We begin this chapter with a discussion of the continuum and characteristics of sexual orientations. Homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexuality, and asexuality are words that identify various sexual orientations. Multidimensional components indicate a specific sexual orientation and can include whether an individual:

1. Engages in sexual behavior with men, women, both, or neither.

2. Feels sexual desire for men, women, both, or neither.

3. Falls in love with men, women, both, or neither.

4. Identifies himself or herself with a specific sexual orientation.

The complexity and ambiguity of defining sexual orientation result from the varying combinations and degrees of these four components. For example, how much sexual attraction to and experience with the same sex can someone have and still be hetero­sexual? And, vice versa, how much sexual attraction to and behavior with the other sex can someone have and still be homosexual? Or, is everyone who does not con­sistently and completely meet these four components bisexual? Further, can someone who self-identifies as heterosexual but is sexual exclusively with same-sex partners really be heterosexual? Even scientists who do research about sexual orientation do not use consistent criteria in categorizing subjects according to sexual orientation. In some studies, subjects are included in the bisexual/homosexual category if they have had any element of same-sex attraction, behavior, or self-identity. In other studies, subjects are not considered homosexual unless their sexual behavior, attraction, and self-identity have been consistently with the same sex since puberty.

Thinking of sexual orientation as a multidimensional phenomenon likely provides the most valid conceptualization of this complex human dimension (Jordan-Young, 2010; Laumann et al., 1994). However, in the most simplistic definitions, exclusive and consistent attraction to and sexual involvement with same-sex partners is a homosex­ual orientation: Gay is a common term for homosexual men, as lesbian is for women. Exclusive and consistent attraction to and sexual behavior with other-sex partners is a heterosexual orientation, also referred to as straight. Bisexuality refers to degrees of attraction to both sexes. Asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction to either sex. Because sexual orientation is only one aspect of a person’s life, we use these four terms as descrip­tive adjectives rather than as nouns that label one’s total identity.

I Figure 9.1 shows the seven-point continuum that Alfred Kinsey devised in his analy­sis of sexual orientations in American society (Kinsey et al., 1948). The Kinsey scale did not include asexuality. The scale ranges from 0 (consistent and exclusive contact with and

erotic attraction to the other sex) to 6 (consistent and exclusive contact with and attrac­tion to the same sex). Category 3 represents equal same – and other-sex attraction and experience. In between 0 and 3 and 3 and 6 are various combinations of same – and other – sex attraction. The terms heteroflexibility and homoflexibility are new terms that may be useful to describe individuals who are primarily heterosexual or homosexual, yet have some degree of sexual interest in and/or experience with both sexes. A recent research study found that almost 13% of women and over 5% of men in the United States had experienced sexual contact with both same – and other-sex partners (Chandra et al., 2011).

Self-identity with a particular sexual orientation is one of the variables of sexual orien­tation. ■ Table 9.1 shows what percentages of 15- to 44-year-olds in the United States defined themselves as having a specific sexual orientation. The totals do not add up to 100% because some respondents were not certain how to define their sexual orientation.