When we look more critically at the idea, we shall see that it is not.

The problem is that we are assuming that the masculine element in a man can only be actualized, or brought out, in response to the feminine element in a woman. It can’t, for Ayn Rand, be the case that it could be activated any other way or else this opens the door for homosexual interactions, which she thought were unnatural. However, what if a man is capable of feeling masculine in a non-sexual context? For example, what if, as a man, I am capable of feeling masculine while I am exercising with weights and feeling my muscles straining to achieve the goals I have set for myself. Or what if watching my progressing muscular development in the mirror and comparing my form to an ideal male, such as the legendary Adonis, makes me feel masculine? While Ayn Rand could try to link this to femininity by saying that it increases my ability to dominate a woman, what if I truly am only thinking of my increase in strength and the shape of my own body? Then we have a clear instance of masculinity being actualized without the contrast of femininity.

I think the important aspect of the actualization of the sexual essence involves our experiencing our distinctly sexual aspects and feeling ourselves as an embodied man or woman. Through this, we become sexually visible to our partners and to ourselves. For example, I am not usually aware of my penis in my day to day life, but when I am nude around a woman I am very aware of my penis and the contrasting differences our bodies: the differences between my muscular chest and her soft breasts, the differences between having my penis be external and open to sight, while her vagina is internal and hidden. There is no doubt that this situation of contrast with the feminine makes me feel distinctly masculine. However, it is also the case that when I exercise and my body starts to assume the ideal male shape, and I contemplate this in the mirror, I clearly feel like an embodied man and am aware of my distinctly male characteristics (in this case by comparison to an ideal man). Although this ideal man is more similar to me than different, especially when compared to a woman, he is still capable of actualizing my masculinity. Thus, there must be another means of actualizing a sexual essence than besides contrasting it with its opposite.

I would like to term this second kind of sexual essence actualization mirroring as it operates primarily on similarity. In some ways it is like a Narcissistic form of attraction for ourselves: I can see my own sexual essence reflected in the body of a person of the same sex. Furthermore, in a homosexual encounter, I enjoy a privileged position that I cannot have in a heterosexual encounter: I can truly understand how someone of the same sex feels in a sexual situation, how their body reacts, how things feel to them, and I can do this directly through my own experience, instead of anecdotally. Similarity, as well as difference, can make me feel masculine.

If this is true that there is a second avenue for the actualization of sexual essences, then this is a serious problem for Ayn Rand’s position as it removes the charge of homosexual arousal as being “unnatural.” However, we are far from done as the existence of a second avenue for the actualization of the sexual essences forces us to reconsider the essences themselves and their identity. If masculinity can be actualized, at least in some cases, by another masculine essence, then what does this mean for the nature of masculinity? Since we initially defined masculinity as the drive to dominate and to force the feminine to submit to his will, we shall have to redefine this definition if it is to include homosexual arousal as well. Although I don’t propose here to offer a complete answer to the problem, let me sketch an outline of the questions that need to be asked and some possible answers.

The first question that needs to be asked is this: in a male homosexual encounter, do both the top (the penetrator) and the bottom (the penetrated) feel masculine or does only the top feel this way? This question is very important as if it is only the top that feels masculine, and never the bottom, then perhaps we can change our definition only slightly to that of masculinity being just the drive to dominate. However, if the bottom also feels masculine during a sexual situation, even though he is passive, then this will cause problems for defining masculinity this way. Indeed, if such is the case, perhaps we have made an error in identifying masculinity and femininity as being tied to certain sexes and not, instead, to patterns of action. Indeed, if we free masculinity and femininity from biological sex, then we could assert that the bottom in a gay male relationship could feel the onset of a sexual essence, although it would be the feminine sexual essence and not the masculine.

Although controversial, the removal of the biological sex restriction allows us to make the kinds of judgments that are culturally present: such as calling a male homosexual who is exclusively a bottom “feminine,” “emasculated,” and “woman-like.” Remember that this was the epitaph that the Greeks called this kind of man and the reason he was derided: the Greeks thought that he had destroyed his masculinity through passivity.

The obvious problem, though, is that if we remove the biological foundations of masculinity and femininity, then what makes dominance masculine and submission feminine? It would seem that it would be definitionally true, but there would not be much basis beyond that. Worse, though, is that if masculinity is only to be dominant, and there is no foundation in biological sex, then any act of dominance could be considered to be an instance of masculinity: whether it was by a woman, a person in a non-sexual situation, or even by a pre-pubescent child. This seems to completely fly in the face of any understanding of masculinity. Clearly, there must be some bounds to this concept if it is to retain any meaning and relevance to reality.

So, how can we bind masculinity to being biologically male without making homosexuality into something unnatural and immoral? It seems that we can either redefine masculinity to include more than dominance or allow that one can feel masculine without actively dominating another, but merely by recognizing one’s ability to do so, whether or not one chooses to actualize this possibility or not. On the other hand, perhaps masculinity is no more than the recognition of one’s maleness and the experience of masculinity is the experience of being an embodied man. Perhaps we have been trying to pack too much into the concept of masculinity, more than it could have reasonably been expected to hold. Indeed, this seems perhaps to be correct as it removes some contradictions from that result from our former conceptions of masculinity and femininity, such as how to understand a “normal” heterosexual relationship between a man and a woman where the woman is the sexually aggressive and active partner and the man is sexually submissive and passive partner.

Now that we have disconnected masculinity from dominance and redefined it simply as being the experience of one’s embodied maleness, we need to look a little further to arrive at a better concept of masculinity. Let us return to one of the first things we said on the subject: that in a (heterosexual) sexual situation, the man desires to penetrate the woman with his penis and the woman desires to receive the man’s penis into her vagina. Metaphysically, the penis is an instrument of penetration, not dominance; while the vagina is an instrument of reception, not submission. This recognition of the metaphysical role of the sex organs, combined with the idea of the experience of sexual embodiment, is the key to understanding the sexual essences. Through it, we can understand masculinity to be the experience of embodied maleness combined with the desire for penetration. Likewise, we can understand femininity to be the experience of embodied femaleness combined with the desire for reception. These definitions have distinct advantages over our former conceptions as they don’t require any sort of additional metaphysical baggage to be added into the concepts and they do not result in any sort of contradictions.

In addition to this simpler conception of masculinity and femininity, we can utilize the concepts of masculine traits and feminine traits to talk about the usual expressions of these sexual essences in a specific culture or time period. For example, we can say that dominance and strength are masculine traits in our culture, but this would not imply that their absence would be the same as the absence of masculinity itself. Through reconceptualizing the natures of masculinity and femininity, we can maintain almost all of the Objectivist conception of sexuality and open up Objectivism for homosexuality.

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Formspring Question: Changing Sexual Orientation

Q: Is there any way for someone to change his or her sexual orientation (ex. gay to straight)?

A: This is another very difficult question.  The answer is yes and no.

First, in order to understand whether this is possible, we need to understand what a sexual orientation is.  It is, in fact, a rather weird concept and one that is fairly recent in history.  For example, the Greeks had categorical labels for actions, but not for people (with the exception of men who were only receptive homosexuals, but that’s not relevant here).  A man was expected to maintain a household, have a wife, and raise a family, as well as participate in the cultural pederasty that was practiced.  This man wasn’t considered to be “straight” sometimes and “gay” others, he simply sometimes did heterosexual acts and other times did homosexual acts.  The problem with labeling people heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual is that we have free will: although a man might identify as a “heterosexual,” he is still able to have sex with men.  As such, the categories of sexuality we use are descriptive for the kinds of actions or persons (male or female) we typically desire.  Just because you’re straight, doesn’t mean you can’t desire someone of the same sex and vice versa. The categories are useful to quickly communicate information about ourselves, but some people try to use them as a limiting part of their identity, and this seems inappropriate.  So, it’s not clear that “sexual orientations” even pick out something essential about who we are, besides our typical sexual preference.

To further complicate this issue, what we typically desire is very contextual.  It is well documented that men and women who identify as heterosexual  and who are put into a context where they only have access to people of the same sex (like a boarding school, prison, or the military), will frequently engage in homosexual acts while in that context.  When they leave the context and return to the “regular world,” then they go back to their “regular orientation.”  It turns out that women are far more malleable than men and their sexuality should perhaps even be called fluid as women are likely to experience many changes in their sexual preferences over their lifetimes.  For an interesting discussion of the female fluidity, see Lisa Diamond’s Sexual Fluidity.  The point of this is that the idea of a “fixed” orientation is just not true.  Our sexual preferences and desires are very much contextual and opportunistic: we tend to prefer what is available.  Nevertheless, I still think that the concept of sexual orientation is useful, even if it does’t pick out something that’s necessarily true about us.  It’s much easier to quickly identify oneself as straight or gay, than to recount the conditions under which one might choose one sex or the other.

I should point out, too, that some people will never experience attraction that is at odds with their expressed orientation.  Now, whether this is a self-imposed limitation based on the expressed identity or an actual case of someone only ever experiencing desire for one sex, is hard to say.  I certainly think that a “true heterosexual” or “true homosexual” is possible.  This is why I think the Kinsey scale is so useful, as it seems to get a more accurate picture of someone’s desires using it’s 7 points, than does the current orientation scale using it’s only 3 points.  In case that’s not clear, the Kinsey scale is a 0-6 scale with “0” being “true heterosexual” (only experiences desire for someone of the opposite sex), a “3” being a “true bisexual” (experiences equal desire for people of the opposite and same sex), a “6” being a “true homosexual” (only experiences desire for someone of the same sex), and the points between indicating comparative desire for those of the same sex and those of the opposite sex.

Now, although orientation only picks out what we typically prefer, it’s not clear that it would be easy to change this.  People rarely have wholesale changes to their preferences.  In order to change one’s sexual orientation, one would have to change one’s entire sexual desire structure, including countless choices and ideas.  While I think that it’s theoretically possible, I think it’s practically impossible and should not be attempted.  If one were to attempt it, one would need to do so freely and because one had a very compelling reason to do so.  The only reason that comes to mind as being strong enough to overcome one’s orientation is if you meet someone who is outside of your usual orientation, but about whom you feel so strongly that you couldn’t bear to not have them in your life.  I think for this person you could at least change your orientation enough to accommodate him or her, but your attraction would probably remain what it was before.

Now, having said that, I want to say that I wholeheartedly condemn the “ex-gay” movement.  This is nothing more than religious indoctrination and guilt that makes a person lie and say that they’ve changed their orientation to conform to the religious hatred of homosexuality.  There is nothing wrong with being homosexual or heterosexual.  People don’t usually even choose an orientation, but find that they have a preference in their desires for one sex or the other or even both sexes.  There certainly is no moment in a person’s life where he says: “henceforth, I only desire people of the same sex” and then magically he’s gay.  No one has that kind of control over his desires.  In fact, trying to directly influence a desire is generally futile.

So, can someone change their orientation?  Maybe, but it’d be really hard and you’d have to change your underlying desires.  I think that if a person really wanted to do it, it’d be possible, at least to some extent.  I would encourage anyone who is thinking about it to carefully think about why they want to do so and to recognize that all three sexual orientations, heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality, are all equal moral – a heterosexual person is not necessarily better than a homosexual one.  It is our character that makes us good or evil, not what sex we sleep with.

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Kinsey and Sexual identity

by Jason Stotts

For those few of you who have never heard of him, Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956) was an American sex researcher and a pioneer in the field of sex research. He is best known for his two books “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” (1948) and “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” (1953). But, perhaps his most important contribution to the field is the way in which he thought about sexuality. Kinsey was convinced that rigid sexual categories of “homosexual” and “heterosexual” were woefully incapable of capturing the true range of human sexuality and the ways in which real people experience their own desires. Consequently, he developed the “Kinsey Scale.”

The Kinsey Scale is a 0-6 scale of sexual identity. On the scale “0” represents a “true heterosexual”, that is, someone who experiences only desires for the opposite sex as well as only has sexual activity with persons of the opposite sex. The “6” represents a “true homosexual”, that is, someone who experiences only desires for the same sex as well as only has sexual activity with persons of the opposite sex. The “3” represents a “true bisexual,” that is, someone who experiences equal desires for both sexes. The scale is meant to be a continuum, so a person can be at any point along it, depending on which sex they desire. It is important to note too that this scale is not rigid and can change over time as people have changes in desires. Kinsey explains his scale thus:

[Humans] do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.

While emphasizing the continuity of the gradations between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual histories, it has seemed desirable to develop some sort of classification which could be based on the relative amounts of heterosexual and homosexual experience or response in each history… An individual may be assigned a position on this scale, for each period in his life…. A seven-point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist. (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 639, 656)

Most people, when they first hear of the Kinsey scale immediately place themselves on 0 or 6, depending on how they self-identify. The fact is, though, that most people fall in between these poles. Indeed, most of us have, at one time or another, experienced a desire that was atypical for our orientation or even experimented with a person of the “wrong” sex. What the Kinsey scale helps us to understand is that being heterosexual or homosexual is about being primarily oriented to one sex or the other, but that does not mean that one is exclusively oriented to that sex.

Indeed, I would imagine that most people who identify as 0’s and 6’s are actually 1’s and 5’s, since all of us, at some time or another, experience desires that are outside our standard orientation. This is to be expected as sexual identity is more fluid than most people suppose, since it results from our antecedent value judgments and these evolve as we grow, mature, and live out our lives. Thus, if we greatly value human excellence we will be attracted to a person who embodies this. This is why, for those familiar with The Fountainhead, the relationship between Howard Roark and Gail Wynand seems almost as though they were lovers. In a way, they were lovers, although their relationship never moved beyond an intense friendship (a form of love). Whether this was a function of their characters or a function of Rand’s disgust with homosexuality, is harder to say.

The broader point that Kinsey teaches us, though, is that to think of our sexual identities in terms of rigid categories misrepresents the way the world really is. We need to come to acknowledge that bisexuality and homosexuality are as natural as heterosexuality, even if they are not as common.

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