Should We Change Sexual Orientation Labels?

Photo by Emir Saldierna on Unsplash

Looks like the next generation is coming into its adulthood with the understanding that sexuality is a fluid spectrum.

A recent study published in the Journal of Sex Research found that young people are becoming more varied in who they are attracted to and partnered with.

The study was focused on data mined from surveys including the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. This ultimately surmounted into info about 12,000 U.S. students and young people between the ages of early teens and late 20s.

The study’s results found that defining one’s sexuality based on solely a person’s past sexual partners was a mistake.

“We will always struggle with imposing categories onto sexual orientation,” said Christine Kaestle, PhD, in a press release. “Because sexual orientation involves a set of various life experiences over time, categories will always feel artificial and static.”

“Sexual orientation involves many aspects of life, such as who we feel attracted to, who we have sex with, and how we self-identify,” Dr. Kaestle added. “Until recently, researchers have tended to focus on just one of these aspects, or dimensions, to measure and categorize people. However, that may oversimplify the situation.”

That said, the study itself used some… interesting labels to categorize their results. Dr. Kaestle and company used labels like “mostly straight or bi,” “minimal sexual expression,” and “emerging lesbian” in order to sort the respondents and leave room for people who outgrow or transition away from traditional labels.

One celebrity example of this would be pro-wrestler Anthony Bowens. Bowens first came out as bisexual and then later announced that he no longer identified with that label. He ultimately settled on calling himself gay.

Bowens shared that it was the constant use of the term “bisexual” by news sources reporting on him that made the athlete realize he no longer liked the label.

“It was kind of annoying me that they had to continually put what I was,” he lamented. “I couldn’t just be a professional wrestler, I was the ‘bisexual pro wrestler,’ but I just wasn’t identifying with that term anymore.”

The study’s data also showed other interesting information. First, men identified as straight more than women. Women also reported being more sexually fluid during their youth.

On the topic of sexual expression and experiences, the researchers found that as young people got into long term relationships, their sexual expression became locked into the attraction for a gender aligning with their partner’s.

“This could lead to fewer identities and attractions being expressed that do not match the sex of the long-term partner, leading to a kind of bi-invisibility,” Dr. Kaestle explained.

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Bowens’ experience can also be seen as an example here. As he stated at the time:

“I’m in love with Michael, I want to marry Michael, I’m picturing myself being with a man for the rest of my life, so the term ‘bisexual’ felt less and less me the more time went on. I now feel more comfortable labeling myself as ‘gay.’”

Unfortunately, that example and the study’s data could be used in a negative light to paint a bad picture over committed relationships and sexual expression. That said, Bowens also touched on this topic when he came out the second time.

“Please don’t be a hypocrite,” pleaded Bowen. “I think it’s very hypocritical as people who identify as LGBT who get judged by a lot of people about our lifestyle, then turn around and judge others in the same community.”

“As you get older, your viewpoints change; the way you look at the world changes; the way you look at yourself changes,” he added. “Everybody has their own way of figuring themselves out.”

Ultimately, this study’s base statement is that sexuality is fluid and hard to define. While there may be some connections from person to person, we are ultimately too hung up on needing to classify and label others for the purpose of placing them in our world view.

While it may be hard and tedious to listen and ask what labels others prefer, it would ultimately lead to a happier society.

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