I failed the Kinsey Scale Test.
The Kinsey Scale, which ranks sexuality on a scale from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual) was created as a way for Alfred C. Kinsey to prove sexuality exists on a scale and isn’t limited to two distinct categories.
Although I’m not quite sure how I failed the test the first time, everyone on my staff who took the test scored somewhere in the middle. Not a single person who took it ranked as exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual. Although tests like this aren’t always 100 percent accurate (Kinsey created the scale, not the test) the work Kinsey did in 1948 laid the groundwork for studying and understanding human sexuality, and is reflective of the current state of the way Millennials talk and think about sexuality.
I hadn’t really heard the term sexually fluid until I started watching Broad City, a television show that features two 20-something best friends (Ilana and Abbi) living in New York City and navigating the Millennial lifestyle.
“I have sex with people different from me,” one of the main characters, Ilana Wexler tells her latest hookup in season two, episode nine. Although Ilana has had sex plenty of times in the show, this episode marks the first time that the person in bed with her just happens to be a woman. A woman that looks just like her.
For the majority of the show, she hooks up with one guy: Lincoln. It is clear Ilana is attracted to men. She talks about them, hits on them, hooks up with them, fantasizes about them. But she is also ambiguous about her feelings toward women. Depending on the day, Ilana will even change up her own style: dressing feminine some days and more masculine other days.
The woman Ilana hooks up with in this episode is named Adele. Ilana turns to Abbi, after seeing Adele walk by, and tells her “Dude, I just saw the hottest girl I have ever seen. We had the most incredible spark.”
Abbi doesn’t act surprised or shocked. In fact, she shows no reaction at all. It is later that night, when Ilana and Adele are in bed, that Ilana finally has the chance to label her sexual identity. And she doesn’t label it at all. Ilana pushes away from Adele. “I have sex with people different from me,” Ilana tells her (never once saying “I have sex with men.”).
Sexual openness isn’t anything new for the show: the series has explored everything from porn to masturbation, threesomes to one-night stands. Yet in this episode in particular, Ilana reflects a common view of her generation: sexuality can be fluid. Sure, most nights Ilana has sex with men. But tonight, she was attracted to a woman, and had sex with her without questioning or labeling her sexuality.
This episode struck me because I was so busy trying to label Ilana when she hadn’t thought once about labeling herself. Was she bi? Was she gay? Was she straight? Did it matter? And in the episode I thought would bring the answer, there was no answer.
A 2015 study done by YouGov U.K. ranked 1,600 British Millennials between the ages of 18 and 24 on the Kinsey Scale. The results reported that 1 in 2 said their sexuality was not 100 percent hetereosexual.
Earlier this year, Miley Cyrus opened up about her own sexual fluidity.
“I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age,” she said to Paper. “Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult — anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me.”
The topic of sexual fluidity in media hasn’t gone uncriticised. When Ruby Rose’s character Stella appeared on Orange is the New Black, social media erupted with women who identified as straight saying they would “go gay” for her. This created an open dialogue about what it means to be sexually fluid and whether a person’s sexuality can change over time or in specific instances. Many said it was trivializing sexuality.
In her real life, Ruby identifies as gender fluid, which she says means she doesn’t identify as one gender over another, although she was born a woman. Some days she feels she identifies more as a man. Other days, she puts on a skirt and lipstick. Within the past year alone, media has become acutely aware of fluidity.
Broad City explores Millennial sex in every way possible, yet the show never comes out and labels sexuality. The show is so reflective of our generation’s culture. This generation has led the charge in creating a more understanding and inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community. There are so many individuals that identify as lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, asexual, and more. But there are also people that don’t feel the need to label themselves as anything. Instances like this appear in shows like Broad City, where sexuality just isn’t labeled. The way this generation is viewing sexuality and gender identity is different than any generation before.
After retaking the Kinsey test (I’m still not sure how I failed) I scored a 1 on the 0 to 6 scale, meaning “predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual.” When Kinsey created this scale in 1948, the concept was new and groundbreaking. But today, sexual fluidity is just one part of the giant conversation about gender, sexuality, and the spectrum. And for me, it pointed out how much there still is to learn.
This week, Ball Bearings looks at the way Millennials view sexuality and gender identity. We sat down with a panel of individuals who identify at different places on the spectrum, and asked them about the ways they see their own gender and sexual identities. We followed the life journey of a Millennial transgender woman. We photographed a drag show. We wrote about what it means for Caitlyn Jenner to be the media face of the transgender community. We talked to a lesbian woman who can’t adopt a son who is biologically hers. We looked at what comes next.
Millennials are twice as likely to identity as somewhere on the LGBT spectrum compared to any other generation. Some, like Ilana, see no reason to identify as one thing in particular at all. On the spectrum of gender and sexuality, many fall somewhere in between. Some fluctuate back and forth. This week, we explore what that means.