Millennials are becoming increasingly aware of sexual identities. We have grown up in an era in which we’ve seen drastic cultural shifts in the way in which we talk about sexual orientation. Fleeting are the days where homophobic responses were commonplace; this of course isn’t to say that we life in a post-homophobic society, but rather, that there seems to be, at the very least, an increase awareness of sexual orientation. In the midst of labels and categories of sexual orientation, our generation may lead the way in completely dismantling these qualifiers, as research and social awareness flood in, concurrently calling for a fresh understanding of the continuum of human sexuality.
Identifying as heterosexual or homosexual, or more colloquially as straight or gay, respectively, is an indicator of how we actually have progressed, if even slightly, in the way in which we talk about sexuality. Instead of presuming everyone is straight and furthering a heteronormativity, we have begun instead to ask individuals what their sexual orientation is; however, even this is not enough. This isn’t an effort to complicate matters and come up with a slew of identities and titles, but rather, is an attempt to rid our terminology of arbitrary semantics that do not represent the way most people actually are.
Opting to use the term bisexual, however, can be problematic as it perpetuates the notion of the gender binary, excluding any and all genders that don’t fall neatly into these preemptively constructed identities. Instead, the term pansexual, refers to an attraction towards persons of any gender. But why bring this up? Surely this must be a slight minority of individuals, certainly not worth writing an entire article on. But it seems that we don’t fall as neatly into the categories we once thought were true for ourselves. In other words, recent research has begun to suggest that we most probably aren’t either completely straight or completely gay, with the majority of us actually falling somewhere on a spectrum or continuum of sorts.
A recent study from The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that women in particularly are, on average, sexually aroused to male and female sexual stimuli, regardless of their perceived sexual orientations. In contrast, men’s sexual arousal was more consistent with their perceived sexual orientation; however, this does not necessarily imply that men are more likely to be straight or gay than being bisexual or pansexual. It is possible, for instance, to imagine a scenario in which men have been socialized to be more wary of incorrect homosexual perceptions of themselves, something that is a remnant of homophobia. Instead of being more in tune with their sexuality, labels of being perceived as gay while identifying as straight becomes an insult in hypermasculized environments, in which the word “gay” starts being passed around like a hot potato.
The same study did find men to be sexually aroused by both male and female sexual stimuli, just not with as large a discrepancy between one’s perceived sexual orientation and the measured sexual arousal levels. That said, by shifting the perception of one’s sexual orientation and trying to remain cognizant of socialization factors, we may soon realize that most people are actually on some sort of continuum of pansexuality, something that seems nearly inevitable as our generation starts dismembering gender roles and expectations and begins noting the arbitrary nature of the gender binary.
This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine.