July is a month that is all about pride. The world over, people celebrate sexual diversity and freedom. In South Africa, we have some of the most progressive sexual and reproductive health rights in the world, but sadly there is still a lot of cultural and societal stigma associated to one’s sexuality being anything but heterosexual. The lens that most South African’s view sexuality through is quite rigidly heteronormative, and yet there should be education on, conversations about and permission to experience sexual fluidity.
In the 1950’s, Alfred Kinsey conducted the largest ever study of human sexual behaviour. He questioned over 5000 men and women about their sexual behaviour, and to say the results were ground-breaking (especially in the 1950s) is an understatement. What Kinsey found was that the most people do not fit neatly into a category of purely heterosexual or homosexual. He developed a scale to define people’s behaviours, and what he found was that people actually experience quite fluid sexuality, meaning that they very rarely sit on one end of the scale or the other.
|Rating | Description
0 | Exclusively heterosexual
1 | Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
2 | Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3 | Equally heterosexual and homosexual
4 | Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
5 | Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
6 | Exclusively homosexual
X | No socio-sexual contacts or reaction
Image and text taken from The Kinsey Institute
Taking this one step further, it’s helpful to use a bit more theory to understand sexuality in South Africa. The sexual trichotomy is something I use with clients to explain the further need for sexual fluidity and flexibility. The sexual trichotomy describes that we experience sexuality in 3 different ways:
- Sexual identity (how we self-identify or publicly identify, i.e. hetero-, homo- or bisexual)
- Sexual orientation (who we are attracted to, i.e. men, women, or both)
- Sexual behaviour (who we have sex with, i.e. men, women or both).
So, a woman might identify as heterosexual (her identity), that she’s attracted to men (sexual orientation), and that she sleeps only with men (behaviour). She seems to fit neatly into this triangle. But sexuality is actually not so simple, and there are many people who differ when this theory is applied to their sexuality. For example, a man may identify as heterosexual and attracted to women, but he might have sex with both men and women. Society would say that this man was gay or bisexual, because he has sex with men, but his experience may not include such labels (and he’d likely intensely defend himself if these labels was placed on him).
Sexual Fluidity has come more into conversation in the past few years, with people like Caitlyn Jenner transitioning from a man to a woman, and with people wanting to explore their sexuality, their sexual identity and sex with different people, but we’ve still got a long way to go! Unfortunately the stigma that society perpetuates can often get in the way of us exploring further and finding our curiosity acceptable. If you’re questioning your sexuality, give yourself permission to be curious in exploring. If you get aroused by watching porn or thinking about something that doesn’t fit neatly into the sexual trichotomy, that’s ok too! There is definitely a need for much greater acceptance; not only from society, but from ourselves.
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