This week: “alternative” sexualities and how completely normal they are.
I’ve railed against the concept of binaries in thinking about sexuality before. This approach remains a sore subject for me, which is why I think it’s important to take a closer look at how people come to adopt the binary-driven concepts that color our generation’s zeitgeist. I often wonder how people look at the sheer complexity of our world and see any sort of binary. How people are presented with the vast proverbial “gray area” that permeates our Earth, the almost complete lack of “black and white” answers to anything, and still manage to exhibit racism, homophobia, transphobia or what have you, is a mystery to me.
In fact, the more I study biology, the more I see this “proverbial grayness” present itself in the very building blocks that make up what we know about life. Nothing in biology (at least that I’ve studied so far) amounts to a pure black and white dichotomy. Nothing I’ve studied — from gene interactions to protein-binding events and metabolic pathways — has ever seemed to be a “one or the other” sort of interaction. Individual proteins bind fleetingly fast and at varying strengths; gene regulations occur at tiny timescales and regulate miniscule protein concentrations according to a vast array of environmental factors; metabolic pathways can involve hundreds, if not thousands, of intermediate molecules whose individual concentrations are controlled highly effectively in tandem, and again, at ridiculously small timescales. Thousands of chemical interactions within the body are paired with a thousand more, and those thousands are coupled with yet more. The body is in constant flux, and during development there are so many factors that affect how an organism will grow, learn and interact with the world around it.
In light of life’s complexities, it’s shocking that anybody would think so deterministically about anything regarding human psychology. Sexuality and the huge variance that can be seen in human sexual preferences are both results of the intricacy of human development.
As small children we are constantly told that everyone is a unique and special snowflake and that no two people in the world are ever exactly the same. Well, if everyone is as special and unique as they say, then it really shouldn’t be surprising that the special snowflake you met at that party last weekend can only reach orgasm if she licks another snowflake’s eyeball at climax (it’s called “oculingus,” look it up). If you’ve never heard of oculingus, it’s likely because uncommon and “weird” sexualities get swept under the rug. Just as we don’t berate people for liking the color pink, we shouldn’t make pariahs out of people who do things in the bedroom that we’ve never heard of.
In researching for my articles I spend all too much time on the internet, and in doing so, I get to read a whole lot of sex columns and bedroom horror stories. Now, reading sex stories from strangers on the internet certainly doesn’t give me a Ph.D. in developmental psychology, nor does it make me a “sexpert.” But it does give me just enough perspective to realize that the variance between peoples’ sex lives and tastes is not only fascinating but beautiful and should be free to be explored by all.
I’m not a neurobiologist (yet) but in the humble opinion of this biology student-turned-opinion writer, it will be through the study and understanding of neural development that we will ultimately come to know just how complex we are as humans.
The Obama administration’s decision to invest in the mapping of the human connectome, a feat dubbed “The next great American project,” is sure to yield many answers to fundamental questions about the brain. I think one of these fundamental answers will concern the origin of human sexuality. Ultimately, though, what a roadmap of the human brain will show us is that there are so many different paths to reach the end goal of becoming a grown human being. Thus the idea of treating someone differently because they have sex with other dudes, like dressing in drag or play to a different gender than their physical appearance suggests will seem ludicrous.
I like to end with calls to action, so I encourage you all to do two things. First, don’t be afraid to explore your own sexualities. Second, don’t be afraid to explore other peoples’, either. You might think it’s weird at first, but when your new partner asks you to lower yourself into that swing for the first time, please don’t forget the ball-gag.
Luc Gendrot embraces, never erases, his computer’s browsing history.