The Rise & Fall of Monosexuality

Charlton Heston in 10 Commandments

Until quite recently, this state­ment was regarded as com­mon sense. More than this, it was a kind of widely-shared art­icle of quasi reli­gious faith, as pre­script­ive as it was descript­ive. An 11th Commandment.

Heterosexuality was the default, nor­mal, right, set­ting and any­thing that strayed from that was homo­sexu­al­ity. That is to say: sin­ful, wrong, ill, odd, hil­ari­ous, niche.

This het­ero­centric, essen­tially mono­sexual world-view was not just con­ven­tional wis­dom for many straight people. It was also shared by sur­pris­ingly large num­ber of (usu­ally older) gay people, who some­times regard bisexu­al­ity as a kind of heresy, or at least a cop out. What’s not straight must be gay, oth­er­wise you’re just kid­ding your­self and let­ting the side down.

But com­mon sense can change. And art­icles of reli­gious faith can fall. There has been a revolu­tion in atti­tudes in recent years that has shaken sexual cer­tain­ties to the core. Compulsory het­ero­sexu­al­ity, and the idea that any ‘devi­ation’ from it is homo­sexual, is no longer so com­puls­ory. People have lost their faith in monosexuality.

According to a recent, widely-publicised YouGov sur­vey less than a third of UK res­id­ents now agree that when it comes to sexu­al­ity "There is no middle ground — you are either het­ero­sexual or homo­sexual." While nearly two thirds (60%) agree with the once heretical state­ment "sexu­al­ity is a scale — it is pos­sible to be some­where near the middle."


Most strik­ingly of all, this fig­ure rose to three quar­ters of 18–24-year-olds. Half of whom placed them­selves some­where on that scale as some­thing other than 100% het­ero­sexual. While a remark­able 43% of them describe them­selves as being, to some degree, bi-responsive.


It was the pion­eer­ing American sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, who inven­ted the 0–6 scale used in the YouGov poll (0 = totally het­ero­sexual; 6 = totally homo­sexual) back in the 1940s. Like Sigmund Freud, Kinsey believed that humans were basic­ally bi-responsive, that human sexu­al­ity was a spec­trum and that human­ity could not be divided up into gay goats and straight sheep. Kinsey argued that although most of the pres­sure was to be het­ero­sexual, society’s ostra­cism of homo­sexu­als also forced them into exclus­ive rela­tions with the same sex. In a soci­ety with less restrict­ive mores, in which homo­sexu­al­ity was tol­er­ated and integ­rated, Kinsey, who was him­self bisexual, believed sexual inter­ac­tion with both sexes would become the norm.

Seventy years on, mores have become less restrict­ive, the stig­mat­isa­tion of homo­sexu­al­ity has greatly dimin­ished – and the avail­ab­il­ity and insa­ti­ab­il­ity of online porn has opened the eyes of many to prac­tises once deemed so immoral and unnat­ural they were unmen­tion­able. And on paper, it would appear that Kinsey has been largely vin­dic­ated – at least as far as young UK het­ero­sexu­als are concerned.

The fact that only half of 18-24s say they are com­pletely het­ero­sexual is a sign that the younger gen­er­a­tion is abandon­ing mono­sexu­al­ity as a belief sys­tem — which has to appear to be a uni­ver­sal truth, not a minor­ity or ‘niche’ cult. It’s also an indic­a­tion that a the­or­et­ical level of bi-responsiveness has become or is becom­ing the norm. Most may not be act­ively explor­ing it (20% of 18-24s and 27% of 25-39s say they have had sex with someone of the same sex), and most of the less than 100% het­eros huddle at the het­ero­sexual end of the spec­trum, but they are touch­ingly keen to be – or at least appear to be – open-minded. Half of het­ero­sexual 18-24s say that if the right per­son of the same sex came along at the right time they could be attrac­ted to them.

Perhaps the col­lapse of com­puls­ory het­ero­sexu­al­ity and the crisis of mono­sexu­al­ity shouldn’t be so sur­pris­ing. A couple of years ago a sur­vey into male groom­ing found that half of UK men now describe them­selves as met­ro­sexual, and want to be beau­ti­ful. Men, espe­cially young men, have in the last dec­ade or so, been given per­mis­sion to enjoy products, pleas­ures, prac­tises, pret­ti­ness and poten­tials that were pre­vi­ously strictly for ‘girls and gays’.

Little won­der that as gender norms have relaxed they have become more open-minded about sexu­al­ity itself. As I’ve argued before, men in gen­eral are less hard on the gays nowadays because they’re less hard on them­selves – no longer need­ing so much to pro­ject their "weak­nesses" into the des­pised, or just pat­ron­ized, "other."

Instead, they now want to show how accept­ing they are of the "other" — but most par­tic­u­larly they want those kinda fun, kinda kinky ‘weak­nesses’ back now, thanks very much, now that they are much more into them­selves than they used to be.

U.S. Data

In Kinsey’s own coun­try the US, where mono­sexu­al­ity was even more entrenched than in the UK, a sea-change is afoot too, but one that seems by some meas­ures to lag behind the UK, and lead it by oth­ers. A YouGov sur­vey there pub­lished shortly after the UK one found that 31% of under-30s plot them­selves as some­thing other than com­pletely het­ero­sexual on the Kinsey scale — com­pared to 78% of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion who say they are com­pletely het­ero­sexual, and 4% who say that they are com­pletely homosexual.

Unfortunately, there is no 18–24 cat­egory in the U.S. data, so that 31% fig­ure for under 30 non-heterosexuality is dif­fi­cult to com­pare prop­erly with the UK fig­ure of 49% (though the UK fig­ure for the next age cat­egory 25–39 is 42%). However, as in the UK there is clearly a major gen­er­a­tional shift at work, with young people being much more open-minded. ‘No homo’ isn’t quite so ‘no homo’ as it used to be.

Some of the other data avail­able does sug­gest that the US is still more mono­sexu­al­ist than the UK. Nearly half (48%) of Americans believe "there is no middle ground – you are either het­ero­sexual or you are not" com­pared to only 27% of Brits. (However, the UK question/statement reads: ‘there is no middle ground — you are either het­ero­sexual or homo­sexual’; the US question/statement replaces ‘homo­sexual’ with ‘not’, which is per­haps itself symbolic).

Which is to say, half of America does not believe there is such a thing as bisexu­al­ity, and thus any devi­ation from het­ero­sexu­al­ity is just homo­sexu­al­ity. Among Republicans that increases to 63% — and stands at 58% in the South, sug­gest­ing a mono­the­istic basis to monosexuality.

Only 39% of Americans agree with the state­ment that sexu­al­ity is a scale – com­pared to 61% of Brits. And only 27% of US het­ero­sexu­als say that if the right per­son came along they could pos­sibly be attrac­ted to a per­son of the same sex, com­pared to 38% of Brits. (Though this may be a func­tion of British politeness.)

All that said, five times as many young Americans identify as bisexual as young Brits. 10% of American 18-29s, com­pared to just 2% of UK 18-24s, and 2% of Americans of all ages. And five times fewer young Americans identify as gay or les­bian than UK young people do: 10% of UK18-24s (com­pared to 6% for all ages) and 2% of US 18-29s (com­pared to 4% for all ages).

It’s dif­fi­cult to know for sure, espe­cially from this side of the pond, whether this is a meas­ure of greater enlight­en­ment and inclus­iv­ity about sexu­al­ity amongst young people in the U.S. and a related dimin­ished need for dis­tinct gay and les­bian iden­tit­ies — prov­ing Kinsey right about gay people becom­ing less sexu­ally exclus­ive as they became more integ­rated. Or whether some­thing else is going on, espe­cially given the lower levels of tol­er­ance and acceptance for homo­sexu­al­ity in the U.S. com­pared to the UK. Perhaps as some older gay people like to com­plain, young gay and les­bian Americans are "hid­ing" their "true" sexu­al­ity in "fash­ion­able" bisexuality.

Or maybe the reason so many young Americans choose to identify as bisexual is pre­cisely because the belief in mono­sexu­al­ity has been so devout and oppress­ive there for so long — on both sides of the gay/straight divide.

What bet­ter way to flip the older gen­er­a­tion the bird than to declare an iden­tity which by defin­i­tion rejects their cher­ished sexual religion?

UK Data Odds & Sods

Men are five times more likely to describe them­selves as "gay or les­bian" than women: 10% of men com­pared to 2% of women. (In the U.S., the fig­ure is 5% for men and 4% for women.) When it came to "bisexual" the num­bers were evenly split at 2% for men and women alike.

Only 7% of conservative voters described them­selves as "gay or les­bian" com­pared to 4% of Labour voters — des­pite the fact that male homo­sexu­al­ity was decrim­in­al­ised under a Labour gov­ern­ment in the 1960s, and it was another Labour admin­is­tra­tion in the '90s & Noughties which did away with the remain­ing dis­crim­in­at­ory laws — in the teeth of conservative oppos­i­tion. Rather than attrib­ute this all to Cameron’s recent suc­cess­ful co-option of gay mar­riage, per­haps a bet­ter explan­a­tion for the fact there were nearly twice as many conservative gays and les­bi­ans as Labour is to be found in the data show­ing social class ABC1 were four times more likely to describe them­selves as gay or les­bian (8%) than those in C2DE (2%). Class and income doesn’t just influ­ence your vot­ing, but also your declared sexu­al­ity. Interestingly, the num­bers for "bisexual" were the same for Labour and Tory voters and both social classes: 2%.

Perhaps not entirely sur­pris­ingly, sup­port­ers of the cent­rist (and largely middle-class) Lib Dems were most likely to agree with the state­ment ‘sexu­al­ity is a scale – it is pos­sible to be some­where near the middle’, at 71%, com­pared to 47% of UKIP voters, who are much more likely to beC2DE (39% of UKIP voters believed there was no middle ground — you are either het­ero­sexual or homosexual).

The great, throb­bing Metropolis of London, as you might expect, had the highest num­ber of self-described gays and les­bi­ans: 8% com­pared to Scotland’s 3%. But wrong-footing ste­reo­types, ‘Midlands/Wales’ was only one point behind what is now surely the gay cap­ital of the entire world, at 7%.

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