Future Sex: Beyond Gay and Straight

Published: January 10, 2012

In most parts of the world, homophobia is in decline. The global trend is for the repeal of anti-gay laws and for greater public understanding and acceptance of sexual difference. Overall, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are gradually gaining respect and rights – not losing them.

There are, of course, frightening examples of intensified homophobic repression in parts of Africa and the Middle East. But taking the long view, in world historical terms, anti-gay attitudes and laws are on the wane.

This begs the question:

As homophobia diminishes and as future societies eventually embrace a post-homophobic culture, how will this transition to equality, dignity, understanding and acceptance affect the expression of sexuality?

If human civilisation evolves into a state of sexual enlightenment, where the differences between hetero and homo no longer matter, what would this mean for the future of same-sex desire and same-sex identity?

We already know, thanks to a host of sex surveys, that bisexuality is an fact of life and that even in narrow-minded, homophobic cultures, many people have a sexuality that is, to varying degrees, capable of both heterosexual and homosexual attraction.

It is also apparent that same-sex relations flourish, albeit often temporarily, in single-sex institutions like schools, prisons and the armed forces – which suggests that sexuality might be more flexible than many people assume.

Research by Dr Alfred Kinsey in the USA during the 1940s was the first major statistical evidence that gay and straight are not watertight, irreconcilable and mutually exclusive sexual orientations. He found that human sexuality is, in fact, a continuum of desires and behaviours, ranging from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality. A substantial proportion of the population shares an amalgam of same-sex and opposite-sex feelings – even if they do not act on them.

In Sexual Behaviour In The Human Male (1948), Kinsey recorded that 13% of the men he surveyed were either mostly or exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55. Twenty-five per cent had more than incidental gay reactions or experience, amounting to clear and continuing same-sex desires. Altogether, 37% of the men Kinsey questioned had experienced sex with other males to the point of orgasm, and half had experienced mental attraction or erotic arousal towards other men (often transient and not physically expressed).

Kinsey’s statistics on same-sex behaviour have since been criticised as out-of-date, exaggerated and unrepresentative. However, his idea of a spectrum of human sexuality has tended to be reinforced by subsequent surveys which have shown that a significant proportion of the population have had sexual relations with both men and women.

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