Dorothy Black spoke to gender activist and psychosexual educator Delene van Dyk about love, sex and the evolution of our sexual orientation.
I’ll ask you a question that was put forward to me the other day: ‘What do you understand by “sexual orientation”?’
If you’re anything like me – and most other people – you would probably answer something along the lines of: ‘It’s the sex I’m attracted to’ or ‘The genitals I like to bone’.
i’ve included this pic because i enjoy the simplicity of the outrageous stereotyping here
For the longest time this sat well enough with me. I was happily attached to the Kinsey scale of sexual orientation. You know: on the one side is homosexuality, on the other hetero, somewhere in between is bisexuality, and on either side of bisexuality a blur of ‘sexual fluidity’.
But bisexuality became a problem for me.
You see, I like women. I find them sexually provocative – as sexually provocative, even, as I find men. But I don’t consider myself bisexual.
In my mind, if you’re bisexual, it’s not just about whether you find men and women sexually appealing, it’s that you would happily enter into a full-on relationship with either. Same as homo- or heterosexuality. Although I’m a fan of women, my expression has never moved to include a more long-term, intimate expression with one. Hence, I don’t consider myself bisexual.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t sit well with Kinsey’s scale.
Heterosexuality seems lucky enough to be socially equated to relationships
And that’s a problem. Because if sexual orientation was just about which genitals turn you on, does that make me an in-the-closet bisexual or are all bisexuals really just gay or straight, and bicurious or fluid?
(Ha. Sit down bisexual peeps, I ain’t dissing. Keep reading…)
Without ruling out the former possibility, the latter gives real pause for thought. Because how bisexuality has traditionally been framed in the mainstream, and supported by the Kinsey scale – is pretty how homosexuality has been framed: it’s ‘just’ about the sex, really.
If you think about it, it’s only heterosexuality that seems lucky enough to be socially equated to relationships. Heterosexuality as a genital attraction in the Kinsey scheme of things has become socially equated with love and hearts, but gay and bi and fluidity are all about genitals and sex.
Huh? Thanks heteronormativity.
because being lesbian is just about wanting to bone a vagina, right? this is melanie and vanessa iris roy, IG famous couple who made news when people realised that BOTH partners in a lesbian relationship could carry a child. that there wasn’t a ‘man’ role and ‘woman’ role assigned to each partner. le sigh. they post happy fam pics on IG: therealmelroy
If we’re looking at the little box labeled ‘sexual orientation’ is it possible that the old definitions as laid out by Kinsey need to expand to more than just sex? Isn’t it time to include ‘relational’, so that we understand ‘orientation’ as both sexual and relational across the board?
These were the questions and ideas that were presented to me at a recent sexology workshop with gender activist and psychosexual educator Delene van Dyk.
In the presentation of her training modality on gender and sexual orientation, Binaries and Boxes, she is reformatting how people understand the complex nature of sexuality.
delene. if you ever get the chance, listen to her talk.
Delene explains it this way: Imagine there are two boxes, one labeled ‘sexual and relational orientation’ and the other labeled ‘sexual play’.
Under sexual and relational orientation you have heterosexual, homosexual (lesbian and gay), bisexual, asexual, polysexual. This your personal identity, and your emotional and sexual expression towards others.
Then there is a second box, labeled sexual play. This is where it gets really interesting. Because this is where stuff like ‘bicuriosity’, ‘fluidity’, MSM and WSM (respectively ‘men who have sex with men’ and ‘women who have sex with women’) and so on, find a home.
It’s basically all the possible combinations of body parts – male or female – that turn us on … regardless of how we identify.
sex play options. like this, but for adults. also, less fluff, more flesh
In other words, you can identify as heterosexual – and still enjoy fantasizing and playing with people of the same sex. You can identify as lesbian and still enjoy sexing with a male penis from time to time. You can identify as gay and still fantasise about smashing your face into a big ol’ pair of pretty titties on occasion.
Your pure sexual attraction, play and fantasies don’t ‘make’ you gay or straight or asexual. For me, it’s an idea that, while narrowing and delineating definitions, also clarifies sexual ‘orientation’ and broadens options.
‘Kinsey’s scale was about pure sexual attraction, it didn’t consider emotional attraction and, for me, that’s the gap in his work,’ says Delene. ‘Your sexual orientation should be your “sexual and relationship orientation”; it’s about identity, attraction and relationship formation.
The avenues this opens up for how we view and make sense of human sexuality and relationship building is staggering
‘It’s the gender that you can be with at your most intimate and vulnerable with. A bisexual person can feel that deep, intense level of comfort on a very intimate level – sexually, emotionally and psychologically – with both sexes.’
The avenues this opens up for how we view and make sense of human sexuality and relationship building is staggering.
The clarity it will help bring to those who struggle with feelings of confusion because they have sexual play needs that are in contradiction to their emotional expression or their identity cannot be underestimated.
However, there is a chance that those in the closet might use this new framework to dig deeper into the dark, who have entrenched themselves in a relationship status and scramble daily for justifications. Think of the lesbian who has bought into the social structure of male/marriage/home/two kids and has to convince herself daily that her attraction to other women is just a silly (and sinful?) fantasy.
‘Never underestimate the power of internalised homophobia,’ Delene tells me. ‘Most of us grew up in a very misogynistic, gender insensitive, homophobic society – don’t underestimate how powerful that is on the mind of the individual.
‘If you’ve never been capacitated emotionally to be able to step into own identity and desire, you’ll go into denial – and that is a very strong defense mechanism.’
I know there are those who will pooh-pooh any talk that tries to label and create frameworks around sexual orientation – in the old Kinsey style or Delene’s new structure. If we were living in utopia where everybody was chillaxed with their feels and how their fannies are tickled, where there was no cultural brainwashing and Orwellian levels of denial, I’d agree.
But we don’t.
And any work that strives to bring clarity to the complex topic of human sexuality and make people’s lives easier or more honest for it, is fine by me.
Contact Delene for more information @DelenevanDyk.
This column was first published on Women24 (with some rubbish comments for you to enjoy.)