Why (don’t) we measure sexual orientation?

 Why (don’t) we measure sexual orientation?


Sexual orientations other than heterosexual have long been observed and noted. However, we have been talking about how we know, or how we determine, who are different sexually oriented people for just over half a century. 

The first known “measurement” of sexual orientation was made by American researcher Alfred Kinsey in the mid-20th century. In short, he did the scaling on a purely practical basis – on a scale of 1 to 6 he determined the ranges from purely same-sex to purely heterosexual sexual practices. He reserved the seventh X category for people who have no emotional or sexual reactions or activities. 

The Kinsey scale was revolutionary because it was the first to touch on defining sexual orientation itself. But he faced many difficulties relatively quickly: in what exact numbers on the scale can we identify bisexual people? Is 6 divisions sufficient to cover all sexual practices? Why doesn’t the last X item on the ladder reflect asexuality in its definition, since it places people without sexual activity rather than those who do not feel sexual and emotional affinity? 

Despite its many shortcomings, this scale was nevertheless a good introduction as an initial penetration into the very core of sexual orientation studies and revealed what many still find difficult to face – there are people who are not exclusively straight or gay. 

American researcher of Austrian descent Fric Klein tried to build a scale of this kind. Cline was bisexual and, amazed by the lack of theoretical material regarding his sexual orientation, he started the first support groups, studied bisexual couples, and tried to advance scaling by which sexual orientation could be determined. 

In the 1978 Bisexual Option book, he introduces a table that, in contrast to the Kinsey scale, is multidimensional. Based on 7 factors, this table has been expanded to include sexual affinity in the past, present and projected future. 

These categories include attraction, fantasies, emotional preferences, sexual activities, social and life preferences, and self-determination. 

Although definitely more accurate and advanced than Kinsey, this chart has encountered criticism and proven flaws. Some categories are unclear, emotional preferences are not precise enough, it is not clear what does sexual affinity implies… 

Later, other scales emerged, trying to be more precise: the Shiveley and De Seko scales, Sel’s estimate, Friedman’s measure of adolescent sexual orientation – the latest, from 2004. 

As any scaling emerged in the social sciences, criticisms and shortcomings came to light immediately. As many new dimensions, questions, different angles arise when constructing the scale, we come to illogicality and deviation. And they generally boil down to the fact that respondents are placed before the binary “completed act” – and that the numbers must determine where they are between homo and heterosexuality. 

In total, there are around 200 scales by which sexual orientation is measured. 

The problem with them is that mathematically they want to reduce practices, feelings and predictions, and people are not mathematics. Lack of practice does not mean that there is no sexual orientation. Frequent sexual practices also do not necessarily confirm her. Thoughts and fantasies are not necessarily a product of affinity. However complicated the new scale may be, it will again be flawed because people are so different that it would not be able to cover them all. 

Precision of measurement becomes less likely if we consider other, non-European cultures, that see sexual orientation in completely different categories. Also, people who see themselves outside any binary categories (queer, etc.) also cannot be classified according to any parameters. 

The fact that we will probably never be able to accurately determine one’s sexual orientation should not be discouraging, but on the contrary – to put in self-determination in the grapple. 

We should not classify people between the two extremes, but strive for a society where a person can share with others who he or she is without consequences and fear. 

How we identify ourselves, not how many people we slept with and fantasies about, is the most important parameter. 

If not the only relevant one!


Autor: Stefan Sparavalo

Stefan was born and raised in Belgrade. He is a political science graduate by profession and has been involved in public relations, marketing and social networking for over five years. He also enjoys writing, for which he has received several awards. The first step in LGBT + activism begins with Labris’ 2014 training on the political leadership of LGBT + people. He is now part of the Da Se Zna Team, where he works as a media and public relations coordinator.