Gender, sexuality, and other things that don’t belong in boxes

“I’ve always felt that sexuality is a really slippery thing. In this day and age, it tends to get categorized and labeled, and I think labels are for food. Canned food.”

Michael Stipe, musician, artist, and activist

We all do it. Some of us do it more than others. Some of us feel guilty about doing it and only do it when we think no one is watching. Others freely embrace doing it and don’t care who sees them. I’m talking of course about that most ubiquitous of procrastination activities…web surfing. You know how it goes. At first it’s just going to be one or two cute cat videos on YouTube and next thing you know you’ve fallen down that technology rabbit hole only to emerge an hour later knowing WAY too much about the latest South Korean dance phenomena.


Never fear, for I have something that can help assuage your web-surfing guilt. Someone recently told me about the website Upworthy, whose stated mission is “To make meaningful stories go viral.” It’s a collection of videos, stories, newsclips, and other gems from the internet that run the gamut from environmentalism to feminism to politics to just everyday awesome stuff. What makes this site so compelling is that it’s based on the brilliant idea that the “things that matter in the world don’t have to be boring and guilt-inducing.” I read one person describe the site in the following way: “Upworthy has a recipe for chocolate-covered news broccoli that actually tastes delicious.” And it’s true. In contrast to the fear mongering and sensationalism too often seen in the popular news media, when I peruse through my Upworthy feed I almost invariably find something that inspires me, that pushes me to take action on an issue that really does matter to me.

Sexual continuum versus boxes

One of my favorite videos on the site is one called “Everything You Wanted To Know About Human Sexuality But Were Afraid To Ask.” This clever and incredibly informative video succinctly sums up everything I try to teach my students about our outdated, bifurcated notions of sex and gender. It’s a commentary on sexuality, gender, attraction, and stigma all rolled up into one less-than-4-minute video. Hank Green, who created the video says, “My goal with this video is I want people to understand because I think understanding will lead to less hate and also less self-hate.”

In Green’s video, he talks about all the different factors that go into a person’s sexual identity, including their sex, gender identity, romantic orientation, sexual orientation, and sexual behavior.


Through this video, we can see that all of these factors are on a continuum, rather than binary boxes (e.g., male versus female). We can then appreciate how beautifully complex and infinitely varied we humans are when it comes to our sexuality. And when we aren’t set on trying to shove everyone into one or two discrete boxes, the possibility opens up that maybe there isn’t a “right” and “wrong” way of being; maybe there are an infinitely varied identities, sexualities, and genders and this can be alright. So, I say out with the old boxes and let’s make room for everyone on this beautifully rich continuum we call sexuality.

Author: Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D

Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D. is co-founder and President of Portland Psychotherapy Clinic, Research, and Training Center in Portland, Oregon. As a clinical psychologist, Jenna specializes in working with clients struggling with relationship difficulties, including problems with intimacy and sexuality, trauma-related relationship challenges, and struggles people have in their relationship with their own bodies. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book, “Values in Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide to Helping Clients Explore Values, Increase Psychological Flexibility, and Live a More Meaningful Life.” Jenna is also a peer-reviewed ACT trainer and provides ACT trainings to professionals around the world.


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