As You Desire: Sexual Orientation – Not So Straightforward

Who are you sexually attracted to? What is it about someone that draws you in? What if you lived in a society that told you your sexual preference was unacceptable and you had to, by law, choose the other sex for your relationships? Could you do it simply because it’s what society expects?

Ignorance and fear around the subject of sexual orientation continue to cause great suffering. Important facts and truths have been lost or swept under the rug. When you look back over time, sexuality has gone through many shifts from freedom to restriction and back to freedom. Many religions have been a strong catalyst for putting sex back into the closet — denying its function for more than procreation. Thankfully, reality, curiosity and science are helping to alleviate ignorance and fear by providing education about the enormous value a healthy sex life has in our lives. And we are talking about it.

Sexual orientation is a very personal expression and what is “normal” spans a widening spectrum. During the past decade the study of sexual orientation has been taken more seriously by science and we are learning more daily. Since the dark ages, heterosexuality and homosexuality have been a part of humanity. (Look at art from every era and you will discover many depictions of both variations of sexual expression.) Today, sexual preference can be as open and free spirited as that song, “Love the One You’re With.”

There are more variations of sexual preference than were once thought to be. The span from purely heterosexual to strictly homosexual is vast, with every combination in between. I would venture to say that an increasing percentage of the adult population find themselves somewhere in between, at least at some point in their lives. While it has become more common to slide up and down that sexual continuum like a slide rule, others are quite content hanging out at one end or the other without deviation. Those at the extreme ends usually know this about themselves before the age of five. Every gay person I have spoken with knew they were drawn to the same sex at a very early age; just like those who are strictly hetero had childhood crushes on members of the opposite sex at very early ages as well. Do you remember your first crush? Did that define your sexual orientation? Please write and let me know when you knew if you were gay, straight or otherwise.

Interestingly men and women define homosexuality differently. A woman will describe it as “a person who has intimate love for a person of the same sex.” A man, in contrast, will define a homosexual as “someone who has sex with the men.” Women tend to romanticize rather than sexualize their sexual orientation. This may be how so many women can go back and forth from intimate male to female relationships — it’s more about the romantic intimacy than purely sexual. It has become more commonplace for women to marry, raise their families and then end their marriage and find love with a woman. In the African-American culture, many men who are married with children and have sex with men still do not consider themselves gay, they simply enjoy having sex with men. This is referred to as being on the “down low.” Being “gay” is still considered by many black men to be a predominately white male perversion.

Our society is growing and learning to embrace all people — regardless of age, sex, color, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or number of piercings. For those who still struggle with this “acceptance” concept toward sexual orientation, here is a tad bit of recent scientific data from Dr. Louann Brizendine’s work.

It has been shown that we secrete pheromones (sexual attractants), and about the time of puberty a boy’s ability to smell another boy’s pheromones turns off … most of the time. However, it has been discovered that in gay males, the ability to detect these pheromones has not shut off and continues to work quite well, creating the sexual attraction. Great strides are being made toward a deeper understanding of how sexual preference may be primarily hormonal and not a learned behavior. More research is being done on this and you can learn more from the books “The Male Brain” and “The Female Brain,” by Dr. Louann Brizendine.

For couples who are interested in testing the sexual orientation waters, swinging (where a couple experiences consensual, non-monogamous sex with other couples while maintaining emotional monogamy) is on the rise. This wasn’t just a passing fancy in the 70s. Healthy, and often happy, married couples who seek sexual exploration are flocking to private clubs as well as creating swingers groups who travel or cruise together in large numbers. By removing the secrecy and dishonesty inherent in one’s natural desires for sexual variety, the couple can explore their fantasies together without deceit or guilt. Some might find this offensive and inconceivable … But I wonder, with the average divorce rate of over 50%, and many divorces the result of a sexual indiscretion, if those who choose to open their relationships might have a higher success rate? (See “The Case of Swingers” National Survey 2000.) It does appear in this survey that couples who choose to swing rate their life happiness much higher than their non-swinging married counterparts. Different strokes for different folks.

Living in California my entire life has sheltered me from the big world on this topic (I was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area). Even though my parents were very old fashioned, I was raised in an era of freedom of choice, free love, free expression and I grew up with that attitude. In my travels to other parts of the world, I have been surprised by how afraid many cultures still are regarding sexual differences. There is still a lot of ignorance and judgment, which lends itself to sad and devastating consequences. In my column “Perversion or Preference,” I discuss what happens when we become aware of something different or unfamiliar. How we become afraid and often find ourselves being judgmental. We try to change the other person (fix them) instead of reevaluating our own beliefs and perceptions. If I’m afraid and uncomfortable with your behavior, is it my problem or yours? (Especially if you are not harming me in any way.)

As we all create our designer lives and designer relationships we need to make sure we are living our own authentic life first and foremost. If we can put down our biases, fears and judgments long enough to realize we all have the right to be our own version of sexual — whether it is homo, hetero, bi, tri (try anything) or asexual — it’s our choice and our right to find our own way. I do not have the right to judge you nor do you have the right to judge me. Sexual preference is NOT CONTAGIOUS. It can’t rub off on you if you are around someone who is of a different preference that yourself. You cannot turn someone “gay” or “straight.”

We are what we are. My feeling is, take a risk and just EXPRESS YOURSELF!

Intimately Yours,

“Sex is like air; it’s not important unless you aren’t getting any.” Author Unknown

Nancy Sutton Pierce RN, Health Educator is the Founding director of Nancy Sutton’s House of Yoga and Radio Talk Show Host on The Conscious Living Show LIVE every Saturday 11a-12noon on KCNR 1460am You can reach Nancy at with your comment or questions.

As You Desire is proudly sponsored by Body Logic MD; helping both men and women restore their libido and vitality through hormone therapy, fitness and nutrition counseling.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of

Dr. Nancy Sutton Pierce
Dr. Nancy Sutton Pierce’s eclectic background places her expertise in a league of its own. The compilation of her career as an RN, health educator, intimacy author, radio talk show host, and yoga therapist all fuel her passion as an International speaker and clinical sexologist. Earning her Doctorate degree in human sexuality has broadened her reach around the globe teaching Conscious Living Sexuality™. When not traveling the globe inspiring others, Dr. Nancy enjoys her home life with the love of her life for more than 30 years. They’ve raised three children and now bask in what she refers to as “the dessert of parenting” -- being grandparents. Website. Contact Dr. Nancy

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13 Responses

  1. Avatar Ed says:

    Well stated, Nancy.

    If hormones can determine the shape of our genitalia, they can definitely influence how we think about our sexuality.

    When choosing a partner, more time should be spent narrowing the field to find someone more closely matched in sexual compatibility as well as sharing those other values one holds dear. If partners have already been chosen, sexual needs must be shared and possibly negotiated to understand and satisfy each other.

    Ideas, opinions and bodies change over time and so will the needs of each partner. Like anything else in life, it's an adaptive thing; or should be.

    I really didn't know what a girl (of similar age) was until I discovered them in the first grade. I still remember Alice, Paula and Renee. Then there was second grade…

    We are almost at the end of days for using a slide rule in an analogy.

    Have fun.

    • Hi Ed,

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. The high level of intelligence and candor my readers have continues to impress and inspire me.

      And yes… guess I dated myself with the "slide rule" analogy… oops. I'll watch that, as many people might not know what that is any more.

      Stay sexy and curious!


  2. Avatar cuddlebug214 says:

    Hi Nancy! Great article. I always enjoy reading these. I never knew about homosexuality as a kid. There was a lesbian couple on the street I grew up on, but I always thought they were just girl friends living together. After all, my best friend and I planned on living on a ranch together when we grew up. 🙂 It just made sense. Of course there were a few crushes on boys (or men) but I generally thought they were useless except to tease. I was a late bloomer, but I never considered a same sex relationship. It just never crossed my mind. Now I am very content to have my husband as my only sexual partner.

    I know people who are gay, bi, tri, tatooed, and very pierced. While it may not be what I would choose and I may be conserned that they do certain things because they are lashing out, I also see that for some this is how they are meant to be. I may be uncomfortable sometimes just because I do not understand, or even do not approve, but it is not my place to change them. They can do whatever it is that they need to do in their lives to be happy so long as it does not hurt me. I may choose to not associate with certain people, but it is more their attitude than their color, sexual preference, tatoos, or where they live.

    For the most part I say live and let live. Don't bother/hurt me and I wont bother/hurt you. I will accept you as you are, I just ask that you accept me as I am. Then we can all live happy and fulfilling lives!

    • Dear Cuddle,

      I appreciate your comment deeply. I love your statement about just because someones choices make you uncomfortable, it doesn't make it your place to change them.

      When we can rid our vocabulary of words that put others down just because they are different the world would be a better place for all of us.

      Thank you for taking the time to write in… That means the world to me and all the other readers!

      Keep life interesting!


  3. Avatar M. Hawks says:

    I knew I was hetero at a young age as I was attracted to the girls who used perfume. More of different pheromone, but this I knew for sure…I wanted to be close to a girl who smelled like a flower, plus the smooth skin and curves just added to my delight!

    In college, my roommate was gay…we lived together for two years. Not once was there an advance, an offer, or a worry. I wasn't his type so it worked out and I was never bothered by his activities so we had a great friendship. I did learn a lot from him and my world view was changed. I became more aware of my say "metro-sexual" self and in things that may stereotype me in more homosexual male tendencies. I don't wish to be basic, but my gay friend worked out…kept a great body. He was conscientious and a good roommate with great fashion and music taste. He took care of his body in waxing and did spa treatments. All of these things were new to me and I liked it, and I have kept practicing taking care of my body as he demonstrated. Doesn't make me gay, I just like to look good naked.

    Because of this background, I can recognize a good looking male (gay or straight) and can compliment him. I can. Its not my nature to desire a guy for anything sexual or intimate, but to be conscious and recognize the beauty in the human being… no matter race or sexual orientation.

    Nancy, you are beautiful to me and so is your man!

    Great topic….many bests, M

    • Hi M! First let me begin with I think you are pretty beautiful yourself! Next let me say how delighted I was to read your comment!

      I think the Metrosexual concept is freeing for men to be able to appreciate life from a more artistic, pampering and nurturing perspective. Like you said… just because you can appreciate a healthy, beautiful man doesn't mean you want to have sex with him. The same goes for women; I can appreciate a woman's beauty without being sexually attracted to her.

      When we can all feel comfortable expressing ourselves in what ever way is authentic, we will be a happy world! The fear of condemnation, judgment, persecution and rejection can keep us living a lie…. even to ourselves. So lets all lighten up and just live and let live!

      Thank you for reading and writing in M! I appreciate you!

      Stay curious and sexy!


  4. Avatar gamerjohn says:

    This is a hard topic since there remains much to be discovered about sexual attraction. It confuses me when a person who is married for a number of years all of a sudden switches to same gender. Of course the on going prejudices don't help clarify anything. The news reports are full of the stories of people coming out, but less noticed are those who leave a homosexual relationship for hetero, unless they are actors or something. I know a man who claims that he left the gay life for a woman because he made the choice to do it, but it doesn't ring quite true because of the many stories that there is no choice.

    Born or learned behavior, each has their champions. It just means the truth is more complicated than we know at the moment.

    • Hi GJ,

      Thank you again for reading and making your wonderful comments! Yes this is a challenging topic. We don't have all the answers or know what is right, wrong, normal, abnormal… it's a moving target!

      What we do know is that one's sexual preference has nothing to do with their ability to be loving parents, a committed partner, an upstanding member of their community, or a great leader. What a person does in their sexual life is really no body's business but the person (people) they are being sexual with.

      People do change, they evolve and some choose to experiment. Here! Here! to Freedom Of Choice!

      Thanks for contributing…. You are appreciated!

      Stay sexy!


  5. Avatar FutureAstronaut says:

    I was six when I had my first crush. He was a few grades ahead of me and had a fake tattoo. I didn't know exactly what it was back then but when I reflect back I've always known I was attracted to the same sex. If you've ever watched Sex and the City I'm like the gay version of Charlotte. I'm the type that wants to meet my Prince Charming but has a hard time settling for anything less than perfect.

    • Dearest Future… When we know, we know! Thank you for reading and for sharing. I think some people need to know that our sexuality is built into our wiring… we are what we are. When we can embrace exactly who that is, we live a joyful and fulfilling life.

      Just like there is no one that defines "normal", there is no such thing as "perfect". I like to say "I am perfectly imperfect"! As far as the Prince coming by… You are your own prince charming… the other person is just your mirror.

      Stay true to yourself…


  6. Avatar Adrienne Jacoby says:

    I wish this were not such a heavily freighted subject. Just keep saying it over and over, Nancy. We are what we're wired to be.

    I am friends with two gay couples (one male and one female) in which one partner had married and had children. They both said that it was the pressure of society and not wanting to "be different," and doing what was expected that drove their decision to marry heterosexually. It didn't change their natural attraction, but they sublimated it in the effort to "fit in." . . . I hope that eventuallysociety will grow up enough to accept person as who they are . . . but we have to reach that point with ourselves first.

    • Hi Adrienne,

      Yes I will keep saying it over and over… We are who we are, we will love who we are drawn to love, we will be sexually attracted to whom we are attracted to – regardless of what anyone else thinks is the right or wrong way to be.

      I love the saying "What other people think of me is none of my business".

      Thank you for this reminder… "Until you have walked a mile in the shoes of another, you're better off doing away with your judgement of how they walk."

      With affection,


  1. October 4, 2011

    […] like to clarify something from my last column on sexual orientation. There IS a difference between sexual orientation and sexual preferences. Sexual orientation is […]