Dr J's Sex Facts

Fun sex facts and accurate information from a clinical sexologist for a hotter and more fulfilling sex life.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Sexual Continuum: Beyond Labels

“The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform.”
Dr. Alfred Kinsey


Welcome New Readers!

You may find this blog a bit different from others because my intention is to be both entertaining and educational. Each new post is based on information presented in the previous one; so to get the maximum benefit, I recommend you begin with the introductory post from the August archive and read forward from there.


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On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you like pizza? We’re all familiar with the idea of a scale—also known as a continuum— and how it can be applied when we ask people to rate how they feel about something like pizza. Of course our real feelings are often a bit more complex than the extremes of “love” and “hate.” Only by looking at all the degrees in between those extremes can we begin to understand the complexity of a subject.

For instance, if we want to understand the “pizza orientation” of a roomful of people, we wouldn’t simply ask, “How many people love pizza so much they’d eat it every day if they could?” Followed by: “Now how many people hate pizza so much they’d NEVER eat it unless they were starving?” And we’d certainly never label the first group “Pizzaphiles” and the second group “Pizzaphobes” because that would imply that there’s something wrong with either loving or hating pizza, when, in fact, that’s not the case.

So far, we’ve only discovered the two extremes of the pizza continuum and not the whole picture of the group’s pizza orientation. To accomplish that, we’d need to fill in those degrees, finding out how many like pizza enough to eat it weekly, daily, sometimes, almost never, etc. NOW we’d have a pretty good idea about peoples’ pizza orientation.

Again, we recognize the complexity of our human condition regarding thousands of activities. So if it’s true about pizza, then why is it that we insist on painting people into a corner and giving them judgmental labels when it comes to sex?

If we apply this continuum concept to sexual activities, we quickly discover there’s a rich complexity in human sexual behavior, and we’re not limited by a “one size fits all” operating system. For instance, if we survey that same roomful of people about sex, we might ask: “How many of you find that dressing your partner in sexy clothes is critical to getting you aroused?” And maybe a few people would raise their hands. Then we’d ask: “How many of you aren’t at all turned on by the idea of dressing your partner in sexy clothes?” And another few might raise their hands. But if we then ask the group to fill in the middle of the equation, we’d soon find that some people are slightly turned on by clothes, some are moderately turned on, and some are very turned on. Again, this gives us a much more accurate picture and demonstrates that sexuality, like pizza, isn’t an “either/or” proposition.

Unfortunately, many professionals in the past have misunderstood the complexity inherent in sexual behavior, not realizing that the labels they’ve come up with can actually stigmatize those who don’t conform to what they perceive as the traditional heterosexual p-v model of sex.

Sexologists have discovered that we all eroticize things to a greater or lesser extent; there’s a sexual continuum that allows for all these acts, preferences and orientations. Sexuality is fluid: it’s always a process—but not necessarily a fixed process. In the real world, when it comes to sex, most of us don’t fall squarely at either of the extreme ends of the continuum. And to be honest, those who do are just fine, as long as they feel they have options available to them so they don’t feel limited. Problems only arise when people feel stigmatized by unscientific judgmental labels like “voyeur,” “exhibitionist,” etc., or when we feel our sexual needs are too narrow.

Whatever you eroticize—whether it’s a hippopotamus in a tutu or a tall blonde Norwegian with an overbite—there’s no sexological evidence that these personal preferences are in any way pathological or harmful. (It goes without saying we’re discussing consensual sex, not violence.) Of course, at some point, whatever our erotic orientation, many of us might decide we’d like to broaden the scope of our erotic repertoire and discover whether we’re open to the possibility of other turn-ons as well (what fun!).

It’s important that we move beyond labels so we can all integrate sex as a positive force in our lives. Remember that each one of us has something to contribute to the rich mixture of erotic experience, because sexuality is as diverse as humanity—and diversity is a very good thing!

As always, the doc is in, and I welcome your questions and comments.

With Pleasure,

Dr. J




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