Friday 13 April 2012

Changing views about sexual orientation - 'A more fluid approach'

Many people believe that homosexual and heterosexual are distinct biological categories like race – unchangeable, biologically fixed and genetically determined. It is on the basis of this view that the gay rights lobby and sections of the media argue that 'homophobia' is a form of discrimination akin to racism.

But this view is being increasingly challenged, not least by gay rights activists themselves. In a recent Huffington Post article that has generated a huge amount of attention, 'Future Sex: Beyond Gay and Straight', (1) Peter Tatchell affirms both the spectrum and also the fluidity of sexual attraction.

Regarding bisexuality he says: 'We already know, thanks to a host of sex surveys, that bisexuality is a fact of life and that even in narrow-minded, homophobic cultures, many people have a sexuality that is, to varying degrees, capable of both heterosexual and homosexual attraction.'

Then he challenges the traditional view that gay and straight are distinct categories:

'Research by Dr Alfred Kinsey in the USA during the 1940s was the first major statistical evidence that gay and straight are not watertight, irreconcilable and mutually exclusive sexual orientations. He found that human sexuality is, in fact, a continuum of desires and behaviours, ranging from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality. A substantial proportion of the population shares an amalgam of same-sex and opposite-sex feelings - even if they do not act on them.'

Tatchell, however, grossly inflates the true incidence of exclusive homosexuality. The best evidence (2) (3) (4) suggests that only a very small percentage of men (1-2%) and women (0.5-1.5%) experience exclusive same-sex attraction throughout their life course. But bisexuality appears to be more prevalent than exclusive homosexuality.

What is the relative ratio of bisexuality to exclusive homosexuality? For each man who is 'completely homosexual' (Kinsey score 6) there are three with varying shades of bisexuality; but for women the ratio is 1:16. (5)

Sexual attractions are therefore best understood as lying on a spectrum rather than in terms of a simple dichotomous binary categorisation, and mixed patterns of sexual desire, including attraction to both sexes at the same time, appear to be more common than exclusive same sex attraction, especially among women.

But the concept of a spectrum of sexuality–known for decades, but often ignored–also calls into question simplistic analogies between sexual orientation and race.

Conflating sexual orientation and race is not really comparing like with like. It is what is called a 'category error'.


1. Huffington Post; 10 January 2012
2. Dickson N, et al. Same-Sex Attraction in a Birth Cohort: Prevalence and Persistence in Early Adulthood. Soc-Sci and Med 2003; 56 (8):1607-15.
3. Savin-Williams RC, and Ream GL. Prevalence and Stability of Sexual Orientation Components During Adolescence and Young Adulthood. Arch Sex Behav 2007;36:385-94.
4. Laumann EO, et al. The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

From the Spring 2012 edition of Triple Helix


  1. If there is a spectrum in sexual attraction, then it is possible to induce a person — or a person to induce itself — to a certain position in the spectrum; which means that NARTH has a point there.

    1. Yes. Once you see sexual orientation as being on a spectrum rather than in terms of dichotomous binary categories then it makes sense to talk about 'changes in the strength and direction of sexual desires' that might be helped in one direction or another by various talking therapies.

      And those who are unhappy with the current strength and direction of their sexual desires, like those who are unhappy with any other desires they may experience, are surely permitted to seek sound professional help.

      To deny them this is profoundly discriminatory and unjust.

    2. While the spectrum model,rather than binary, may be more accurate (and indeed it has been observed that perceived sexual orientation may vary during a person's lifetime), this does not validate your assumption that homosexuality is abnormal and wrong.

      Those "who are unhappy with the current strength and direction of their sexual desires" tend to be so because people like you have told them they are unnatural and immoral. The ethically-dubious therapy you mention merely reinforces this negative view you impose on people.

      If anyone needs help via "various talking therapies", surely it is those who cannot accept and love others as they are?

    3. As anarchic teapot says, this does not validate the assumption that homosexuality is abnormal. On the contrary. It specifically suggest that it is a normal variation of the human species. As well as a host of other mammals for that matter. Neither sexual orientation nor gender are binaries. This is becoming a fairly well established scientific fact.

      Christians are of course allowed to go against their own nature, as is any other individual. But suggesting people should do that is harmful. Therapy like this induce nothing but misery and help perpetuate various damaging phobias in society.

    4. At and J6,

      Let's not conflate 'homosexual orientation' and 'homosexual behaviour'. One is a dominant feeling of attraction, the other is an action. Only homosexual behaviour is immoral from a Christian perspective.

      See my blog post at for more detail.

      Different people experience feelings of attraction for a wide variety of different actions, objects or behaviours. Not all these feelings are welcome to those who experience them and most people do not believe they should act upon every one of them. All of us in a variety of contexts sometimes choose to exercise restraint.

      Sometimes people seek professional help to resist or deal with unwanted feelings and I believe they are fully entitled to do so. Feelings of same sex erotic attraction are just part of this very broad spectrum.

      Wrt 'therapies' have a look at Goddard and Harrison's booklet on our website which goes into the science in much more depth - see


  2. Since you cannot change your sexual orientation wether that be Straight Bi or homosexual it is akin to race - you are born with the fundamental attraction pattern you have.

    Throwing out percentages is misleading since I have blue eyes and only 2.2% of the world population has blue eyes does it mean my eye colour is under my control or is it simply that eye colour exists along a spectrum in humanity with most being some sort of brown.

    1. I agree with you that the percentage shouldn't matter, and I reckon that's not the point of the article.
      it is about our human sexuality being a spectrum and that it's not as fixed as we're often taught to believe.

      I don't have any problem telling others that I'm gay, but I'd be a liar if I said that I never get attracted sexually to the opposite sex.
      that said, I'm not trying to fool myself into thinking that I am level 4 or 3 on the Kinsey scale. I don't even bother telling people that I'm somewhere around 5. but denying my heterosexual attractions is IMO just as futile as the other way around. i.e. straight people who experience homosexual attraction and try with all their might to deny it.

      as for one's ability to control who they're attracted to, I don't find anything in the article mentioning anything about it.


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