Ticking boxes


Ever since I wrote my article, To Tick the Box or Not to Tick the Box, I have been puzzling over how you might classify the spectrum of human gender and sexuality in such a way that someone completing a form could enter a simple code that would reveal their gender and sexuality to the reader.

Greater brains than mine have also studied this problem (or similar). Karl Heinrich Ulrichs is widely quoted as first to attempt a categorisation in the 1860s. As a pioneering attempt, it’s not bad. He acknowledges that there is a spectrum of sexuality ranging from heterosexuality to bisexuality to homosexuality. Unfortunately, that’s where he stops.

Fast forward to Dr Alfred Kinsey’s work in the 1940s. Kinsey’s scale was closely based on Ulrichs’ with the addition of some grey areas between the three categories. 0 was exclusively heterosexual, 3 was bisexual, and 6 was exclusively homosexual.

Fritz Klein’s Sexual Orientation Grid in the 1980s attempted to add another dimension to Kinsey’s scale by investigating sexual orientation in the past, present, and idealised future, but all three dimensions were still based on Kinsey’s 7-point scale.

The Shively-DeCecco Scale in the 1970s attempted to acknowledge the difference between physical and affectional preferences. In other words, a subject might consider they are exclusively heterosexual when it comes to sexual activity, but take pleasure from homosexual emotional intimacy. Again, a 5-point scale ranging from heterosexuality to bisexuality to homosexuality was the basis for the two dimensional measurements.

The Sell Scale of Sexual Orientation in the 1990s analysed subjects’ sexual attraction, sexual contract, and sexual identity through a series of questions. Sell’s work is an attempt to define what heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality mean.

If you are interested in learning more, there is an excellent paper that describes the various measures online here.

The problem with all the scales thus far is that they assume a gender binary. How does someone who is bigender, genderqueer, androgynous, transgender, or intersex categorise themselves as heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual when, by definition, these categories only admit two genders: male and female?

I think there is also a problem with seeing sexuality as a continuum from heterosexual to homosexual. Again, it is too binary. I prefer to take the view that there are distinct sets of sexual attraction that relate to how many potential choices for a connection you have. In other words, someone who is pansexual has a world of opportunity whereas someone who is homosexual has a distinct subset of that world.

Contrary to this, I do think that gender is a continuum, and I agree with this popular graphic describing the three parts that make up a person’s gender.


I have therefore put together a little infographic that suggests a way in which someone might decide their personal classification. It’s based, non-scientifically, on the flags at a pride parade. Since most of us know what flag we’d wave, I’ve taken the view that you don’t need Sell to tell you whether you are qualified to wave it or not!

Although I’ve said choose your flag number based on sexual attraction, if you have never had a physical encounter that matches your attraction and wish choose a number that matches your physical experience to date, then please do. It’s up to you!

I’ve calculated that there are about 162 combinations on the infographic so you should find one that suits you, but I’d be interested in a post from anyone who does not feel they are catered for.

Have fun working it out!


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