With the discussions concerning marriage for same-sex couples and allowing individuals identifying themselves as non-heteronormal to serve in the military, sexuality issues are quite prominent in American (and the world as a whole) society. We are beginning to ever-so-slowly expand our horizons and recognize the fact that there is no universal truth in the subject.
As part of our natural instinct to quantify, we have come up with categories in which people are placed based upon sexual preferences, and we split what can be described as a continuous, fluid spectrum into discrete "colors". We like to believe that everyone fits nicely into a single category. These quick and easy labels work great for statistics, discrimination, and cultural identity, but they do little justice to the true situation as visualized in the below graphic and subsequent explanation:
Note: Just because something in which you have no interest overlaps with a category you identify with does not mean that you are interested. Only you know your location in the spectrum.
Discrete Sexual Orientations
All persons fall somewhere amongst these orientations - but not necessarily nicely within a single one.
- Homosexual homo- meaning same. Attraction to one's own gender.
- Bi-Curious. Typically homosexual person exploring attractions toward his/her opposing gender.
- Homoflexible. Bisexual with the vast majority of attraction toward his/her own gender.
- Bisexuality. bi- meaning two. Attraction to both genders, not necessarily in equal amounts.
- Heteroflexible. Bisexual with the vast majority of attraction toward his/her opposing gender.
- Bi-Curious. Typically heterosexual person exploring attractions toward his/her own gender.
- Heterosexual. hetero- meaning different. Attraction to one's opposing gender.
- Pansexual. A fully-inclusive term where gender is not a factor in sexual attraction.
- Asexuality. Individual does not exhibit sexual attraction.
Other, more elusive aspects of the continuum.
- Transsexual Sexuality. Transsexual individuals can fall into any of the sexual orientations listed above. The only differing aspect is that their apparent physical birth gender has been reversed.
- BDSM Bondage, Discipline / Dominance, Submission / SadoMasochism. Sexual desire for physical restraint (bondage), dominating others or submitting to others, inflicting pain/suffering or receiving pain/suffering. BDSM in varying degrees is extremely common across the entire spectrum of sexuality. BDSM elements have made their way into popular culture, often crime and horror dramas despite the fact that true practitioners of BDSM (not criminals) adhere to policies such as Safe, Sane, and Consensual.
Fetishism a.k.a. "Non-Flesh Desires". Sexual attraction produced through objects other than parts of the body. The most common are of materials (leather, rubber, etc.) and clothing (e.g. garters, high heels).
"Non-Material" fetishes such as accents, cultures, and nationalities (e.g. Asian) exist as well.
Body part (e.g. feet, breasts) fetishes are referred to as partialism. Fetishism and partialism are extremely common and are referenced in popular culture.
Feeding the Pigeonholers
Because sexuality is such a taboo subject, people do not typically talk openly about any deviations they may have from the major categories which have been established (e.g. heterosexuality and even homosexuality). Societal institutions such as religion and the mass media perpetuate such pigeonholing and stereotyping, further worsening the situation.
Remember having the box in elementary school with only eight crayons in it? I know that for me it was frustrating having only eight colors to work with, when in reality the spectrum is practically infinite! All of us are aware of at least one category in the sexuality spectrum. The vast majority are aware of another. These represent just the tip of the iceberg.