The Sexual Spectrum: Why We're All Different. Rev. ed.


288 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-55192-980-4
DDC 306.76





Reviewed by Robin Chamberlain

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


Erudite and entertaining, The Sexual Spectrum by Olive Skene Johnson is a must-have for both university and community libraries. The title refers to Skene Johnson’s thesis that we ought to see sexuality as a spectrum, encompassing a wide variety of behaviours, identities, and bodies. Rather than being simple binaries of heterosexual and homosexual, male and female, masculine and feminine, sexualities and genders are multiple and diverse.


This well-researched book contains both analyses of scientific findings and first-hand accounts of people’s experiences with their sexual identities. Both are presented in an engaging and thoughtful manner, making this a highly readable, as well as educational, contribution to the study of human sexuality.


One of the most significant elements of this book is the way in which it complicates the biology/culture and nature/nurture binaries. It does so in a number of ways, one of which is to show the reader that biological differences between the sexes are not limited to reproductive anatomy, but include more subtle differences in brain structure and composition. Another way the author complicates the distinction between nature and nurture is by discussing the role of the prenatal environment (i.e., the womb). This environment, she shows, can have a significant impact on the development of one’s neuropsychology, including gender identity and sexual orientation. Ultimately, Skene Johnson finds a middle ground between biological determinism and cultural constructivism, arguing that genes predispose us to certain behaviours, but whether these behaviours develop depends upon the environment.


This new edition concludes with a summary of legislative developments in legal rights for all sexualities, as well as of incidences where these rights have been blocked. In this way, Skene Johnson unites her scientific approach with a political sensibility that is too often lacking in neuropsychology. Her careful science, in turn, gives weight to her political project. Although several books on similar topics have been published in the last ten years, this remains one of the best, because it combines readability with thoughtful and objective analyses of relevant scientific studies.


Johnson, Olive Skene., “The Sexual Spectrum: Why We're All Different. Rev. ed.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,