But HOW gay are you?

By Leela Calalang, Class of 2020.


At the time of publication, Melbourne is on track to hold the world record for time spent in hard lockdown. Sitting at a running total of 228 days, our options for meeting new people are certainly limited under COVID-19 restrictions. Like millions of other Australians, you might have been tempted to take advantage of the wonderful world of dating apps.

The dating app scene has gradually evolved with the times, with apps like Hinge and Tinder updating their settings in the past couple of years to include sexual identities other than just gay, straight, and bisexual.  As many experts have suggested, sexuality is fluid and exists on a spectrum. So, during Bisexuality Awareness Week, let’s take some time to think about how gay, straight (or neither) we are.

An early measurement for sexuality

The Kinsey scale was first proposed in 1948 and has since been used extensively in research to describe sexual orientation.  The scale ranges from 0 to 6, 0 meaning exclusively heterosexual, and 6 meaning exclusively homosexual. Studies have suggested that there can be substantial changes to our sexual preferences well into adulthood, and that sexuality is generally more fluid over time for women than men.

It’s believed that our sexual orientation actually involves multiple aspects of our lives, such as who we feel attracted to, who we have sex with, and how we self-identify. But research about sexuality usually only focuses on just one of those aspects. Now, there are suggestions that genetics might explain some of our sexual behaviour, too.


The Kinsey Scale. Credit: Dr Alfred Kinsey, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons


What do your genes say?

Beginning in the 1990s, scientists have reported evidence for genetic links to sexual orientation. A study in published in Science in 2019 is the strongest evidence we have today that links certain genetic markers to sexual behaviour. The study surveyed almost 500,000 participants in the UK, all of European ancestry. Five genetic markers were found to be significantly associated with non-heterosexual sexual behaviour, and after combining all the variants estimated that genetics might explain between 8% and 25% of nonheterosexual behaviour.

The five DNA markers they did find likely explained less than 1% of this behaviour, suggesting that there is no single “gay gene”. It’s more likely that hundreds of thousands of different genes could play a small role in your sexuality, each with a tiny influence.

What about the rest of it?

The rest can be explained by environmental influences, including biological ones (like hormone exposure in the womb) and more significantly, social influences later in life.

As Australia pushes forward with LGBTQ+ rights (having finally legalised same-sex marriage in 2017), I’m glad to see studies like this which aim to advance our personal understanding of who we are and why we feel the way we do.