Human Sexuality > Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation is merely a name that defines a person's concept or beliefs toward or regarding romantic or sexual relationships. For example, most Americans recognize three specific definitions of sexual orientation that include heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality. However, there is an additional definition of sexuality, commonly attached to those who generally show little or no interest in sexual relationships. Such a person is labeled with the term "asexual." However, for the purpose of this course, we will not pursue a discussion of an asexual individual, but rather limit our discussions to the generalized categories of sexuality that involves reactions, emotions, and romantic feelings for individuals of the same or opposite sex.

[QN.No.#21.A term that defines a person's romantic or sexual attraction towards a particular gender is referred to as:]

Defining Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation, as mentioned above, may be defined as an individual's romantic or sexual attraction to one or both genders. A heterosexual is defined as an individual who experiences romantic or sexual feelings for someone of the opposite sex. A bisexual individual may feel such attractions for both genders, while a homosexual generally has romantic or sexual feelings for members of the same sex.

[QN.No.#22.An individual who experiences romantic or sexual feelings for someone of the opposite sex is defined as:]

In many situations, bisexuals generally prefer one sex to the other, and is often a confusing concept for individuals in Western cultures to understand, because in most cases, believes prevail that someone is either heterosexual or homosexual in nature. Alfred Kinsey, of the Kinsey report, created a scale of sexual behavior that seeks to define sexual experiences and the sexual behavior of people involved in a survey and interviews regarding sexual behavior and orientation.

The model of Kinsey scale rates online and offers a seven-point scale of behavior ranging from zero to seven. Kinsey believed that sexual orientation could comprise of a variety of either same-sex or opposite sex activity that may often change during a person's lifetime. While many individuals, at the time and today leave the Kinsey scale is simplistic, it was one of the first of its kind to try to understand the basics and the foundations and origination of sexual orientation among individuals.

Kinsey's scale of sexual behavior is defined as follows:

  • 0 - exclusively heterosexual with no homosexual
  • 1 - predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
  • 2 - predominantly heterosexual but more than incidentally homosexual
  • 3 - equally homosexual and heterosexual
  • 4 - predominantly homosexual but more than incidentally heterosexual
  • 5 - predominantly homosexual but incidentally heterosexual
  • 6 - exclusively homosexual with no heterosexual

[QN.No.#23.Kinsey's scale of sexual behavior rates number 0 for the behavior:]

Many researchers at the time and as the years passed realized that this scale fails to answer particular questions or scenarios. For example, where does someone who fantasizes about members of the same gender along in this scale? What about individuals with no sexual experience? Basically, Kinsey scale is rated on behavior, and not on any other considerations that must be explored when it comes to sexual orientation.

Where do individuals get their sexual identity information? How much impact this family environment, culture, religion, or experience play in the creation and development of sexual orientation? Sexual identity is defined as an individual who has eventually identified him or herself as homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. In many cultures, homosexuality and bisexuality is considered abhorrent, while other cultures are more permissive in nature.

Remember that we earlier mentioned Sigmund Freud's classification of psychosocial development, where he believed that infants are capable of sexual or erotic attraction to mothers and fathers. Freud also believed that bisexuality is inherent in every individual but believed that the practice of heterosexuality was the result of normal psychosocial growth and development. However, Freud's concepts and theories are also severely limited and constrained due to values, concepts, and beliefs of his time.

Regardless of how any individual perceives him or herself as a sexual being, conflicts over such sexual identity often develop into forms of sexual dysfunctions, poor relationships, injured self-esteem, and often develop into chronic state of anxiety or depression.

Homosexuality and American Culture

In the late 1960s, homosexuality was still against the law. As a matter of fact, it used to be illegal to serve alcohol to homosexuals and police raids and arrests were common in places where homosexuals gathered.

In early 1970, the gay rights movement was under way. However, decades later, many Americans still don't understand sexual orientation - homosexuality, bisexuality, or heterosexuality. In 2004, the American Psychological Association defined sexual orientation in this way:

“Sexual orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attraction to another person. It is easily distinguished from other components of sexuality including biological sex, gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female) and the social gender role (adherence to cultural norms for feminine and masculine behavior). Sexual orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality. Bisexual persons can experience sexual, emotional and affectional attraction to both their own sex and the opposite sex. Persons with a homosexual orientation are sometimes referred to as gay (old men and women) or as a lesbian (women only). Sexual orientation is different from sexual behavior because it refers to feelings and self-concept. Persons may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors.”


Many researchers, psychologists, and scientists have neglected to focus attention on heterosexual relationship growth and development because it is considered "normal". However, more attention and studies have been placed on homosexuality and identity formation among gays and lesbians because of the controversy that has always embraced such preferences. While the 21st century is seeing more acceptances of such lifestyles, such has not always been the case.

Many individuals are raised in cultures, families, and faiths that believe it is wrong or even sinful to encourage or accept same-sex feelings. Such attitudes increase the burden on individuals who feel such meanings, and many end up displaying symptoms of intense psychological burdens and stress.

Vivian Cass developed a model of identity formation of gays and lesbians in the late 1970s that introduced a six-stage model of development. Her six stage model included:

  • Identity confusion
  • Identity comparison
  • Identity tolerance
  • Identity acceptance
  • Identity pride
  • Identity synthesis

According to Cass, the first stage of homosexuality identity formation involves awareness of certain same-sex feelings that often present themselves in childhood. This confusion reaffirms that a child may feel differently or be perceived differently than others. By the time an individual reaches adolescence, he or she will begin comparing his or her beliefs with peers, which often results in a cell statement, "I must be gay."

It is at this time that most adolescents realize that their feelings for those of the opposite sex are indeed different. Often, adolescents feel a great sense of confusion, shame, anger, and worry over their feelings of those of the opposite sex. Eventually, identity tolerance is reached, when an individual accepts the fact that he or she is probably homosexual. However, this stage often is not reached until late adolescence or early adulthood. Isolation, alienation, and shame will often continue to be major psychological hurdles to such individuals to face and overcome without the support of family, friends, or peers who may be experiencing the same thing.

During early adulthood, most homosexuals decide to either be open about their sexual feelings and orientation or seek to keep such dealings secret and hidden. In many situations, revealing one's homosexuality can endanger family relationships, friendships, jobs, and even careers. In many situations, a homosexual may spend years or decades "in the closet", which may lead to ongoing anxiety and lead to anxiety or stress related disorders and depression.

In the "old days", it was essential for many individuals to hide their sexual orientation when it came to homosexuality. Famous movie stars, politicians, and sports figures protected their public reputations at all costs. Today however, more individuals feel comfortable expressing their homosexuality.

This is not to say that majorities of cultures and communities accept the concept of homosexuality. Society today can be extremely hostile, intolerant, and unsupportive of homosexuals. However, changing attitudes, the wealth of information and the media have played a great role in bringing homosexuality in the open.

In an effort to reduce the rate of suicide attempts and "successful" suicide among gay or lesbian youths (nearly 2 to seven times higher than the rate of heterosexuals), education and awareness is promoted on most high school and college campuses within the United States. Western Michigan University developed a handout that was encouraged to help not only homosexuals come to terms with their environment, but also to help fellow students, friends and family members to offer support to their peers. The hand-out includes tips and suggestions that include but are not limited to:

  • Acknowledge your own feelings, values, beliefs, and thinking about homosexuality, lesbians, and gay men.
  • Educate yourself about homosexuality.
  • Talk with lesbians and gay men you know and those who support them.
  • Provide an open and supportive atmosphere for your friends who think they might be homosexual. be an impartial and supportive listener.
  • Remember that friends and acquaintances you associate with might be gay or lesbian.
  • Remember that societal oppression and discrimination create much of the unhappiness of many lesbians and gay men.
  • Remember that stereotypical "gay" behavior or appearance does not mean that the person evidencing this behavior or appearance isn't necessarily gay or that gay men necessarily exhibit these traits.
  • Help people to help themselves by reinforcing their own expressions of self-worth, self-acceptance, and self-reliance so they can take charge of their own lives and integrate their feelings, thinking, and behavior in a positive way. Do not pity them.
  • Know when your knowledge has reached its limit. If you are not gay or lesbian, do not presume to know everything about it, no matter how well educated you are.
  • Know when your prejudices are negative feelings are interfering in your interactions with gay men or lesbians.
  • Consider working for civil rights for lesbians and gay men in order to create a more positive environment for everyone.

Homosexuality in Other Cultures

In different cultures and geographic locations around the world, homosexuality is often considered either accepted or taboo. For example, in Oriental cultures, such as those coming from Thailand, China or Japan, a person's sexual identity, expression, or preferences are private. In such cultures, people don't particularly care what orientation and individual follows, as long as he or she produces offspring or a family.

Homosexuality is present in nearly every culture around the world, whether it's recognized or not. In the early 1950s, 76 societies from around the world were surveyed, and over 60% of them responded to same-sex relationships among various members of communities may be considered appropriate and normal. In many cultures, same-sex behaviors are expected, as among many South Pacific and Pacific Island cultures. In many Pacific cultures, including those found in New Guinea, male boys are generally considered to be both on masculine and infertile and were often encouraged to engage in same-sex activities in order to strengthen their fertility. However, these same individuals become exclusively heterosexual after marriage.

Some South African cultures actually encourage same-sex relationships between young girls in older women, which do not carry a stigma for either individual as long as the younger participant fulfills social expectations and obligations of marriage and childbearing. Many younger and older women in aboriginal Australian tribes were also common, as well as among other cultures they were segregated by gender and household expectations. In many other cultures, including those found in North Africa, Central and South America, and Mediterranean countries, gender roles and expectations are distinct, and while those who are engaged in same-sex relationships may both participate, only the effeminate partners are stigmatized.

In many of these cultures, such relationships between men may be tolerated and accepted, but not so with relationships among women. In many cultures, such relationships are considered as detrimental to family growth and development.

Cross gender behaviors have also been noted in societies throughout time. In many cultures, individuals who express both male and female gender behaviors are not considered gay and in many cultures were even considered to be spiritually gifted, wise, and highly prized as well as protected by communities.

Determining Sexual Orientation

Is sexual orientation truly a personal choice or preference or is it based on sexual orientation depending on the vagaries of nature or on how a boy or girl is nurtured in childhood? Such questions continue to be controversial and promote continuous discussion and argumentation regarding such concepts.

For example, are we genetically programmed at birth to be male or female? Is a human being biologically predisposed to be homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, or asexual? What impact does learning experiences and predispositions have in the development of sexual orientation and sexual identity?

Over the years, many theories have been developed that attempt to answer such questions. Such theories include but are not limited to:
  • Learning theory
  • Psychoanalytic theory
  • Biological theories

For example, those who believe in the learning theory generally believe that behavior is learned. Such individuals also believe that conditioning also plays a large role in gender identity and behavior patterns. This theory relies on the belief that each individual learns to be straight, bisexual, or gay through a variety of learned experiences. According to this theory, homosexuals may have been oriented to such patterns of behavior through such considerations as:

  • Accidental stimulation by same-sex caregivers of genitalia
  • Absence of an opposite sex partner during periods of sexual arousal
  • A lack of heterosexuals skills
  • Excessive attention by same-sex persons

[QN.No.#24.According to learning theory, homosexuals may have been oriented to such patterns of behavior through :]

However, such considerations may also be balanced by the fact that theorists also believe that one single experience isn't enough to reinforce same-sex attraction. Others believe that male-dominant societies and prevalence of same-sex behavior among one gender or another or a lack of influence of opposite sex family members and caregivers may lead individuals to lean toward homosexuality rather than heterosexuality during important growth and developmental phases.

However, this theory also doesn't take into consideration how individuals from strong heterosexual societies develop such sexual orientation when such behavior is not encouraged but frowned upon. Indeed, in America, heterosexual behaviors in relationships are the norm in all forms of media and social behavior expectation.

The psychoanalytic theory is based on Freud's early writings regarding psychosocial development and that homosexuality is the result of over identification with opposite sex parents. Even though such theories were later rejected, the years later attempted to define men who prefer men as having been separated from their mothers at an early age and are the result of dysfunctional family dynamics. In addition, many theorists believe that homosexual behavior was also the result of dominant or overprotective mothers or passive or literally invisible father figures.

Studies in such psychoanalytic theories have recognized and now understand that homosexuality is not generated from dysfunctional family units. It can be said that good or bad parenting has little to play in the development of homosexual orientation in any individual. In addition, studies have also shown that homosexuals don't experience any increase in psychiatric disorders than heterosexuals, or that he or she is suffering from psychological distress or poor social adjustments. In the early 1970s, the American psychiatric Association, under pressure from gay rights activists as well as the results of previous studies removed homosexuality from their list of disorders found in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Biological theories of sexual orientation believed that hormones, genetics, and the development of the brain play a large role in the sexual orientation of any given of individual. Indeed, hormones play a large role in how our bodies developed. In many cases, many scientists today believe that exposure to antigens during fetal development plays a large role in the development of male heterosexuality or female homosexuality. For example, absence of androgens or insensitivity to such androgen hormones will more likely produce a male homosexual or a female heterosexual. However, studies throughout the 1980s and 1990s found little supporting evidence to the role of hormonal abnormalities in the development of homosexuality in males and females.

[QN.No.#25.The beliefs that hormones and genetics play a large role in the sexual orientation of any given individual are found in:]

Hormonal studies then explored the potential of prenatal exposure to estrogens, but such studies involving estrogens and progestin compounds do not support such theories. Scientists then ventured into the study of how hormones may influence sexual orientation based on such hormones influence on brain structures. Research during the early 1990s determined that areas of the brain that are believed to influence sexual functions differ between homosexuals and heterosexuals, but such studies are controversial and based on assumptions related to animal studies and not humans. In addition, other biological factors such as nutrition, brain structure, physiology, and overall health also play a great deal of importance in the growth and development of the brain.

Can homosexuality be inherited? Such is the question for many who engage in genetic studies of homosexuality. In the early 1990s, genetic studies were performed on gay men who had gay brothers as well as sibling pairs and twins. However, the results of such studies are ambiguous at best. While studies produced results a high relationship of homosexuality between identical twins, evidence is lacking that make definitively state the genetic heredity plays an overriding factor in homosexual sexual orientation.


Many of us may wonder how an individual may be sexually attracted to both males and females. However, bisexuality is defined as "sexual orientation in which a person may be emotionally, psychologically, and physically attracted to members of either sex." The field of bisexuality has not received much attention in regards to scientific research because more emphasis is placed on "non-normal" sexual orientation such as that considered to be expressed through homosexuality.

Many bisexuals face prejudice as well as discrimination by both heterosexuals and homosexuals groups. In many situations, those who express bisexual feelings and emotions are erroneously considered to be promiscuous. Sexual behavior in heterosexuals, homosexuals, or bisexuals is not defined simply by sexual behavior but also includes and involves romantic relationships, emotions, and feelings.

Is Sexual Orientation a Choice?

The debate also continues on whether or not sexual orientation is a choice. It is understood that sexual orientation is developed through various environmental factors as well as biological, and emotional factors. Sexual relationships are hard enough to define in heterosexual societies let alone those that involve its homosexuality. Everyone experiences sexual orientation and development in a different way, with different feelings, emotions, and cultural, religious, and moral and ethical considerations.

Many members of society consider sexual orientation to be a choice, and therefore a person consciously decides whether or not to be heterosexual or homosexual. Many of these very same individuals believed that such a good or bad choices reflect on morals, upbringing, and attitude. Many believe that a poor choice, i.e. one that leans toward homosexuality, is irresponsible. These same individuals believed that since homosexuality is a choice that a person who is homosexual can just as easily become heterosexual.

However, individuals must always consider that babies do not choose the environment in which they are raised. They don't choose to be rich or poor; they don't choose what color, culture, or religion they are brought up in. In many instances, such influences play a large role in how we view ourselves. This concept of sexual orientation places a good deal of importance on environmental situations and scenarios, and not the ideas that sexuality can be biological in nature. However, biological considerations or inborn characteristics that lean toward homosexuality are generally unacceptable by major portions of society.

Indeed, many refute comparison between biological or pathological conditions that result in cerebral palsy, cleft palettes, and varying degrees of retardation with those of homosexuality or sexual orientation. In society and cultures around the world, ideas and perceptions of sexual orientation are based on cultural as well as political values.

We will explore the concept of sexual behavior and religion in a later lesson, but for now, realize that religion and the concept of homosexuality vary around the world. Some religions have become more tolerant of the concept of homosexuality, while others continue to consider homosexuality as abnormal, immoral, and unacceptable.

Because in most religious cultures, procreation is the goal of sexual activities and anything that does not follow such goals is considered amoral. Religions such as Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism are examples of such beliefs that frown upon such relationships and behaviors. However, other religions consider various sexual activities within heterosexual relationships to be acceptable, including Judaism, some Islam sects, and some Christians, including Roman Catholics, Methodist, and Baptist, which don't necessarily accept homosexuality per se, but do not necessarily condemn individuals engaged in such behaviors.

Do Origins Matter?

The controversy over sexual orientation is likely to continue. Some researchers today believe that prejudice and attitudes as well as hostility targeted against homosexuals in many Western cultures may be alleviated through a greater understanding of sexual orientation. In many cases, such negativity is based on false information as well as online information regarding homosexuality.

Some researchers and analysts believe that sexual orientation is determined in a great extent by biological and genetic considerations, much like sex, race, and hair color.

Regardless, discrimination follows many homosexual relationships into the 21st century. Nondiscrimination and antidiscrimination laws involving sexual orientation are present in less than 10% of countries around the world. Few laws in the United States protect people from discrimination dependent on their sexual orientation.

In many cultures around the world, same-sex behavior in a variety of countries carries with it a variety of punishments. For example, gay males in Kenya may be sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment, while a gay male in Nigeria or the Sudan may face death. In Jamaica, a gay male may face 10 years of hard labor while in Afghanistan, both lesbians and gay males may face death. In Bombay, gay males and lesbians may face life in prison, with equal penalties in India and Nepal. In Pakistan, gay males and lesbians may face death, while in the Middle East, countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia also sentence practitioners to death.


America is a predominantly heterosexual society, though most heterosexuals have a least one acquaintance, friend, or family member who is a lesbian, gay, or bisexual, whether that knowledge is known within the family unit or not. Understanding gender roles, the differences between masculine and feminine behaviors and attitudes often influences sexual orientation. Our next lesson will focus on gender roles and viewpoints and explore the differences between masculine and feminine behaviors and attitudes as well as the impact that male and female gender roles place on our sexual growth and development.

Human Sexuality > Chapter 4
Page Last Modified On: February 16, 2015, 07:41 PM