What is sexuality?

Image: Stockvault

Sexuality comes and goes as a talking point in the media. Most recently earlier in the year with the Grace Bible Church situation. So, I thought we could examine our understandings of what sexuality/sexual orientation is. I don’t want to get stuck on definitions of LGBA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Asexual) identities. Rather, I want us to look at sexual orientation holistically, including heterosexuality.

Before we get there, I want to discuss my problem with the term “sexual orientation”. I think that we (society, you and me) get stuck on the *sex* part of the term, and have difficulty moving past this. A friend of mine – Avri Spilka, who also works in the sexuality field – proposed the alternative term: relationship orientation.  Because our sexualities are more than just sex; they are also about who we have meaningful, loving, intimate relationships with.

When you think about the relationship(s) you are in, is it all about the sex, or is there other stuff that differentiates a relationship from a friendship? There are many elements that make up relationships, with these elements being common themes:

  1. Aesthetic attraction: We look for people who are easy on our eyes, especially in the beginning. We also want someone who thinks we are wonderful to look at.
  2. Intellectual connection: someone we can talk to and connect with intellectually. Who we can have both shallow and deep conversations with on a variety of topics.
  3. Romance: We each have our ideas about what romance means. The kinds of people you want to romance, or be romanced by.
  4. Sexual attraction: We are sexually drawn to this person, with the hope that they are drawn to you in the same way.

While friendships may involve 1 and 2, relationships usually involve all 4, or at least a combination of 3 of the above elements.  For many people, there is a gendered condition to this. When looking for partners, we are naturally oriented towards certain genders:

Heterosexual people are oriented towards, or attracted to, people of a different gender to themselves. Gay and Lesbian people are oriented towards people of the same gender as themselves, while gender is not a factor for how Bisexual people are attracted to. Asexual people still have an orientation towards intimate, loving relationships. However, they often do not feel sexually attracted to these people.

Image: Stockvault

Image: Stockvault

So why do we (society) get so upset about homosexual relationships? (I dislike the word homosexual, it has a history of being used as a psychological disorder. I will be using LGB instead)

I think there are a variety of reasons we get upset about LGB people having relationships. But the main one is heteronormativity, or compulsory heterosexuality.  This is the idea that heterosexuality is the “normal” sexual orientation, so much so, that most people don’t even think of heterosexuality as a sexual orientation at all. The words “sexual orientation” seem to be used when referring only to people who are LGB, rather than for anyone who is oriented towards having intimate, and romantic relations with other people.

Image: Stockvault

Image: Stockvault

Heterosexuality is unconsciously compulsory, because we expect everyone we meet to be heterosexual “until proven otherwise”. To the point that we push this sexual orientation onto our young children, thinking that this is normal, and often, without putting much thought to it at all. How often have you noticed two young toddlers playing, and joked that they are girlfriend and boyfriend, that they will one day marry? From the moment our children are born, we assume they will be straight.  The media is full of heterosexual relationships, from the books we read to the movies, series and soapies we watch. Everywhere you look, men and women are seen holding hands, and it is considered romantic, rather than the straight people flaunting their lifestyle….

Heteronormativity is so pervasive in our worlds that we never question why people are heterosexual. A question that is posed to LGB people nearly every day. We do not need to be having sex before we know who we are attracted to. Think back to your first crush when you were younger, before you knew what relationships entailed, but you knew that you wanted to date this person. Whatever ‘date’ meant to you.

Image: Stockvault

Image: Stockvault

The point of this is that our sexualities are part of us. If we could choose, would we choose to constantly be at risk with the amount of discrimination, hate crimes and murders that are committed against LGB people? It is part of who we are. But it is not All we are. Just like straight people, we have complex lives. You are more than just straight, right?

If being LGB was a lifestyle, then why don’t more heterosexual people “try it out”. Conversion therapies, and “praying the gay away” result in more LGB death (both via homicide and suicide) than simply accepting people as they are.

I don’t want this to turn into a religious conversation… but have you asked yourself if God – or whoever you believe in – makes mistakes, or if we are all made in God’s image? Our sexualities are an intrinsic part of ourselves. We couldn’t change it if we wanted to. Thankfully, for many reasons, I have had the privilege of not being a victim of hate crime because of my sexuality. But too many people have been.

So, when did you know you were straight? Was it a decision you made consciously?

2 thoughts on “What is sexuality?

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