Location: Des Moines, IA
I work with this really terrific girl, who’s around 10 years younger than I am. Lately, even though I am happily married, I find myself awkwardly attracted to her. I am actually masturbating while fantasying about her. Like I said, I am married to a great guy and I don’t want to hurt him, but I have to get advice on this. I’m so confused.
Anytime there is a noticeable change in one’s eroticism, regardless at what stage of life it happens, the shift can be a bit disconcerting. Here you are, a mature, confirmed, card-carrying straight married lady who has an unanticipated crush on a much younger female coworker. That can’t be sitting very well in your buttoned down world there in the heartland, huh?
I suppose you could view this as a major problem or you could accept this as a gift. That’s right, a gift. This surprising event, even at your seriously advanced age of 38, indicates to me that you’re still growing. Personally, I think that’s wonderful. The fates have gifted you with this sweet, young sexy female muse. You can either reject the fates and deny yourself, or embrace this opportunity to explore the yet uncharted areas of your sexuality.
Even if you never act on your same-sex sexual impulses, I think it’s safe to say you are finally encountering your latent bisexuality. Don’t be too surprised by that; most all of us are naturally bisexual in one fashion or another. Unfortunately, our sex-negative society discourages and disallows these very natural tendencies. So when they pop up, as often they do, we are usually unprepared to acknowledge them, let alone accept and welcome them. Will you cave to the pressures of the popular culture, or buck the social trend? I’m in no position to guess. All I know is that this relatively benign sexual adventure could be an opportunity to expand your sexual options.
Like I said, there are several ways to proceed. You could deny yourself the adventure and sublimate your desires. I don’t recommend this, because it rarely works. Healthy, natural feelings like the ones you’re having can fester and embitter the one practicing the self-denial. Another option is to go with the fantasy, enjoy it for what it is worth. Keeping your bisexual proclivities fantasy material allows you to remain safe and pretty much maintains the status quo. Then there’s the option of pursuing your fantasy and making it a reality. Obviously, this option carries the greatest potential for disrupting your life.
If you choose the path of keeping your bisexual urges a fantasy, you might want to pursue them to see if you are attracted to other women. You could do this through reading some hot lezzi-themed erotica, or checkin’ out some swell (authentic) Sapphic porn. If you discover you are not interested in other women, but that you only have a jones for your charming coworker of yours; you may be a situational bisexual. Regardless if you are a “real” bisexual or a “situational” bisexual, imagine the fun you’ll have with your little secret. My only caution would be to treat your coworker the way you would treat any other coworker you might have a crush on — the best thing to do is; do nothing. Workplace flings, of any stripe, rarely turn out happily. And of course, you also have your marriage to consider. Fantasies are fine as long as they don’t fuck up your real-life relationships.
One other thing, don’t automatically assume your husband would be put off by your newly awakened sexual tastes. That is if you ever get around to telling him. It might actually be a big turn-on for him too. Most straight guys get off on the idea of two women together. Some husbands encourage their wives’ occasional bisexual encounters for this very reason. Your husband may even be interested in a threesome with you and another woman somewhere down the line. Again I advise that it not your coworker, though.
In the end, this is an exciting time for you, Shauna. Is it challenging? You betcha! But it’s also very rewarding.
In the last two decades, dozens of scientific papers have been published on the biological origins of homosexuality – another announcement was made last week. It’s becoming scientific orthodoxy. But how does it fit with Darwin’s theory of evolution?
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s hit song Same Love, which has become an unofficial anthem of the pro-gay marriage campaign in the US, reflects how many gay people feel about their sexuality.
It mocks those who “think it’s a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion – man-made rewiring of a predisposition”. A minority of gay people disagree, maintaining that sexuality is a social construct, and they have made a conscious, proud choice to take same-sex partners.
But scientific opinion is with Macklemore. Since the early 1990s, researchers have shown that homosexuality is more common in brothers and relatives on the same maternal line, and a genetic factor is taken to be the cause. Also relevant – although in no way proof – is research identifying physical differences in the brains of adult straight and gay people, and a dizzying array of homosexual behaviour in animals.
But since gay and lesbian people have fewer children than straight people, a problem arises.
“This is a paradox from an evolutionary perspective,” says Paul Vasey from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. “How can a trait like male homosexuality, which has a genetic component, persist over evolutionary time if the individuals that carry the genes associated with that trait are not reproducing?”
Scientists don’t know the answer to this Darwinian puzzle, but there are several theories. It’s possible that different mechanisms may be at work in different people. Most of the theories relate to research on male homosexuality. The evolution of lesbianism is relatively understudied – it may work in a similar way or be completely different.
The genes that code for homosexuality do other things too
The allele – or group of genes – that sometimes codes for homosexual orientation may at other times have a strong reproductive benefit. This would compensate for gay people’s lack of reproduction and ensure the continuation of the trait, as non-gay carriers of the gene pass it down.
There are two or more ways this might happen. One possibility is that the allele confers a psychological trait that makes straight men more attractive to women, or straight women more attractive to men. “We know that women tend to like more feminine behavioural features and facial features in their men, and that might be associated with things like good parenting skills or greater empathy,” says Qazi Rahman, co-author of Born Gay; The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation. Therefore, the theory goes, a low “dose” of these alleles enhances the carrier’s chances of reproductive success. Every now and then a family member receives a larger dose that affects his or her sexual orientation, but the allele still has an overall reproductive advantage.
Another way a “gay allele” might be able to compensate for a reproductive deficit is by having the converse effect in the opposite sex. For example, an allele which makes the bearer attracted to men has an obvious reproductive advantage to women. If it appears in a man’s genetic code it will code for same-sex attraction, but so long as this happens rarely the allele still has a net evolutionary benefit.
There is some evidence for this second theory. Andrea Camperio-Ciani, at the University of Padova in Italy, found that maternal female relatives of gay men have more children than maternal female relatives of straight men. The implication is that there is an unknown mechanism in the X chromosome of men’s genetic code which helps women in the family have more babies, but can lead to homosexuality in men. These results haven’t been replicated in some ethnic groups – but that doesn’t mean they are wrong with regards to the Italian population in Camperio-Ciani’s study.
Gay people were ‘helpers in the nest’
The fa’afafine of Samoa dislike being called “gay” or “homosexual”
Some researchers believe that to understand the evolution of gay people, we need to look at how they fit into the wider culture.
Paul Vasey’s research in Samoa has focused on a theory called kin selection or the “helper in the nest” hypothesis. The idea is that gay people compensate for their lack of children by promoting the reproductive fitness of brothers or sisters, contributing money or performing other uncle-like activities such as babysitting or tutoring. Some of the gay person’s genetic code is shared with nieces and nephews and so, the theory goes, the genes which code for sexual orientation still get passed down.
Sceptics have pointed out that since on average people share just 25% of their genetic code with these relatives, they would need to compensate for every child they don’t have themselves with two nieces or nephews that wouldn’t otherwise have existed. Vasey hasn’t yet measured just how much having a homosexual orientation boosts siblings’ reproduction rate, but he has established that in Samoa “gay” men spend more time on uncle-like activities than “straight” men.
“No-one was more surprised than me,” says Vasey about his findings. His lab had previously shown that gay men in Japan were no more attentive or generous towards their nieces and nephews than straight, childless men and women. The same result has been found in the UK, US and Canada.
Vasey believes that his Samoan result was different because the men he studied there were different. He studied the fa’afafine, who identify as a third gender, dressing as women and having sex with men who regard themselves as “straight”. They are a transgender group who do not like to be called “gay” or “homosexual”.
Vasey speculates that part of the reason the fa’afafine are more attentive to their nephews and nieces is their acceptance in Samoan culture compared to gay men in the West and Japan (“You can’t help your kin if they’ve rejected you”). But he also believes that there is something about the fa’afafine way of life that means they are more likely to be nurturing towards nieces and nephews, and speculates that he would find similar results in other “third gender” groups around the world.
If this is true, then the helper in the nest theory may partly explain how a genetic trait for same-sex attraction hasn’t been selected away. That hypothesis has led Vasey to speculate that the gay men who identify as men and have masculine traits – that is to say, most gay men in the West – are descended from men who had a cross-gendered sexuality.
These figures may not be high enough to sustain genetic traits specific to this group, but the evolutionary biologist Jeremy Yoder points out in a blog post that for much of modern history gay people haven’t been living openly gay lives. Compelled by society to enter marriages and have children, their reproduction rates may have been higher than they are now.
How many gay people have children also depends on how you define being “gay”. Many of the “straight” men who have sex with fa’afafine in Samoa go on to get married and have children.
“The category of same-sex sexuality becomes very diffuse when you take a multicultural perspective,” says Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Hawaii. “If you go to India, you’ll find that if someone says they are ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ then that immediately identifies them as Western. But that doesn’t mean there’s no homosexuality there.”
Similarly in the West, there is evidence that many people go through a phase of homosexual activity. In the 1940s, US sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that while just 4% of white men were exclusively gay after adolescence, 10% had a three-year period of gay activity and 37% had gay sex at some point in their lives.
A national survey of sexual attitudes in the UK last year came up with lower figures. Some 16% of women said they had had a sexual experience with another woman (8% had genital contact), and 7% of men said they had had a sexual experience with a man (with 5% having genital contact).
But most scientists researching gay evolution are interested in an ongoing, internal pattern of desire rather than whether people identify as gay or straight or how often people have gay sex. “Sexual identity and sexual behaviours are not good measures of sexual orientation,” says Paul Vasey. “Sexual feelings are.”
It’s not all in the DNA
Qazi Rahman says that alleles coding for same sex attraction only explain some of the variety in human sexuality. Other, naturally varying biological factors come into play, with about one in seven gay men, he says, owing their sexuality to the “big brother effect”.
This has nothing to do with George Orwell, but describes the observation that boys with older brothers are significantly more likely to become gay – with every older brother the chance of homosexuality increases by about a third. No-one knows why this is, but one theory is that with each male pregnancy, a woman’s body forms an immune reaction to proteins that have a role in the development of the male brain. Since this only comes into play after several siblings have been born – most of whom are heterosexual and go on to have children – this pre-natal quirk hasn’t been selected away by evolution.
Exposure to unusual levels of hormone before birth can also affect sexuality. For example, female foetuses exposed to higher levels of testosterone before birth show higher rates of lesbianism later on. Studies show that “butch” lesbian women and men have a smaller difference in length between their index and ring fingers – a marker of pre-natal exposure to testosterone. In “femme” lesbians the difference has been found to be less marked.
Brothers of a different kind – identical twins – also pose a tricky question. Research has found that if an identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the sibling will have the same sexual orientation. While that’s a greater likelihood than random, it’s lower than you might expect for two people with the same genetic code.
William Rice, from the University of California Santa Barbara, says that it may be possible to explain this by looking not at our genetic code but at the way it is processed. Rice and his colleagues refer to the emerging field of epigenetics, which studies the “epimarks” that decide which parts of our DNA get switched on or off. Epimarks get passed on to children, but only sometimes. Rice believes that female foetuses employ an epimark that makes them less sensitive to testosterone. Usually it’s not inherited, but occasionally it is, leading to same-sex preference in boys.
Dr William Byne, editor-in-chief of the journal LGBT Health, believes sexuality may well be inborn, but thinks it could be more complicated than some scientists believe. He notes that the heritability of homosexuality is similar to that for divorce, but “social science researchers have not… searched for ‘divorce genes’. Instead they have focused on heritable personality and temperamental traits that might influence the likelihood of divorce.”
For Qazi Rahman, it’s the media that oversimplifies genetic theories of sexuality, with their reports of the discovery of “the gay gene”. He believes that sexuality involves tens or perhaps hundreds of alleles that will probably take decades to uncover. And even if heterosexual sex is more advantageous in evolutionary terms than gay sex, it’s not only gay people whose sexuality is determined by their genes, he says, but straight people too.
Recently, some clients in my psychotherapy practice, which for 22 years has focused on the mental health and well-being of adult gay men, have been discussing the role and value of a “fuck buddy” in their lives. While all sexual topics (even in our “modern” age) seem to come fraught with controversy these days (and we’ll see what y’all have to say about this one), the topic of the “fuck buddy” (sometimes, but not always, used interchangeably with “friend with benefits”), is especially controversial, with one camp saying it’s a great idea and others being appalled at the concept.
Always one to listen and learn from the thoughts, philosophies, and feelings of my clients, I heard some interesting things from one particular client recently, who gave me permission to share his arguments publicly (though the details are changed for confidentiality reasons).
“Cody” is a Southern Boy in his early 30’s who has been in a relationship for 6 years and lives in North Carolina (we work via Skype, and it’s really a life-coaching relationship, since I’m only licensed in California to practice psychotherapy). His partner, “Matt”, also early 30’s, got accepted and now attends a very prestigious law school program in New England, the chance of a lifetime. Cody co-runs a small business which is rapidly growing into a larger one, and moving with Matt to his new city would have been a very difficult proposition; he did not want to leave a very good job, especially not temporarily when Matt could end up in a law firm anywhere in the country. Cody and Matt plan to get married immediately after Matt’s law school graduation, and they’ve already planned much of what they want in their wedding.
Cody can afford to visit Matt at regular intervals throughout the year, and they communicate (even “sexy talk”) via Skype almost nightly. But their relationship still feels the sting of “long distance”, leaving both guys frequently horny and lonely.
To solve this, they agreed to have an open relationship, and some of the terms and ground rules of handling that were worked out in joint sessions with me on Skype (as I always recommend gay couples do; it’s too complex and full of pitfalls to handle it all without support). I’ve coached both Matt and Cody separately as well, as each has had a need for support for very specific occupational and personal goals. One of what I call the “external resources” that this situation needed, as both guys agreed, is that each wanted a “fuck buddy” who would stand in for their partner at certain times (mostly sexual, but for some social companionship locally, too). Matt is still looking for his, but he’s meeting new guys at school and in his college city, especially via Grindr, Scruff, and Meetup.com groups. The first guy he met didn’t work out well for Cody, but he found a second one that he likes.
Cody is a smart guy and spoke clearly about how his fuck buddy, “Chris”, has been ideal. They get along and have fun, including sex, but Chris has recently gotten out of a 3-year relationship and is not looking for anything serious – the perfect candidate for Cody.
What Cody related about Chris includes some in the following list, and others I’ve added based on other conversations with clients and personal friends. Here are some of the special advantages about the role and value of a fuck buddy:
It is not an avoidance of relationships – Contrary to some critics, having a fuck buddy is not the indulgence of some intimacy-avoidant, emotionally-stunted, horn-dog selfish clod. It is a different type of sexual and emotional relationship, perhaps based more on fondness than on love, or perhaps a “love” that is more fraternal.
It can be the combination of sexuality and camaraderie without the components of long-term romance and domesticity – For some people, such as those with long-distance partners, having a fuck buddy means having some in-person companionship for local outings and recreation, and even sexual expression, but without the commitment and domestic component of a partner/spouse relationship. It’s “relationship lite”.
Can be a coping strategy for long-distance relationships – Long-distance relationships can be a result of work projects (even overseas), which I see in my practice in Los Angeles for people away on TV or film set locations, or the result of school/training programs, health care treatment, caring for a distant relative’s health or settling their estate, or military deployment. Open negotiation of the ground rules during the absence is better than unilaterally violating a monogamy agreement without discussion, or abstaining and resenting the physical/emotional harm that can come with deprivation.
Can be a bridge between class or cultural issues that really might get in the way of a primary relationship – For some fuck buddies, there can be issues of class or culture that might make having a long-term relationship untenable or very difficult (think Sybil and Tom on “Downton Abbey”).
Is a collaborative way to get needs met that have inherent limitations; is an exchange of favors – So many human interactions involve a negotiated exchange of favors based on mutual needs, and each fuck buddy relationship has unique parameters that make it work.
Is not for everyone, but it CAN BE for some people; it’s ok to embrace it as much as it is to reject it soundly – Sexual self-empowerment means saying yes when you want to say yes, and no when you want to say no. If you want to say yes to a fuck buddy relationship with another consenting adult, as an autonomous adult with control and dominion over your own body, you get to make that choice (although if you have a primary partner, this must be a very frank discussion in order to avoid a ton of hurt, resentment, misunderstanding, abandonment, and even rage).
Supports a global benevolent idea of brotherhood – As a child of the 60’s, I grew up with “make love, not war”. The Dalai Lama recently said something about if every child grew up meditating for 20 minutes a day, war could be eliminated in a generation. With so many – countless – examples of how men kill each other in gang violence, war, violent crime, and so on, in such adversarial relationships, having a fuck buddy can be an example of benevolence, non-violence, and camaraderie in the Brotherhood of Man. This is all part of the solution, not the problem.
It’s practice later on for a “real” commitment, in incremental gain/baby steps – I still maintain that I prepared for my long-term relationship with my husband (who is wonderful, by the way; I never miss a chance to say that) by previously living alone with my cat for a number of years after college first. After years of living with roommates or alone, having a pet really was dress rehearsal for attending to, caring for, and sharing with a human adult partner (now spouse) in a domestic setting. Having a fuck buddy might not be a “deep” commitment in romance and domesticity, but it can be a way of exploring relating to another person that is somewhere between being single and being partnered. For some people, these incremental steps help build their confidence to tolerate a commitment and equip them for a long-term relationship with mutual responsibility.
Self-empowering sexually, trying different things without feeling “embarrassed” with a partner; exploring one’s own body and likes/dislikes of sensation – While communicating with a primary partner is essential to a good sex life, having a fuck buddy can be an opportunity to explore your sexual interests and fantasies in a lower-stakes situation. Some people who are shy about telling their partner their sexual fantasies, especially the kinkier ones, might be more uninhibited with a lower-stakes fuck buddy. It really “shouldn’t” work that way, but it does, and we have to deal in reality. By being free to explore in a certain “sexual laboratory” situation, you can identify your likes and dislikes and not have to switch to “who’s-cooking-dinner” mode right after.
Can bridge differences in sexual orientations – While I don’t really respect closeted men as much as those brave gay men who have the courage to come out regardless of the circumstances (living in the Bible Belt, for example), having a fuck buddy can be a way for a man who is “straight” publicly or bisexual to get the “other half” of his sexual and even social needs met. This is particularly controversial, but all gay men have some idea about this. Many men can be ambivalent or conflicted about how they identify sexually. Some might feel a pressure to conform to heterosexual norms, others might quite selfishly want to ride the coat-tails of heterosexual privilege and have their, uh, “cake”, too (albeit at the risk of exploiting or using the gay buddy, but this is better if it’s an honest discussion of what the deal is). The fuck buddy relationship can also help a conflicted guy move closer down the spectrum to living as an “out” gay man, but in a gentle and gradual process that feels right for him.
Can help other specific situations – The fuck buddy relationship can be a resource for a gay man in early recovery from crystal meth, who is used to the “party-and-play” (PNP) scene, to practice having sober sex with a no-judgment, experimental, low-stakes, fail-safe atmosphere. I have worked with many guys in my practice who need this kind of opportunity, because learning to have sober sex again is really a skill in recovery that you (usually) can’t get in a CMA meeting! The fuck buddy relationship can also help someone with a disability or injury to be sexual again in their own way, even if they don’t have a primary relationship yet. This can a certain “rehabilitation” that a licensed Physical Therapist certainly can’t provide. This can be for guys who have been injured in a vehicle, sports, or industrial accident, or as a combat veteran who uses prosthetics.
Can allow for specific sexual interests (BDSM, fetishes) to be fulfilled — There are times when everything else in a relationship is great – the emotional, the sexual, and the domestic – but certain sexual interests go unfulfilled. Having a fuck buddy who provides a certain “outsourced” activity, such as BDSM or other kink play, can be a way for that partner to be fulfilled without burdening his partner to do something he really doesn’t like. I’ve seen that in my practice several times, and it can be a “win-win” solution to the dilemma; everybody’s happy.
Can be a way to manage sexual incompatibilities – The fuck buddy relationship can also “outsource” situations where the couple gets along fine in most ways, but perhaps a strict top is partnered to a versatile bottom. For the versatile bottom to be able to top once in a while might require a fuck buddy who is happy to oblige. This can also be the case when a partner is fulfilled in every way in the relationship except perhaps wanting to fulfill his “size queen” interests. Outsourcing this to a well-endowed fuck buddy occasionally can fulfil the desire and then get back to regular domestic/sexual life. This prevents frustrations from building and can resolve tension or even unspoken resentments in a relationship.
Last, Cody says that having experiences with outside buddies, rather than undermining his relationship with Matt, actually strengthens it because he “sees what’s out there” and learns to appreciate the relief when he’s finally back to see Matt because “everyone else is just not Matt”. When they are together again after an absence, it’s all the sweeter to revisit the familiarity and intimacy they have built for years, and they never take each other for granted.
There are disadvantages, too, of cavorting with fuck buddies which have been discussed elsewhere. Sexual conservatives (which can include plenty of therapists, even gay ones) would deplore the very concept of the fuck buddy as “deviating” too far from socially-expected relationship norms, particularly heterocentric ones. But like most controversial topics, listening to both sides of a debate can entice you to clarify your feelings on the subject. You have a right to your own feelings, even if they differ from your peers. Only you have dominion over your own body and what is, and is not, done with it/to it. Sexual self-empowerment means taking all these questions about sex and relationships, and deciding what works – and what doesn’t – specifically for you, based on your values and your own rather hard-wired preferences and proclivities.
While many gay/bi men are versatile (meaning they top AND bottom), we’ve definitely run into some guys who identify as TOTAL TOPS, and wouldn’t ever bottom if their life depended on it. Of course, if topping is your thing, and you have no desire to bottom, then don’t do it. Never do anything you don’t want to sexually or otherwise.
With that said, there are some pretty hilarious reasons why tops refuse to bottom. Here are six of the most ridiculous reasons I’ve heard from total tops.
1. “I’m not feminine.”
LOL. Good for you, but bottoming doesn’t have anything to do with femininity. Masculine men can like bottoming and it says nothing about their gender identity or expression.
2. “It will hurt.”
Okay. this one’s a fair reason, but it only hurts a little in the beginning when you’re not used to it, which is why it’s important to practice and get to know yourself beforehand. Once you get the hang of it, the pain is substituted by pleasure. Trust me, it’s definitely worth it!
In case you’re curious what all the fuss is about, here are some tips for guys interested in bottoming for the first time.
3. “It’s poopy down there.”
Yes, of course it can get poopy, ‘cause you know, biology. But why are you okay with penetrating someone else, who has the same biology as you? He too, you know, has normal bodily functions…
4. “I’m bisexual.”
Yay! I’m bisexual too. But again, sexual orientation, gender, and sexual position preferences are independent from one another. Just because you’re bi doesn’t mean you’re exclusively a top.
5. “I don’t have that nice of a butt.”
Oh, honey!! Don’t beat yourself down. There’s much more to being a good bottom than the size or firmness of your tush. Don’t worry about that. And if you really, really, don’t like your butt, try some lunges and squats.
6. “When you have a d*ck as big at mine, you top.”
You have a large penis? Congratulations! Believe it or not, not all bottoms care about penis size. Some guys actually prefer penises on the thinner and/or shorter side. Just because you’re packing in the front, doesn’t mean you can’t take some on your back.
When reality TV dumpling Honey Boo Boo Child declared that “everybody’s a little bit gay” three years ago, she was unknowingly taking a page out of sexologist Alfred Kinsey’s book. His famous Kinsey scale, which identifies people’s levels of same- or opposite-sex attraction with a number from zero to six (zero being exclusively straight, six being exclusively gay), has been a favorite cultural metric for measuring sexual orientation since it was created in 1948.
But even though asking someone where they fall on the Kinsey scale is now a common dating website opener, the Kinsey scale is far from an all-inclusive system. As Southern California man Langdon Parks recently realized, the scale fails to address other aspects of human sexuality, such as whether or not we even care about getting laid in the first place.
So Parks decided to develop a more comprehensive alternative: the Purple-Red Scale of Attraction, which he recently posted on /r/Asexuality. Like the Kinsey scale, the Purple-Red scale allows you to assign a number from zero to six to your level of same-sex or heterosexual attraction, but it also lets you label how you experience that attraction on a scale of A to F. A represents asexuality, or a total lack of interest in sex “besides friendship and/or aesthetic attraction,” while F represents hypersexuality.
Pick your letter-number combo below:
Parks told Mic that he came up with the idea for the Purple-Red scale after learning about asexuality and realizing that he was a “heteroromantic asexual, or a B0 on the scale” — someone who is interested exclusively in romantic, nonsexual relationships with the opposite sex.
“I then thought, not only are there sexual and asexual people, [but] there are different kinds of sexual people as well,” he said. “I thought of adding a second dimension to Kinsey’s scale to represent different levels of attraction.” (As for the color scheme, Parks opted for purple because of its designation as the official color of asexuality, while “‘red-blooded’ is a term often used to describe someone who is hypersexual.)
The scale represents all possible degrees of sexual attraction, from those who only want to have sex when they’re in a relationship to those who are ready and rarin’ to go pretty much whenever. For instance, if we use Sex and the Cityas an example, Carrie would likely be an E1, while the more prudish Charlotte is probably more of a D0 and uptight Miranda an E0. Our beloved bisexual, sex-crazed Samantha? Totally an F2.
Busting myths about sexual attraction: Back in 1978, Dr. Fritz Klein tried to update the scale to make it more inclusive of a wider range of sexual experiences, as well as sexual fantasies. His final product, the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, came out a bit clunky, however, and was still based on the assumption that everyone using it was capable of experiencing sexual attraction in the first place.
Parks’ Purple-Red Scale accounts for those who experience sexual attraction at different times in different contexts, as well as those who don’t experience it at all. That’s notable in part because although asexuality is not exactly rare — according to one estimate, approximately 1 in 100 people are asexual, though they might not self-identify as such — it’s one of the most widely misunderstood sexual orientations, with many people assuming that asexuals are just closeted gay people or too socially awkward to have sex.
But asexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation with many unique shades of its own. As the Huffington Post reported back in 2013, many asexual people don’t just identify as asexual. For instance, they can also self-identify as “heteroromantic” (meaning they’re interested in having exclusively romantic, nonsexual relationships with members of the opposite sex) or “demisexual” (meaning they’re open to experiencing sexual attraction within the context of a strong emotional connection or committed relationship).
“Some people don’t want to have sex in a relationship at all, and others view it as the whole point of the relationship,” Parks told Mic. “Yet others typically start off having no feelings but build them up over time. Still others don’t want sex for themselves, but are still willing to have it for other reasons,” such as to procreate or make their partner happy.
That’s why Parks’ Purple-Red scale is so important: It acknowledges the shades of grey in sexual orientation and sexual interest. Both, he explained, are fluid and largely dependent on context.
Why do we need scales in the first place? While the Purple-Red scale is helpful in classifying sexual attraction, some people might argue that we don’t need a cut-and-dry system for classifying our sexuality in the first place. If the burgeoning “label-free” movement of sexual fluidity is any indication, coming up with clinical labels like “E2” or “B0” might be purposeless or even counterproductive to achieving true sexual freedom.
But Parks believes that having a simple tool like the Purple-Red Attraction Scale can be useful, particularly as a way to improve communication in the dating world. “The scale was designed to provide a quick and easy way of scoring a person’s view of relationships on forums and dating sites,” he said. Imagine, for instance, if you logged onto OkCupid and entered your sexual orientation as D5, instead of simply self-identifying as “gay,” “straight” or “bisexual.”
Parks also noted that the Purple-Red scale is a great way to match partners who have similar or compatible sex drives. “Attraction type is every bit as important as orientation,” he told Mic. “We see it all the time: John wants sex, sex, sex, while Jane doesn’t have the feeling right away.”
Because discrepancies in sex drive can cause problems in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, Parks wants people to use the scale as a way to establish sexual compatibility right off the bat.
“Instead of relying on assumptions like ‘Oh, he’s a guy, go for it!’ or ‘She’s a woman, wait for it,’ people can now use their letters to describe their basic outlook on relationships,” he said.
“Attraction type is every bit as important as orientation.”
Perhaps one day, we’ll live in a world where we don’t need something like the Purple-Red scale to tell us about our own sexuality; a world where we don’t need to fit who we want to have sex with into boxes or spectrums or scales. But for the time being, whether you’re a B2 or an F5 or a D6, it’s cool that we have something like Parks’ scale to help us answer the nagging questions about sexual orientation that our culture keeps asking us to answer — and maybe it can help us find out a little bit more about ourselves.