Fifty Shades of Sexual Experience

When someone says they are straight, what do you assume that means about their sexual experiences? What about when someone says they are gay or bisexual?

In an effort to demonstrate the continuum of sexual experience, Dr. Alfred Kinsey developed a heterosexual-homosexual rating scale back in 1948. Using the following definitions, Kinsey considered a 1-2 heterosexual, 3-4 bisexual, and 5-6 homosexual¹. 

0 – Exclusively heterosexual experiences with no homosexual experiences
1 – Predominantly heterosexual experiences, only incidentally homosexual
2 – Predominantly heterosexual experiences, but more than incidentally
homosexual experiences
3 – Equally heterosexual and homosexual experiences
4 – Predominantly homosexual experiences, but more than incidentally
heterosexual experiences
5 – Predominantly homosexual experiences, only incidentally heterosexual
6 – Exclusively homosexual experiences

What number are you? Did you have a hard time picking out where were you were on the scale? Me too.

Although Kinsey’s scale is a great starting point for showing the continuum of sexual experiences, it is not as simple as he made it out to be. Rather, our sexualities are more complex, like the fifty shades of Christain Grey. For instance, what is a heterosexual or homosexual experience? At what point do incidentally sexual experiences become more than incidental? What’s more, where you put yourself on the scale may differ between physical sexual behavior, fantasies, dreams, attraction, emotional connections, and romantic relationships.

Let me explain – when a female says she is straight does that mean all of her sexual behaviors, fantasies, dreams, attractions, emotional connections, and romantic  relationships are strictly heterosexual? More often than not, it is not so absolute. Instead, she may say she is straight but engage in sexual behavior with males and females, have dreams and fantasies strictly about females, is attracted to and has emotional connections with both males and females, and only has romantic relationships with males.

Alternatively, what about a male who engages in sexual behavior with mostly males, has dreams and fantasies of mainly females, is attracted to only men, has emotional connections with both males and females, has relationships with both men and women but mostly women, and is currently in a relationship with a biological male who identifies as a female. Where does that put him on the scale? More importantly, does it really matter? The main thing is that whatever you identify as is up to you and most definitely not up to someone else to determine.

 Your Sexual “Coffee” Order

A great way to think about the complexity of sexuality is to consider what people order when they walk into a coffee shop. If the absolute concept of sexual preferences applied to drink orders, we would then assume that everyone who drank coffee or tea ordered his or her drink the same way. But we don’t order our drinks the same way, do we? Instead each person has their own preference for the many fantastic options and combinations, like an Americano, Caramel Macchiato with skim milk, Soy Chai Latte, House Coffee with room for cream, an Iced Latte, Blueberry ice tea, Frozen Mocha with whip cream, a shot of espresso… you get the idea.

Not only do sexual preferences, like drink orders, differ from one person to another, but also like drink orders, sexual preferences may change throughout our lives. For example, my drink of choice used to be a White Mocha and over time, it slowly evolved to be a Grande Nonfat Extra Hot Raspberry White Mocha. I’ve tried, and didn’t like, Bhakti Chai. Currently, I love a nice, hot Grande Nonfat Latte. Some days I don’t even want a coffee, and who knows in a couple years I might like Bhakti Chai. Either way, it shouldn’t matter to you what I’m drinking because you get to order your own. So like your drink order, the exciting thing is that you have the ability to discover your own unique sexual preference and change it if you want to, or not. Doesn’t matter to me because I’ll be sitting here enjoying my latte.



Dr. Chelsea Holland

Chelsea Holland, DHS is a sex educator and counselor based in Colorado. She is also a blogger at SEXuality Education from Dr. Chelsea. She helps individuals, partners, and groups regardless of their sexual orientation, sexual interests, ability, and age with concerns and questions around their sexuality and relationships. Further, she uses her open-minded, sex-positive, and nonjudgmental approach to help individuals become aware and accepting of who they are, to learn to be authentic in society about who they are, and to gain the skills that will help them develop and maintain positive relationships that are accepting of the individual's authenticity.

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