Dimensionality of Sexual Orientation

In the past sexual orientation was understood somewhat simplistically. Sexual orientation was treated as a binary construct: An individual was either heterosexual or homosexual. However, that understanding failed to explain bisexuality. The bipolar view of sexual orientation utilized by Alfred Kinsey conceived of sexual orientation along a continuous scale, with exclusive homosexuality at one end and exclusive heterosexuality at the other. According to this view, bisexuals are individuals who (1) are strongly attracted to people of the same sex and to those of the opposite sex, (2) are moderately attracted to those of the same sex and to those of the opposite sex, or (3) are weakly attracted to those of the same sex and to those of the opposite sex. The bipolar conceptualization of sexual orientation has been criticized for being one-dimensional and characterized as being similar to seeing masculinity and femininity as the opposite ends of a scale.

Most recently clinicians and researchers have employed either a two-dimensional or a four-dimensional scale to determine sexual orientation. The two-dimensional view posits that one dimension represents the degree of an individual's attraction to individuals of the same sex whereas the second dimension represents the degree of that person's attraction to those of the opposite sex. The four-dimensional view, which considers the varying levels of complexity inherent in defining sexual orientation, focuses also on an individual's choice of a sexual object, that is, the sex and sexual orientation of the individual and of those to whom that individual is sexually attracted, such as gay men, gay women, and straight men.

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