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Sexual orientation is a social construct used to describe a pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, both genders, neither gender, or another gender. According to the American Psychological Association sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of "personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviors expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them."[1] Sexual orientation is usually classified relative to the gender of the people who are found sexually attractive. Though people may use other labels, or none at all,[2] sexual orientation is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. These orientations exist along a continuum that ranges from exclusive heterosexual to exclusive homosexual, including various forms of bisexuality in-between. The continuum between heterosexual and homosexual does not suit everyone, however, as some people identify as asexual.[3] This linear scale is a simplification of the much more nuanced nature of sexual orientation and sexual identity; many sexologists believe it to be oversimplified.[4]

Most definitions of sexual orientation include a psychological component, such as the direction of an individual's erotic desire, or a behavioral component, which focuses on the sex of the individual's sexual partner/s. Some definitions include both components. Some people prefer simply to follow an individual's self-definition or identity.

Some scholars of sexology, anthropology and history have argued that social categories such as heterosexual and homosexual are not universal[citation needed]. Different societies may consider other criteria to be more significant than sex, including the respective age of the partners, whether partners assume an active or a passive sexual role, and their social status.

The current literature and most scholars in the field state that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual. There is no scientific evidence that parenting, sexual abuse, other adverse life events, or early childhood experiences influence sexual orientation;[5][6] those assumptions are now understood to have been based on misinformation and prejudice.[7] No major mental health professional organization has sanctioned efforts to change sexual orientation and virtually all of them have adopted policy statements cautioning the profession and the public about treatments that purport to change sexual orientation.

Sexual identity and sexual behavior are closely related to sexual orientation, but they are distinguished, with identity referring to an individual's conception of themselves, behavior referring to actual sexual acts performed by the individual, and orientation referring to "fantasies, attachments and longings."[8] Individuals may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors.[9] People who have a homosexual sexual orientation that does not align with their sexual identity are sometimes referred to as 'closeted'. The term may, however, reflect a certain cultural context and particular stage of transition in societies which are gradually dealing with integrating sexual minorities. In studies related to sexual orientation, when dealing with the degree to which a person's sexual attractions, behaviours and identity match, scientists usually use the terms concordance or discordance.[10] Thus, a woman who is attracted to other women, but calls herself heterosexual and only has sexual relations with men, can be said to experience discordance between her sexual orientation (homosexual or lesbian) and her sexual identity and behaviours (heterosexual).

Sexual identity may also be used to describe a person's perception of his or her own sex, rather than sexual orientation. The term sexual preference has a similar meaning to sexual orientation, but it may be interpreted as endorsing the notion that sexual orientation is, in whole or part, a matter of choice.

Sexual orientation is a concept that evolved in the industrialized West and there is a controversy as to the universality of its application in other societies or cultures.[11][12][13] As philosopher Michel Foucault wrote, "'Sexuality' is an invention of the modern state, the industrial revolution, and capitalism."[14] Non-westernized concepts of male sexuality differ essentially from the way sexuality is seen and classified under the system of Sexual Orientation.[15] The validity of the notion of 'sexual orientation' has also been questioned within the industrialized Western society.[16][17]


Sexual orientation, identity, behaviour

The American Psychological Association states that sexual orientation "describes the pattern of sexual attraction, behavior and identity e.g. homosexual (a.k.a. gay, lesbian), bisexual and heterosexual (a.k.a. straight)." "Sexual attraction, behavior and identity may be incongruent. For example, sexual attraction and/or behavior may not necessarily be consistent with identity. Some individuals may identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual without having had any sexual experience. Others have had homosexual experiences but do not consider themselves to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Further, sexual orientation falls along a continuum. In other words, someone does not have to be exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, but can feel varying degrees of both. Sexual orientation develops across a person's lifetime-different people realize at different points in their lives that they are heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual."[18]

The earliest writers on sexual orientation usually understood it to be intrinsically linked to the subject's own sex. For example, it was thought that a typical female-bodied person who is attracted to female-bodied persons would have masculine attributes, and vice versa.[19] This understanding was shared by most of the significant theorists of sexual orientation from the mid nineteenth to early twentieth century, such as Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Magnus Hirschfeld, Havelock Ellis, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, as well as many gender variant homosexual people themselves. However, this understanding of homosexuality as sexual inversion was disputed at the time, and through the second half of the twentieth century, gender identity came to be increasingly seen as a phenomenon distinct from sexual orientation. Transgender and cisgender people may be attracted to men, women, or both, although the prevalence of different sexual orientations is quite different in these two populations (see sexual orientation of transwomen). An individual homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual person may be masculine, feminine, or androgynous, and in addition, many members and supporters of lesbian and gay communities now see the "gender-conforming heterosexual" and the "gender-nonconforming homosexual" as negative stereotypes. However, studies by J Michael Bailey and KJ Zucker have found that a majority of gay men and lesbians report being gender-nonconforming during their childhood years.[20]

The majority of transgender people today identify with the sexual orientation that corresponds with their gender; meaning that a transwoman who is solely attracted to women would often identify as a lesbian. Female-attracted transmen often consider themselves straight men, yet some participate in the lesbian community.

For these reasons, the terms gynephilia and androphilia are occasionally (but increasingly) used when referring to the sexual orientation of transgender and intersex people (and occasionally, cisgender people), because rather than focusing on the sex of the subject, they only describe that of the object of their attraction. The third common term that describes sexual orientation, bisexuality, makes no claim about the subject's sex or gender identity. (See also Pansexuality)

Sexual orientation sees greater intricacy when non-binary understandings of both sex (male, female, or intersex) and gender (man, woman, transgender, third gender, or gender variant) are considered. Sociologist Paula Rodriguez Rust (2000) argues for a more multifaceted definition of sexual orientation:

...Most alternative models of sexuality...define sexual orientation in terms of dichotomous biological sex or gender.... Most theorists would not eliminate the reference to sex or gender, but instead advocate incorporating more complex nonbinary concepts of sex or gender, more complex relationships between sex, gender, and sexuality, and/or additional nongendered dimensions into models of sexuality.


Fluidity of sexuality

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has stated "some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime".[22] The APA also says that "most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation".[23] In a joint statement with other major American medical organizations, the APA says that "different people realize at different points in their lives that they are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual".[24] A report from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health states: "For some people, sexual orientation is continuous and fixed throughout their lives. For others, sexual orientation may be fluid and change over time".[25]

Gay and lesbian people can have sexual relationships with someone of the opposite sex for a variety of reasons including the desire for family with children and concerns of discrimination and religious ostracism.[26][27][28][29][30] While some LGB people hide their orientation from their spouse, others develop a positive gay or lesbian identity while maintaining a successful marriage.[31][32][33] Coming out of the closet to oneself, a spouse of the opposite sex, and children can present challenges that are not faced by gay and lesbian people who are not married to people of the opposite sex or do not have children.

Efforts to change sexuality

In 2009 the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation conducted a systematic review of the peer-reviewed journal literature on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) and concluded:

Efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates. Even though the research and clinical literature demonstrate that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality, regardless of sexual orientation identity, the task force concluded that the population that undergoes SOCE tends to have strongly conservative religious views that lead them to seek to change their sexual orientation. Thus, the appropriate application of affirmative therapeutic interventions for those who seek SOCE involves therapist acceptance, support, and understanding of clients and the facilitation of clients’ active coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, without imposing a specific sexual orientation identity outcome.[34]

No major mental health professional organization has sanctioned efforts to change sexual orientation and virtually all of them have adopted policy statements cautioning the profession and the public about treatments that purport to change sexual orientation. These include the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Counseling Association, National Association of Social Workers in the USA[35], the Royal College of Psychiatrists[36], and the Australian Psychological Society[37].

The American Psychological Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists expressed concerns that the positions espoused by NARTH are not supported by the science and create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.[38][36]

Measuring sexual orientation

Varying definitions and strong social norms about sexuality can make sexual orientation difficult to quantify. Researchers may use different markers of sexual orientation, including self-labeling, sexual behaviour, sexual fantasy or a pattern of erotic arousal. A clinical measurement may use penile or vaginal photoplethysmography, where genital engorgement with blood is measured in response to exposure to different erotic material.[39] In 1995, two researchers argued that due to a lack of research on change over time, there is a limitation on current conceptualizations of sexual orientation. They did not abandon the concept of sexual orientation, but concluded that "given such significant measurement problems, one could conclude there is serious doubt whether sexual orientation is a valid concept at all," and warned against increasing politicization of this area.[40]

From at least the late nineteenth century in Europe, there was speculation that the range of human sexual response looked more like a continuum than two or three discrete categories. Berlin sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld published a scheme in 1896 that measured the strength of an individual's sexual desire on two independent 10-point scales, A (homosexual) and B (heterosexual).[41] A heterosexual individual may be A0, B5; a homosexual individual may be A5, B0; An asexual would be A0, B0; and someone with an intense attraction to both sexes would be A9, B9.

Fifty years later, American sexologist Alfred Kinsey wrote in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948):

Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories... The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. While emphasizing the continuity of the gradations between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual histories, it has seemed desirable to develop some sort of classification which could be based on the relative amounts of heterosexual and homosexual experience or response in each history... An individual may be assigned a position on this scale, for each period in his life.... A seven-point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist.


The Kinsey scale measures sexual orientation from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual), with an additional category, X, for those with no sexual attraction to either women or men. Unlike Hirschfeld's scale, the Kinsey scale is one-dimensional. Simon LeVay wrote, "it suggests (although Kinsey did not actually believe this) that every person has the same fixed endowment of sexual energy, which he or she then divides up between same-sex and opposite-sex attraction in a ratio indicative of his or her own sexual orientation."[43]

Indirect detection

Scientific studies have found a number of statistical biological differences between gay and straight people, which may result from the same underlying cause as orientation itself. The attempt to detect sexual orientation in social situations is known as gaydar; some studies have found that guesses based on face photos perform better than chance.[citation needed]

Scientific studies on sexual arousal and sexual orientation

Some researchers who study sexual orientation argue that the concept may not apply similarly to men and women. A study of sexual arousal patterns[44] found that women, when viewing erotic films which show female-female, male-male and male-female sexual activity (oral sex or penetration), have patterns of arousal which do not match their declared sexual orientation as well as men's. That is, heterosexual and lesbian women's sexual arousal to erotic films do not differ significantly by the gender of the participants (male or female) or by the type of sexual activity (heterosexual or homosexual). On the contrary, men's sexual arousal patterns tend to be more in line with their stated orientation, with heterosexual men showing more penis arousal to female-female sexual activity and less arousal to female-male and male-male sexual stimuli, and homosexual men being more aroused by films depicting male-male intercourse and less aroused by other stimuli.

Another study on men and women's patterns of sexual arousal confirmed[45] that men and women have different patterns of arousal, independent of their sexual orientation. The study found that women's genitals become aroused to both human and nonhuman stimuli from movies showing humans of both genders having sex (heterosexual and homosexual) and from videos showing non-human primates (bonobos) having sex. Men did not show any sexual arousal to non-human visual stimuli, their arousal patterns being in line with their specific sexual interest (women for heterosexual men and men for homosexual men).

These studies suggest that men and women are different in terms of sexual arousal patterns and that this is also reflected in how their genitals react to sexual stimuli of both genders or even to non-human stimuli. It must be stated that sexual orientation has many dimensions (attractions, behaviour, identity), of which sexual arousal is the only product of sexual attractions which can be measured at present with some degree of precision. Thus, the fact that women are aroused by seeing non-human primates having sex does not mean that women's sexual orientation includes this type of sexual interest. Some researchers argue that women's sexual orientation depends less on their patterns of sexual arousal than men's and that other components of sexual orientation (like emotional attachment) must be taken into account when describing women's sexual orientations. In contrast, men's sexual orientations tend to be primarily focused on the physical component of attractions and, thus, their sexual feelings are more exclusively oriented according to sex.

Studying human sexual arousal has proved a fruitful way of understanding how men and women differ as genders and in terms of sexual orientation. More recently, scientists have started to focus on measuring changes in brain activity related to sexual arousal, by using brain-scanning techniques. Given that sexual feelings are the product of perceptions and/or fantasies which are processed in the brain, measuring brain regions activity should further show how people of different sexual orientations differ in this respect.

A study on how heterosexual and homosexual men's brains react to seeing pictures of naked men and women has found[46] that both hetero- and homosexual men react positively to seeing their preferred sex, using the same brain regions. The only significant group difference between these orientations was found in the amygdala, a brain region known to be involved in regulating fear.[47]

Although these findings have contributed to understanding how sexual arousal can differentiate between genders and sexual orientations, it is still a matter of debate whether these results reflect differences which are the result of social learning or genetic and/or biological factors. Further studies are needed to clarify how much of people's reactions to sexual stimuli of their preferred gender are due to learned or innate factors.

Demographics of sexual orientation

The multiple aspects of sexual orientation and the boundary-drawing problems already described create methodological challenges for the study of the demographics of sexual orientation. Determining the frequency of various sexual orientations in real-world populations is difficult and controversial.

In the oft-cited and oft-criticized Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), by Alfred C. Kinsey et al., people were asked to rate themselves on a scale from completely heterosexual to completely homosexual. Kinsey reported that when the individuals' behavior as well as their identity are analyzed, most people appeared to be at least somewhat bisexual – i.e., most people have some attraction to either sex, although usually one sex is preferred. According to Kinsey, only a minority (5-10%) can be considered fully heterosexual or homosexual. Conversely, only an even smaller minority can be considered fully bisexual (with an equal attraction to both sexes).

Kinsey's methods have been criticized as flawed, particularly with regard to the randomness of his sample population, which included a large number of prison inmates. Nevertheless, Paul Gebhard, subsequent director of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research, reexamined the data in the Kinsey Reports and concluded that accounting for major statistical objections barely affected the results. Most modern scientific surveys find that the majority of people report a mostly heterosexual orientation. However, the relative percentage of the population that reports a homosexual orientation varies with differing methodologies and selection criteria. Most of these statistical findings are in the range of 2.8 to 9% of males, and 1 to 5% of females for the United States[48] — this figure can be as high as 12% for some large cities and as low as 1% percent for rural areas).

Estimates for the percentage of the population that are bisexual vary widely, at least in part due to differing definitions of bisexuality. Some studies only consider a person bisexual if they are nearly equally attracted to both sexes, and others consider a person bisexual if they are at all attracted to the same sex (for otherwise mostly heterosexual persons) or to the opposite sex (for otherwise mostly homosexual persons). A small percentage of people are not sexually attracted to anyone (asexuality).

Influences on sexual orientation

The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Association of Social Workers in 2006 stated:

Currently, there is no scientific consensus about the specific factors that cause an individual to become heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual — including possible biological, psychological, or social effects of the parents’ sexual orientation. However, the available evidence indicates that the vast majority of lesbian and gay adults were raised by heterosexual parents and the vast majority of children raised by lesbian and gay parents eventually grow up to be heterosexual.[49]

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2006 stated:

The mechanisms for the development of a particular sexual orientation remain unclear, but the current literature and most scholars in the field state that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual. A variety of theories about the influences on sexual orientation have been proposed. Sexual orientation probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences. In recent decades, biologically based theories have been favored by experts. Although there continues to be controversy and uncertainty as to the genesis of the variety of human sexual orientations, there is no scientific evidence that abnormal parenting, sexual abuse, or other adverse life events influence sexual orientation. Current knowledge suggests that sexual orientation is usually established during early childhood.[50]

The Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2007 stated:

Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation. It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice.[51]

The American Psychiatric Association states:

Homosexuality was once thought to be the result of troubled family dynamics or faulty psychological development. Those assumptions are now understood to have been based on misinformation and prejudice. Currently there is a renewed interest in searching for biological etiologies for homosexuality.[7]

A 2010 study stated: "The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation."[52]

Professor Michael King states: "The conclusion reached by scientists who have investigated the origins and stability of sexual orientation is that it is a human characteristic that is formed early in life, and is resistant to change. Scientific evidence on the origins of homosexuality is considered relevant to theological and social debate because it undermines suggestions that sexual orientation is a choice."[53]

Debate continues over what biological variables influence sexual orientation in humans, such as genes and the exposure of certain levels of hormones to fetuses.

Environmental factors

Prenatal hormones on developing fetus

The hormonal theory of sexuality holds that, just as exposure to certain hormones plays a role in fetal sex differentiation, such exposure also influences the sexual orientation that emerges later in the adult. Fetal hormones may be seen as either the primary influence upon adult sexual orientation, or as co-factor interacting with genes and/or environmental and social conditions[54].

Birth order

Recent studies found an increased chance of homosexuality in men whose mothers previously carried to term many male children. This effect is nullified if the man is left-handed.[55]

Genetic factors

Research has identified several biological factors which may be related to the development of sexual orientation, including genes, prenatal hormones, and brain structure. No single controlling cause has been identified, and research is continuing in this area. At one time, twin studies appeared to point to a major genetic component, but problems in experimental design of the available studies have made their interpretation difficult, and one recent study appears to exclude genes as a major factor.[56]

Innate bisexuality

Innate bisexuality, or predisposition to bisexuality, is an idea introduced by Sigmund Freud, based on work by his associate Wilhelm Fliess. According to this theory, all humans are born bisexual but through psychological development, which includes both external and internal factors, become monosexual while the bisexuality remains in a latent state.

Sexual orientation as a social construct

Because sexual orientation is complex and multi-dimensional, some academics and researchers, especially in Queer studies, have argued that it is a historical and social construction. In 1976 the historian Michel Foucault argued that homosexuality as an identity did not exist in the eighteenth century; that people instead spoke of "sodomy", which referred to sexual acts. Sodomy was a crime that was often ignored but sometimes punished severely (see sodomy law).

Heterosexuality and homosexuality are terms often used in European and American cultures to encompass a person’s entire social identity, which includes self and personality. In Western cultures some people speak meaningfully of gay, lesbian, and bisexual identities and communities. In other cultures, homosexuality and heterosexual labels don’t emphasize an entire social identity or indicate community affiliation based on sexual orientation.[57]

Some historians and researchers argue that the emotional and affectionate activities associated with sexual-orientation terms such as gay and straight change significantly over time and across cultural boundaries. For example, in many English-speaking nations it is assumed that same-sex kissing, particularly between men, is a sign of homosexuality, whereas various types of same-sex kissing are common expressions of friendship in other nations. Also, many modern and historic cultures have formal ceremonies expressing long-term commitment between same-sex friends, even though homosexuality itself is taboo within the culture.[58]

Perceived sexual orientation

One person may assume knowledge of another person's sexual orientation based upon perceived characteristics such as appearance, clothing, and tone of voice. Perceived sexual orientation may affect how a person is treated. For instance, in the United States, the FBI reported that 15.6% of hate crimes reported to police in 2004 were "because of a sexual-orientation bias."[59]

Under the UK Employment Equality Regulations, "workers or job applicants must not be treated less favorably because of their sexual orientation, their perceived sexual orientation or because they associate with someone of a particular sexual orientation."[60]

Medical associations with policy related to sexual orientation


  • Australian Medical Association[61]


United States

  • American Academy of Pediatrics [62]
  • American Medical Association [63]
  • American Medical Student Association [64]
  • American Psychological Association (for public) [65] (for educators)[66]
  • Catholic Medical Association [67]
  • Christian Medical and Dental Association [68]

See also


  1. ^ APA California Amicus Brief
  2. ^ "Sexuality, What is sexual orientation?", American Psychological Association: Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions.... Sexual orientation is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual...However, some people may use different labels or nothing at all.,, retrieved 2008-08-12 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Planned Parent Hood: Sexual Orientation & Gender, LGBTQ ... The Labels and Their Meaning
  5. ^ Pediatrics: Sexual Orientation and Adolescents, American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Retrieved 2009-12-08.
  6. ^ Royal College of Psychiatrists: Submission to the Church of England’s Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality.
  7. ^ a b American Psychiatric Association Sexual Orientation
  8. ^ Reiter L (1989). "Sexual orientation, sexual identity, and the question of choice". Clinical Social Work Journal 17: 138–50. 
  9. ^ "Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality",,, retrieved 2007-09-07 
  10. ^ Ross, Michael W.; Essien, E. James; Williams, Mark L.; Fernandez-Esquer, Maria Eugenia. (2003). "Concordance Between Sexual Behavior and Sexual Identity in Street Outreach Samples of Four Racial/Ethnic Groups". Sexually Transmitted Diseases: February 2003 - Volume 30 - Issue 2 - pp 110-113 (American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association). PMID 12567166. 
  11. ^ The Psychology of Sexual Orientation, Behaviour, and identity By Louis Diamant, Richard D. McAnulty;Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995; ISBN 0313285012, 9780313285011; 522 pages; Quote from page 81: Although sexual orientation is a loaded Western concept, the term is still a useful one, if we avoid imposing Western thoughts and meanings associated with our language on non-Western, noncontemporary cultures.
  12. ^ The Handbook of Social Work Direct Practice By Paula Allen-Meares, Charles D. Garvin; Contributor Paula Allen-Meares, Charles D. Garvin; Published by SAGE, 2001, ISBN 0761914994, 9780761914990 733 pages; Quote from page 478: The concept of sexual orientation is a product of contemporary Western thought.
  13. ^ Sexual behavior and the non-construction of sexual identity: Implications for the analysis of men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women. Michael W. Ross & Ann K. Brooks; Quote from Page 9: Chou (2000) notes in his analysis of the lack of applicability of western concepts of sexual identity in China, just because a person has a particular taste for a specific food doesn’t mean that we label them in terms of the food that they prefer. A similar approach to sexual appetite as not conferring identity may be operating in this sample. McIntosh (1968) has previously noted that people who do not identify with the classic western, white gay/lesbian role may not necessarily identify their behavior as homosexual.
  14. ^ Chinese Femininities, Chinese Masculinities: A Reader; By Susan Brownell, Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom; Published by University of California Press, 2002; ISBN 0520221168, 9780520221161; Quote: "The problem with Sexuality Some scholars have argued that maleness and femaleness were not closely linked to sexuality in China. Foucault's "The History of Sexuality" (which dealt primarily with Western civilization and western Europe) began to influence some China scholars in the 1980s. Foucault's insight was to demonstrate that sexuality has a history; it is not fixed psychobiological drive that is the same for all humans according to their sex, but rather it is a cultural construct inseparable from gender constructs. After unmooring sexuality from biology, he anchored it in history, arguing that this thing we now call sexuality came into existencee in the eighteenth-century West and did not exist previously in this form. "Sexuality" is an invention of the modern state, the industrial revolution, and capitalism. Taking this insight as a starting point, scholars have slowly been compiling the history of sexuality in china. The works by Tani Barlow, discussed above, were also foundational in this trend. Barlow observes that, in the West, heterosexuality is the primary site for the production of gender: a woman truly becomes a woman only in relation to a man's heterosexual desire. By contrast, in China before the 1920s the "jia" (linage unit, family) was the priamary site for the production of gender: marriage and sexuality were to serve the lineage by producing the next generation of lineage members; personal love and pleasure were secondary to this goal. Barlow argues that this has two theoretical implications: (1) it is not possible to write a chinese history of heterosexuality, sexuality as an institution, and sexual identities in the European metaphysical sense, and (2) it is not appropriate to ground discussions of Chinese gender processes in the sexed body so central in "Western" gender processes. Here she echoes Furth's argument that, before the earlyu twentiethh century, sex-identity grounded on anatomical difference did not hold a central place in Chinese constructions of gender. And she ehoes the point illustrated in detail in Sommer's chapter on male homosexuality in the Qing legal code: a man could engage in homosexual behaviour without calling into question his manhood so long as his behaviour did not threaten the patriarchal Confucian family structure."
  15. ^ Transnational Transgender: Reading Sexual Diversity in Cross-Cultural Contexts Through Film and Video; Ryan, Joelle Ruby; American Studies Association; Quote: Many of the projects which have historically investigated sex/gender variance in non-Western contexts have been ethnographies and anthropological studies. Due to strong and lingering problems with ethnocentrism, many of these research studies have attempted to transpose a Western understanding of sex, gender and sexuality onto cultures in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Terms such as “homosexual,” “transvestite,” and “transsexual” all arose out of Western concepts of identity based on science, sexology and medicine and often bear little resemblance to sex/gender/sexuality paradigms in the varied cultures of the developing world.
  16. ^ Sexual Orientation, Human Rights and Global Politics Matthew Waits, Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom; email:; web: ; Quote from the Abstract: The paper problematises utilisation of the concept of 'sexual orientation' in moves to revise human rights conventions and discourses in the light of social constructionist and queer theory addressing sexuality, which has convincingly suggested that 'sexual orientation' is a culturally specific concept, misrepresenting many diverse forms of sexuality apparent in comparative sociological and anthropological research conducted worldwide. I will argue in particular that 'orientation' is a concept incompatible with bisexuality when interpreted within the context of dominant dualistic assumptions about sex, gender and desire in western culture (suggested by Judith Butler's concept of the 'heterosexual matrix'). I will discuss the implications of the this for interpreting contemporary struggles among competing social movements, NGO and governmental actors involved in contesting the relationship of sexuality to human rights as defined by the United Nations.
  17. ^ [1] McIntosh argues that the labelling process should be the focus of inquiry and that homosexuality should be seen as a social role rather than a condition. Role is more useful than condition, she argues, because roles (of heterosexual and homosexual) can be dichotomised in a way that behaviour cannot. She draws upon cross-cultural data to demonstrate that in many societies 'there may be much homosexual behaviour, but there are no "homosexuals"' (p71).
  18. ^ [2]
  19. ^ Minton HL (1986). "Femininity in men and masculinity in women: American psychiatry and psychology portray homosexuality in the 1930s". Journal of Homosexuality 13 (1): 1–21. 
    Terry, J. (1999). An American obsession: Science, medicine, and homosexuality in modern society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  20. ^ Bailey JM, Zucker KJ (1995). "Childhood sex-typed behavior and sexual orientation: a conceptual analysis and quantitative review". Developmental Psychology 31 (1): 43. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.31.1.43. 
  21. ^ Rodriguez Rust, Paula C. Bisexuality: A contemporary paradox for women, Journal of Social Issues, Vol 56(2), Summer 2000. Special Issue: Women's sexualities: New perspectives on sexual orientation and gender. pp. 205-221. article online
    Also published in: Rodriguez Rust, Paula C. Bisexuality in the United States: A Social Science Reader. Columbia University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-231-10227-5
  22. ^ American Psychiatric Association (May 2000). "Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues". Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrics. 
  23. ^ "Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality". American Psychological Association. Retrieved 2008-05-26. 
  24. ^ "Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators and School Personnel". American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American Psychological Association, American School Health Association, The Interfaith Alliance, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers, National Education Association. 1999. Retrieved 2007-08-28. 
  25. ^ "ARQ2: Question A2 - Sexual Orientation". Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Retrieved 2007-08-28. 
  26. ^ Butler, Katy (March 7, 2006). "Many Couples Must Negotiate Terms of 'Brokeback' Marriages". New York Times. 
  27. ^ Hentges, Rochelle (October 4, 2006). "How to tell if your husband is gay". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. 
  28. ^ Gay Men from Heterosexual Marriages: Attitudes, Behaviors, Childhood Experiences, and Reasons for Marriage
  29. ^ Gay, Mormon, married
  30. ^ Gay No More
  31. ^ Hays D, Samuels A (1989). "Heterosexual women's perceptions of their marriages to bisexual or homosexual men". J Homosex 18 (1-2): 81–100. PMID 2794500. 
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Further reading

  • Anders Agmo Functional and dysfunctional sexual behavior Elsevier 2007
  • De La Torre, Miguel A., "Out of the Shadows, Into the Light: Christianity and Homosexuality" Chalice Press, 2009.
  • Dynes, Wayne (ed.) "Encyclopedia of Homosexuality." New York and London, Garland Publishing, 1990.
  • Gil Brum, Larry McKane, and Gerry Karp. Biology – Exploring Life, 2nd edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1994. p. 663. (About INAH-3.)
  • Sell, Randall L. (December 1997). Defining and measuring sexual orientation: a review. Archives of Sexual Behavior 26(6) 643-658. (excerpt)
  • Serge Wunsch PhD thesis about sexual behavior Paris Sorbonne 2007

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Sexual orientation


  • One of the most distinctive features of the current regime under which we live is the prominence of heterosexuality and homosexuality as central, organizing categories of thought, behaviour, and erotic subjectivity. The rise to dominance of those categories represents a relatively recent and culturally specific development, yet it has left little trace in our consciousness of its novelty. As a result, not only do we have a hard time understanding the logic at work in other historical cultures' organizations of sex and gender, but we have an even harder time understanding our own experiences of sexuality that are not universal.
    • David M. Halperin, How To Do the History of Homosexuality, p.3. The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226314472.
  • Although sexual theorists might like simple, parsimonious, conceptualization of sexual orientation and sexual identity or unidirectional theories of sexual behaviour. Recent studies of various groups in the United States show that simple conceptualizations of sexual orientation and sexual identity development do not accurately reflect the rich variation in behaviour or self-classification.
    • Michaeal R. Stevenson, Reconciling Sexual Orientation, from The Sex Scientists 1998

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Sexual orientation is a term that means what kinds of people a person loves or has sexual or romantic feelings about. A person can love somebody of the same gender (sex), somebody of the other gender, both, or neither.

The words that are used the most to talk about somebody's sexual orientation are:

  • heterosexual - they can be sexually attracted to somebody of the other gender
  • homosexual - they can be sexually attracted to somebody of the same gender as themselves
  • bisexual - they can be sexually attracted to both genders
  • asexual - they are not sexually attracted to anybody

Words that are sometimes also used to talk about somebody's sexual orientation are:

  • transgender and transsexual - the person believes they are the other gender than their body is
  • paraphilia - the person gets sexual pleasure from other things which are not usually seen as sexual, called fetishes.
  • zoophilia - sexual attraction to other species

Not everyone agrees that some of these last terms are really sexual orientations. For example, a person can have a fetish and still be either heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. A person can also be transgender or transsexual and still be either heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.

Many people have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. In many cultures, people who are homosexual or bisexual have been teased (made fun of), fired from their job, or subjected to violence because of who they are. In many countries and states, there are laws against having sex with somebody of the same gender, and people can be put in jail because of who they have sex with. In the United States, these laws were struck down (repealed) by the United States Supreme Court in the last few years.

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