The Sexual Spectrum: Exploring Human Diversity


277 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55192-681-4
DDC 155.3'3





Reviewed by Robin Chamberlain

Robin Chamberlain is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University.


In The Sexual Spectrum, Olive Skene Johnson synthesizes sociological and
scientific research to explore the myriad elements contributing to human
gender and sexuality. While acknowledging the importance of nurture’s
contribution, Johnson focuses on nature as the defining force in gender
and sexual identity.

For Johnson, “nature” includes many things, from genes to the
prenatal environment. This is part of what makes her book so compelling:
easy answers are rejected in favour of a complex and nuanced
understanding of sexuality. There are several instances in the book when
the reader wishes Johnson would provide us with more information, as she
cuts several sections short by writing “clearly, more research is
needed.” This does not necessarily detract from the book’s
value—indeed, it seems destined to provoke further research in the
field of sexology (as the author somewhat anachronistically calls
it)—but one cannot help wishing that Johnson would occasionally
speculate on the directions to which such research might lead.

Also frustrating are instances in which the author retreats from
providing the reader with information. For example, she brings up the
fascinating finding that gay men tend to have more maternal aunts than
straight men, but does not explain the theory of “fetal wastage”
that has been put forward to explain this phenomenon, as it is “rather
complicated.” What is especially provoking about such omissions is
that elsewhere in the book, Johnson has no difficulty in explaining and
demystifying complex biochemical processes. While she provides the
reader with a plethora of examples from (mostly recent) studies,
Johnson’s own contribution to the field seems based primarily on
personal experience and anecdotal evidence from her years as a clinical
psychologist. Her main contribution is her brilliant synthesis of other
people’s work, and her ability to analyze the data and findings of the
studies on which she draws.


Johnson, Olive Skene., “The Sexual Spectrum: Exploring Human Diversity,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,