Take any sort of sexuality course and you will probably learn about the Kinsey Scale. The scale, ranging from 0-6 goes from exclusively heterosexual (0) to exclusively homosexual (6). It looks something like this:
The scale, produced in the 1940s, was pretty radical for its time. Kinsey was one of the first researchers to suggest that sexual orientation is more than simply:
But rather, that sexual orientation comes on a
Okay, I’m sorry. I’ll close Paint now :P
So basically, Kinsey was formally recognizing bisexuality as an “in between” to homosexuality and heterosexuality. And in fact, Kinsey made another radical claim that is still to this day considered controversial: that most people are at least a little bisexual. He asserted that even having close emotional friendships with the same sex constituted “homosexual behavior” – which most of us have, right? Not to mention all those secret desires out there to get kinky with more than 1 sex (yeah, I’m readin your emails yall ;]). Kinsey’s research indicated that most people fell between the numbers 1 and 5.
The Kinsey Scale remains a useful tool for teaching people about sexual orientation as a spectrum. I personally use it when introducing this concept in a 101 context. It’s a helpful intro tool, but not for any deeper discussion of sexual identity and orientation. Our knowledge about this topic has grown exponentially in the last 70 years – yes, it’s really been that long.
Here are some limitations of the Kinsey Scale.
1. The Kinsey Scale assumes sexual orientation is all about the biological sex of your mate. But…in reality, who we’re attracted to doesn’t always come down to what’s between their legs. For instance, gender identity tends to be a major component for people. While some people may be attracted to vaginas, they may not be attracted if that person identifies as a man. Similarly, some people may be attracted to folks who identify as women, regardless of whether she has a vagina or a penis.
2. The Kinsey Scale only addresses one form of attraction. The scale carries the assumption that sexual attraction is the crux of your sexual identity. In reality, several variables come in to create a completely unique picture of who YOU, as a sexual person, are.
Beyond sexual attraction, people experience romantic attraction, emotional attraction, attraction in sexual fantasies vs actual sexual desires, who you actually sleep with vs who you may want to sleep with, gender expression, etc.
3. The Kinsey Scale only offers “heterosexual”, “homosexual”, “bisexual”, and “asexual” as orientation choices. (“Asexual” was added a tad later with an “X” category hanging off the end). These days, people have really broadened the horizons on how you can identify yourself. The sexual revolution of the 60s/70s, in particular, lead to breaking out of the gender/sexual orientation boxes. People have been creating more terms to better capture their identities. Some of these are:
☂ Pansexual – attraction across all gender identities and biological sexes. Think “gender blind”.
☂ Demisexual – sexual attraction is experienced only when accompanied by a strong emotional attraction. Viewed as a “halfway”/demi point between asexual and sexual.
☂ Homoromantic/heteroromantic/aromantic – attraction is experienced romantically rather than sexually.
The labels can get tiring, but you get the point. I don’t think it’s necessary for a scale to accurately pin every possible orientation label people use to aid the understanding of their preferences. However, an accurate scale would offer exponentially more ways to orient your identity. Sexual identity can’t be smushed into 4 categories just like gender identity can’t be smushed into 2.
Alternatives to Kinsey
The Klein Sexual Orientation Grid produced by Dr. Fritz Klein in the early 90′s is the closest I’ve found to accuracy. It looks like this:
A. Sexual Attraction – physical arousal, erotic desire
B. Sexual Behavior – who you kiss, foreplay, manual/oral stimulation, vaginal/anal sex, etc
C. Sexual Fantasies – sexual day dreams, erotic thoughts
D. Emotional Preference – intimate feelings, romantic love
E. Social Preference – friendships, colleagues
F. Lifestyle – what causes you’re affiliated with, what circles you move in
G. Self Identification – how do you identify yourself?
Past – More than a year ago
Present – The last year of your life
Ideal – What would you eventually like?
For each category, grade on a scale of 1-7. 1 is Other Sex Only, 4 is Both Sexes, 7 is Same Sex Only.
The drawbacks here: some asexuals, trans*folk, and people attracted to trans*folk will still be excluded from this model. That said, it’s an improvement from Kinsey, and I do think it gets the point (mostly) across: sexual orientation, a major part of sexual identity, cannot be reduced to a straight line.