Is the sexual continuum accurate?

June 4, 2015

Reasons-Why-People-Commit-Suicide-Sexual-OrientationWhenever 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.

prayawayThat 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?

48cc789a52fad937ef2afcef162f214bSexual 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.

15 comments on “Is the sexual continuum accurate?
  1. I know, I know. I’m so tired of trying to tell people this. I love the guy who did a little ‘man on the street’ interview with people and said, “Did you CHOOSE to be heterosexual?” OMG this just floored people. They couldn’t believe that they thought gay people made a choice but they didn’t. It was hilarious to watch their brain wheels turning and then become speechless.Great post,Carol!

  2. I totally agree…and here’s a fascinating tidbit: I lost my virginity (when I was 20) to a guy who was homosexual. We both used the word “bi” at the time to describe him, but he went on to be a full-fledged gay man and I’m as straight as they come. One of the best books I’ve ever read (in general and on the subject of what it means to be transgender) is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

    I also believe that mental health is also a continuum…we’re all on it and I don’t think there’s such a thing a perfect mental health!

  3. Anita Irlen says:

    I agree, words are so important. It seems like people are always repeating things without any thought to what they mean. That then eventually makes them “true.” Great post!


  4. I will share with you one of the best resources to understand just how many ‘colors’ are in that spectrum that I’ve ever seen. Ashley Mardell is a young woman on YouTube with growing popularity, and she identifies (I think; I’ll have to watch again to remember exactly) as pan-sexual. She had a video a while back that covered all the terminology, but then recently she had this two-part series called “The ABCs of LGBT” that includes way more terms than I knew existed. They’re well worth a watch, with a warning that they are probably not really work-safe. 🙂

    Part 1
    Part II

  5. Diane says:

    Why am I not surprised that you, Carol, would be the person to make it all clear for me. I’ve been so confused by the whole preference VS orientation dilemma. As well as the different orientations within the orientation. And now, in living colour, you’ve organized it so I can understand! Thank you!

  6. Toni McCloe says:

    I could not agree more. I am so glad you wrote about this and I am glad the world has changed and become so much more mindful of the differences in people.

  7. I agree…one is born with an orientation, and there is plenty of in between in sexual realities. Even if people don’t want to admit it.

  8. Roz Warren says:

    Thanks for this terrific post (LOVED the graphic too — how and where did you find it?) Sharing. And Tweeting.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I couldn’t agree more. To use the word preference, is like saying I chose to be born female!

  10. Carolann says:

    You raise some great points here. I agree totally and just don’t understand why folks are so into labels. I guess you are right – they do help us understand and categorize things which is a natural instinct for us to do.

  11. Sadly, this is a much-needed post. It is amazing what some people believe, and I’m glad you’re raising awareness.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Follow Carol


Here you’ll find my blog, some of my essays, published writing, and my solo performances. There’s also a link to my Etsy shop for healing and grief tools offered through A Healing Spirit.


I love comments, so if something resonates with you in any way, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on my blog. Thank you for stopping by–oh, and why not subscribe so you don’t miss a single post?


Subscribe to my Blog

Receive notifications of my new blog posts directly to your email.