Beyond the Binary

Over the past several decades the vernacular we have around sexual identity has shifted considerably. Those shifts have provided nuance and depth of understanding which previous generations did not have when conceiving of their sexual selves.

Most of us know about the revelations that came mid-century from Kinsey and the studies he conducted through his Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University. He presented the revolutionary idea that people’s sexuality existed on a spectrum instead of merely two fixed points; that on a scale from 1-6 a person’s sexuality might be a blend of heterosexuality and homosexuality. Through his data he also revealed that far more people were having homosexual experiences than previously believed, helping to bring alternative sexuality out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

Yet the concept of a sexuality spectrum was still confined by the rigidity of a binary: static over time and defined only by the arousal a person experiences in response to two opposite genders. The dawn of a new millennium (and with it a generation of Millennials) has brought with it gender fluidity. Gender fluidity is the awareness that gender is also more of a spectrum than two fixed points and that gender presentation may change over time and within different contexts. As the concept of gender became more fluid and complex, the concept of sexual fluidity evolved alongside it.

Sexual fluidity is a recognition that sexuality may change over the course of a lifetime, and even from moment to moment depending on the context. Our attractions are not static and they are defined by more elusive factors than simply whether a potential partner identifies as male or female. The binary of homo or hetero sexuality has become less and less relevant in the recognition that neither gender nor attraction is static over time.

In addition to these conceptual shifts there has also arisen a recent discernment between romantic and sexual attractions and that they do not always intertwine.  A person may be deeply involved with someone romantically and not desire to have sexual interaction, or they may have a physical attraction to someone that does not go beyond the carnal.

Having a new and broader framework for sexuality may seem like only words, yet conceptualization beyond the binary provides a freedom to those discovering (or re-discovering) their sexuality. These evolving theories present the possibility of being attracted to anyone, regardless of gender, and that who you are attracted to may shift through different contexts and phases of life. These ideas normalize the potential to be attracted to people in different ways and foster a more sex-positive world where the possibilities for exploration are vast.