So, you may have noticed that I’m a bit of a deviant. And by “a bit of a deviant” I mean the tagline of this blog is “sex at three standard deviations” for a reason. It’s mostly a joke. I picked three because I deviate from societal norms regarding sex in three major ways (kink, nonmonogamy, bisexuality), and threw in standard deviations on a whim/because I’m a bit of a nerd.
It still might be true, though. If you look at the normal distribution, you’ll see it’s divided into sections. If µ in the middle there is your mean, µ +/- one standard deviation is mathematically normal. If we were talking about men’s height in the US, average is about 5’10”, and a standard deviation is about 2.75″, so 68.27% of men will be between about 5’7.25″ and 6’0.75″. That’s our normal range. Between the first and second standard deviation, men who are 5’4.5″ to 5’7.25″ are likely to be considered short, while their analogues on the other side at 6’0.75″ to 6’3.5″ are tall. 95.45% of people should fall within this range. At 3 standard deviations, you’re down to 5’1.75″ or up to 6’6.25″. Only about 1/4 of a percent of men are going to be outside that range. It’s unlikely to pass without comment.
Behavior’s a bit trickier. You can’t treat a sexual identity and behaviors as just one thing, so say we take a persons kinks and preferences and plot each of them according to what proportion of the population shares them. Kissing is going to be well within the norm. Being waterboarded is going to be well outside of it. Sexual proclivities that 2.7 or fewer out of an average sample of 1000 people share are at three standard deviations.
That’s not to say a more common preference is better, or that a very uncommon one is an excuse for someone to crow about how kinky they are. It is freakish, sure, but only in the sense that it’s unusual. Value judgments based solely on how common a preference is are frankly just boring.
So what does it mean, to have a kink or preference further from the norm?
It can mean stigma.
Visibility helps with this: prevalence of LGBT persons in America varies by survey, but rests pretty firmly at or beyond 2 standard deviations (a recent Gallup poll puts the national average at 3.5%). There’s still rampant homophobia, but acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships is more common than not and trending upwards (more Gallup). Having an unusual kink or multiple partners still comes with the risk of social consequences if discovered. Normalizing a kink in terms of stigma needn’t mean convincing more people to enjoy it, just convincing them that it exists and folks who engage in it can be otherwise normal.
It can be harder to find partners who share your interests.
Again, some of this has been circumvented. We find each other. We have gay bars and clubs for those interested in same sex partners, BDSM groups for kinky folks, swingers clubs and poly meetups for swingers and poly folks respectively. We have the dark corners of the Internet. Still, less common means lower odds of meeting someone who shares whatever you’re looking for (and with whom you’re also compatible generally. That’s still important, obviously). Looking for a smart, nerdy straight or bi male to make out with? They are legion. Higher total number means higher number of potentially compatible ones. Yay! Looking for a smart, nerdy queer person who’s into waterboarding? Call me; I’m thisclose to giving up.
No partner is going to share every one of your preferences. There are too many possible variables, it’s just not going to happen. We prioritize, seek out the things without which we can’t feel satisfied with or properly connected to a partner.
It means thinking a little differently.
Being queer or poly or kinky means rejecting societal norms, to some degree. It can’t be done automatically, because the script isn’t provided for us. We have to think about it, challenge it, build our own systems and articulate our own ideas. We don’t always do the best construction, what with the lack of established blueprints and all, but we do what we can.
So what is normal anyway?
Normal is within 1 SD of the average. Normal is cisgendered and cissexual. It’s heterosexual. It’s vanilla. It’s monogamous. Normal is not better (though a certain subset of them certainly seem to think they are). Normal is not worse. Those of us who fall outside the norms aren’t anointed innovators and bringers of truth to the regular folks. It just means we’re different. Most of the time, I think I’m okay with that.