Whenever I hear the term “sexual preference,” it’s like nails on a chalkboard. That’s because sexuality is really not a preference at all. It’s an orientation.
If someone says their sexual preference is men, it always seems to me he is really saying “I prefer to have sex with men, but if a woman is around, I’ll do her, or even a goat or a cow.” Is that what he means?
Of course not. Because what he means is that his sexual orientation is homosexual.
Preference means a greater liking for one alternative over the others–implying a voluntary choice. But I doubt that definition describes the situation of gay men, who would not like sex with a woman at all.
Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is defined as an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to one gender or another. It’s not “I’ll do this but if it’s not around, I’ll do that.”
So, it is inaccurate to talk about someone’ sexual preference when we mean their orientation. It’s not a choice.
That is not to say there aren’t shades of grey in sexuality. Like sexual research pioneer Albert Kinsey, MD, I think of sexuality as a continuum with purely homosexual and purely heterosexual on either end. Each of us falls somewhere on that continuum.
Many gay people believe that bisexuality doesn’t really exist, that it’s safe category used by those who are afraid to come out as gay. That’s not what I believe. The Kinsey sexual continuum is a more accurate way to explain sexuality, at last to me.
The Kinsey scale ranges from 0, for those who identify themselves as exclusively heterosexual with no experience with or desire for sexual activity with their same sex, to 6, for those who identify themselves as exclusively homosexual with no experience with or desire for sexual activity with those of the opposite sex, and 1-5 for those who identify themselves with varying levels of desire for sexual activity with either sex, including “incidental” or “occasional” desire for sexual activity with the same sex. (Wikipedia)
So in that case, it would be completely accurate for a bisexual to have a sexual preference, if he or she fell on either end of the continuum’s midpoint. Does that make sense?
Sexual orientation is not a choice, nor is it a “lifestyle.”
You might ask, “What’s in a word?” and I’d have to say “a lot.” Words and definitions help us better understand concepts we’re unfamiliar with. As the world corrects its view of sexuality and moves away from the idea of inherent choice in sexual orientation, the phrase sexual preference is inaccurate and should be dropped from our lexicon — and the sooner the better.