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The Kinsey Scale vs. Pansexuality

Jillian is married and is still exploring her own bisexual identity. She enjoys psychology and believes that every person is unique.

An Example of the Kinsey Scale


The Trouble With Labels

I hate labels. I hate that everyone feels like you have to have one. I hate that they inherently put you into a box with everyone else who can identify in any way with that terminology. However, I have also come to the conclusion that without them, people take a long time to understand whatever it is about you that the labeling word could otherwise define.

So, in order for clarification in conversation, and to help those without time to enjoy a deep conversation on the nuances of an individual’s preferences, we should at least try to understand the context of the labels to help us navigate the vast array of differences in our community. At the very least, these words demonstrate how widely varying people’s sexual orientations may be.

I recently came across an article that stated there were at least five sub-categories of bisexuals. There is even a scale, known as “the Kinsey scale”, used to figure out what end of this binary spectrum of bisexuality you may be on, as well as labels for those who are not on this scale at all. Figuring out all these terms and labels can be complicated, especially for those just trying to figure out how to label themselves.

NOTE: ***Only in today’s terminology does the word “bisexual” indicate sexual orientation. At the time the scale was created, Kinsey was adamant that the term “bisexual” was indicative of a person who had the physiology of both male and female sexes, meaning that if a person was “bisexual” (literally translated: “of two sexes”) then that person had both male and female body parts, or was considered hermaphroditic.

In this day and age, we typically use the term “bisexual” to indicate a person’s sexual or romantic interest in both male and female sexes.

There are many versions of bisexuality. So, just as there are butch, boi, femme, etc. types of lesbians, bisexual women cannot easily be grouped together either. Again, it is all about individual preferences. In coordination with my other articles explaining the nuances of bisexual preferences, it seems like exploring the way bisexuals use these terms to identify themselves is fairly important.

Some History of the Study of Bisexuality

Let’s check out this scale. It is called the Kinsey scale, named after psychologist Alfred Kinsey and his cohorts, who in 1948 used it to study the sexuality of men. Later, it became clear they could also use the same scale for women. Anyone at a 0 on this scale was considered to be “heterosexual”. Anyone at a 6 on the scale would be considered “homosexual.” Anyone who fit on the scale between 1 and 5 was somewhere between “incidentally” and “predominantly” homosexual.

Kinsey specifically indicated that the scale was not used to determine how a person would self-identify their orientation, but was used scientifically to evaluate the range of a subject’s physiological reaction to or experience with each (male or female) sex. Keep in mind that gender was not recognized as a spectrum of any kind at the time, and that “male" or “female” were the only given choices.

Today, anyone landing between 1 and 5 on the Kinsey scale is often considered bisexual, meaning it is possible for the subject to be attracted to either a man or a woman, and the scale can show to what degree the subject prefers each sex compared to the other. It immediately demonstrates the wide variety of attraction patterns, even within the term “bisexual” as we know it today.

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Inherent Problems With the Kinsey Scale

Even Kinsey himself admitted that an individual subject can land somewhere between the number lines, or not on the lines at all. Kinsey created a rating of “X” for those who did not have any socio-sexual contacts or reactions, but even that does not really line up with today’s “asexual” terminology which indicated a person’s true lack of attraction to any sex.

The Kinsey scale is inherently binary and does not take into consideration those who do not identify specifically as male or female. Nor does it take into account anyone’s physiological reaction to someone who is intersex or does not identify anywhere on the binary scale for gender. For those who cannot fit on the scale at all comes a new term: pansexual.

Originally the term “pansexual” (pan=all) was coined by Sigmund Freud who believed everyone was born attracted to many different people or things. He meant it in more of a platonically curious type of attraction rather than a sexual one.

Today, we use the term “pansexual” to identify someone who is attracted to any gender sexually or romantically. (Some define pansexuals as people who are attracted to all genders, but I personally believe that wording can be misleading, and that one who is pansexual can be attracted to any gender, but may still have preference for some over others.)

Just as those who consider themselves bisexual find themselves having to explain that it doesn’t mean they’re attracted to everyone who passes by, so too does the pansexual come across an array of misunderstandings. It may be difficult for a pansexual person to even understand how to identify themselves at all. Of course it doesn’t help when online bloggers use tools like the Kinsey scale to try to help readers “find out if you’re gay.”

Should We Still Use The Kinsey Scale?

Neither the Kinsey scale nor any other method of psycho-social analytics can automatically put a label on anyone, but it can be helpful for some to use it for themselves to explain to others where they lie in limited regards to their preference for men or women on a binary scale.

The terms mentioned in this article and elsewhere may very well help you grasp how wide the range of perspectives is within the bisexual or pansexual communities. I will warn you, however, that just because the label exists does not mean you must use it. It also does not mean that everyone who uses that particular label is the same. The majority of individuals have iotas of fluctuation, even within the confines of any certain term.

Words Change. Why Learn Any?

There are so many brand new words and phrases, which are meant to help a world of individuals understand the nature of one another. They do not exist for the purposes of labeling someone with the intention of understanding everything about them. One word can never wholly define a person. If someone uses a particular label, it does not characterize their entirety; they are simply using it to help you understand one aspect of who they are. No one is their label, but they may use it to help explain a small portion of themselves.

Finally, for the sake of those who are doing their best to wrap their heads around so many different definitions, please do not get your panties in a twist over misused terminology. Definitions are always changing, as you see in this very article. If someone is trying, be encouraging, and correct them in kindness.

Learning descriptive terms as they are constantly changing seems insurmountable. Hopefully, with more information and the willingness to listen and understand one another, we can move our communities toward more positive and less judgmental interaction. I do look forward to that!

What About You?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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