Kinsey is not enough

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Alfred Kinsey’s scale. You know, the one that supposedly explains the difference between gays and straights by assigning a number between zero and six where zero is totally, 100% straight and six is totally, 100% gay. And I’m thinking, not for the first time, that it’s totally insufficient to describing human sexuality. At least, my sexuality. Probably yours, too.

First off (and forgive me as I’m not a biologist, sexologist, geologist, or really any sort of oligist at all) there’s this concept called normal distribution. The idea in nature that any given set of variables measured over a large population of beings will end up distributed on a scale in a shape resembling a bell. You know, the bell curve. Why do we think that’s not applicable for sexuality? According to popular culture, human sexuality is more the inverse of that. Lots of straight people, a smaller yet significant number of gay people, and then a bunch of confused weirdos in the middle who, if we’re honest, are probably going to end up gay once they get their heads out of their asses. In my experience, both internally and externally, that’s a load of bullocks. Humans have way more variability in what makes their sexy bits throb and plump than that simple binary (especially women). But anyway, that’s not really the point of this. It’s just an observation. 

Seems to me (and I apologize because I may very well have expounded on this at various times and in various ways already), the Kinsey Scale is one axis of minimally three axes that describe our sexuality. Kinsey’s is all about that sexy throbbing and plumping. As in, what gets us going. What do we want to fuck/be fucked by, etc. I think it’s the most lizardy aspect of our sexuality as it’s the most deeply wired and involuntary. There’s little thinking about it. Dicks get hard or they don’t. Pussies get wet or they don’t. We see what we like and our bodies respond. 

I spent years thinking that was it. I also spent years bought off on the idea that if I wanted to have sex with men I was gay, period. Based on some previous comments from readers, there’s a fair chance you think something like that yourself. It’s wrong. Yes, I do like having sex with men. But I also like having sex with women. I might also like having sex with a trans man or woman, but I’ve never had the opportunity. Bottom line, based on old Kinsey’s reckoning, I’m right down the middle. And, because I’m a know-it-all bisexual, I have the feeling you’re probably somewhere on the scale yourself. Not a zero or a six. Maybe a one and a half. Of a four and three quarters. Or even a .25. Doesn’t matter. I believe in absolute zeros and sixes as much as I believe in the Easter Bunny. 

Which is not to say there aren’t straight people and gay people. We round ourselves off. If you’re a 1.5 you likely identify as straight and that’s fine because it’s simple and you’re really only a little more than incidentally bisexual. Likewise, if you’re a 4.75 you might decide to call yourself gay. That’s cool, too. I’m saying there’s a difference between what we are and how we indentify. I also think identification is very much a higher brain activity that’s influenced by all kinds of emotional and cognitive bullshit our sex organs care little about. Who do we feel more comfortable with? What do we feel more comfortable being? If there’s one thing living as an orgasm denied person can teach you it’s that our brains and our genitalia are on entirely different tracks in the old sexuality train yard. 

Bottom line, for me, I’m less interested in identification politics as I am in actual in-born stimuli reactions. I don’t think and would never say that a man who identifies as straight is not what he says he is because seeing two dudes go at it makes his dick chub a little. But I think it’s critically important for us to acknowledge that that is a thing that can happen and aforementioned dude should not feel weird or end up bashing some poor gay boy because it threatens his image of himself.

Anyway, that’s the part I most closely associate with Kinsey. Involuntary response, not identity. The second dimension is emotional capacity. There’s probably a scale to that, too, but it’s often rounded off like sexuality. Homoromantic vs. heteroromantic vs. biromantic (not to be confused with New Romantic which is what I styled myself as in 1985). For simplicity’s sake, imagine the same zero to six scale. If on the sexual response scale I land at about a three, on the emotional response scale I’m more like a five. I can almost get to the point where my feelings for someone of my gender could reach critical mass and become romantic, but it’s never quite happened with anyone and I assume never will. I am totally into chicks when it comes to emotional response. For me, guys are for sex. And playing video games. And seeing a ballgame. Maybe both video games and ballgames as long as I get to suck them off after. You get the idea. 

I think this emotional response scale is where we tend to find our sexual identities. A “straight” man who falls at about a two on the Kinsey scale rounds off as straight because he feels deep and satisfying emotional connections to women. A gay man might occasionally think about a particular kind of woman sexually but finds himself fitting into a relationship with a man so he’s “gay.” This is where I think the idea of “sexuality is a choice” comes from. Someone might occasionally get a boner from a person of their gender but they choose to do nothing about it because they love someone of the other gender so therefore anyone who “goes gay” is choosing to do so. Of course, that’s nonsense but since we only think of sexuality as a linear A/B scale it must be true. 

The third axes of our sexuality involves power. As Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” I believe we’re all on a spectrum of being more interested in having power in a sexual dynamic or giving up power in a sexual dynamic. Or sometimes enjoying a bit of both. I think this is drastically under appreciated when we think about sex and relationships probably because being overt about it is kinky and kinky is weird and bad and why can’t we just be happy falling in love forever and fucking like missionaries until we die, right? But the internet is rife with stories of men who have discovered their submissiveness later in life and how that plays havoc with their partners who are either totally out of touch with their own “power response quotient” or are simply incompatible power-wise or too hung up on the weird kinkiness of the whole thing to be able to cope. Also, not withstanding my bell curve rant at the top, there seems to be a lot more submissives of all genders than dominants. So who knows. Personally, on the power spectrum (assuming zero to six again), I’m like a .75 absolute tops. Probably not even that high.

Imagine a world were we were aware of all three of these spectrums and our places on them and were able to communicate openly about it to one another and our prospective partners. I have to think it would lead to so much more satisfaction and intensity of experience. 

The more I think about it, the more I think there may be more spectrums. Is pain one? Either the desire to feel it or the desire to inflict it? Is there something more about gender in there? Not just what we respond to but how we need to express our own? Where does androgyny fit? What about bondage? Is that a thing unto itself or just a manifestation of the power exchange thing? Like I said before, I’m no sexologist. I’m not trained in anything useful, really. This is just a bunch of stuff that’s been bouncing around in my head for a long time. 

At the end of the day, sex and sexuality and human relationships are infinitely more complicated than we tell ourselves they are via popular culture. Once you have a peek into the complex nature of it, you realize there is no “weird” because there is no “normal.” There are just too many possible combinations to think there’s one predominant way of being. There’s the way we all choose to believe is “normal” but hardly any of us are that. We just play at it. We fill the roll chosen for us because we think it’s what’s expected and we typically so badly want to fit in. That’s too bad. And it’s too bad too many of us don’t figure this shit out until we’re middle-aged. But at least we figure it out at all. Well, some of us anyway. 

7 Replies to “Kinsey is not enough”

  1. I agree with Drew. Very interesting read. I just had a convo the other with someone that said if I liked being with women I was gay. I said no I’m no-sexual. I love my husband and fucking him. But I ha a girlfriend (she moved) and I loved fucking her as well. There is a beauty on the difference. There is a beauty being with both I think. I don’t want to be in a box. I want to be me. And I don’t think I for in a box or on a scale.

    Always a pleasure to read your blog. 💜

  2. This is a great piece. And I completely agree with you. I don’t think that I’ve ever known a 0 or a 6. And sexuality is so much more complex than a number and a preferred gender. Emotional capacity and power are huge pieces of my own identity.

    “Normal” isn’t something that I understand because I see so many variations just in myself and people around me. The idea of fitting within a scale just doesn’t work for me. Really a great read.

  3. Of all things, the asexuality community seems to have done a lot of theory work in this area. My favorite idea is the radar chart, which I think was introduced here: (scroll down a bit to see some examples) I don’t necessarily identify with the default axes they’ve put on that chart; I don’t entirely grasp the distinction between primary and secondary romantic attraction for instance, and as a kinkster myself, I’d definitely want to add axes for “desire to submit” and “desire to dominate” and so on, but it’s a very flexible little tool and it’s totally what snapped me out of the idea that everything had to “go together” as it were. Like you, my responses are all over the map (I fantasize about sex almost exclusively with men, actually desire to have sex with almost nobody, only want to have romantic relationships with women, will happily be dominated by anyone of any gender, etc.) and this model was HUGELY helpful in making me understand that that can totally be A Thing.

    1. And yet again I’ve forgotten the asexuals.

      Radar chart is an interesting way to do that. Makes sense. Not sure I grok all the things they’re charting over there, but it’s a logical device to use, it seem.

  4. you realize there is no “weird” because there is no “normal.”

    Or as my shrink remarked: “‘Normal’ covers a really, really wide range.”

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