Sexual Orientation

The term “sexual orientation” is usually thought of as defining an individual as either
heterosexual [straight] or homosexual [gay or lesbian] and sometimes bisexual. In fact,
it is much more complicated than that. Who we are attracted to emotionally and sexually
is not always easy to define. In many cases it is certainly not an either/or proposition.

In the 1940s, Alfred Kinsey came up with his 7-point scale, where zero was 100%
heterosexual, six was 100% homosexual, and three was bisexual. This was a step in
the right direction but is still overly simplistic. Regardless of the scale used, the idea that
sexual orientation is on a continuum is now generally accepted. Most adult individuals
tend to find themselves closer to one end or the other, with the vast majority being on
the heterosexual end. According to most studies, between 5% and 10% of adults find
themselves closer to the homosexual end of the spectrum. The number of individuals
who are toward the middle, or bisexual part of the continuum, is unclear.

In recent years, increasing numbers of people contend that it’s not necessary to
precisely define where one’s sexuality fits on the continuum. In fact, more and more
people are refusing to label themselves in this manner. Especially among young people,
there is a growing tendency to simply say: “I’m attracted to different people at different
times.”

Nonetheless, the process of figuring out one’s sexual orientation is a complex one
for many people. “Coming out” (roughly defined as coming to terms with one’s own
homosexual or bisexual orientation and sharing that information with others) is a life-
long journey. It is something you can do, hopefully in your own time and on your own
terms. Some choose never to come out and that is their choice. For most people
however, being open with themselves and those important to them is an integral part of
being honest.

Given our society’s heterosexist tendencies, living an openly gay or bisexual life is more
complicated and challenging than being straight. Today in large urban centers there
are many people living openly in this way, but in more conservative/rural areas it is still
very difficult. Learning about one’s sexual orientation and sexuality in general is a life-
long journey. Finding out how to live and love in the broader culture, all the while striving
to be comfortable with oneself, is an ongoing challenge. Counselling can help in two
important ways: by sorting out fact from fiction and in charting a life which is honest and
fulfilling.


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