SEXUALITY AND SEXUAL ORIENTATION

An essential part of sexual identity is sexual orientation. Sexual orientation refers to a person’s enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectionate attraction to other persons. You may be primarily attracted to members of the other sex (heterosexual), your same sex (homosexual), or both sexes (bisexual).
Homosexuality refers to emotional and sexual attachment to persons of the same sex. Many homosexuals prefer the use of the terms gay and lesbian to describe their sexual orientations, as these terms go beyond the exclusively sexual connotation of the term homosexual. The term gay can be applied to both men and women, but the term lesbian is applied only to women.
Bisexuality refers to emotional attachment and sexual attraction to members of both sexes. Bisexuals may face great social stigma, as they are often ostracized by homosexuals as well as by heterosexuals. Little research has been done on this segment of the population, and many bisexuals remain hidden or closeted.
Throughout history, the mental health status of gays and lesbians has been debated by scientists and laypersons alike. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association’s board of trustees unanimously voted that homosexuality was not a mental illness or psychiatric disorder. This position was affirmed by the American Psychological Association and the Board of Directors of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Recently, the issue of homosexuality as a treatable “disease” has been resurrected. Therapies labeled as conversion or reparative therapies are being promoted in a series of full-page print ads in national newspapers and in television ads. Mental health professionals have found these ads so troubling that a special resolution was passed by the American Psychological Association reaffirming that homosexuality is not a disease or disorder in need of treatment or a “cure.”
Most researchers today agree that sexual orientation is best understood using a multifactorial model, which incorporates biological, psychological, and socioenvironmental factors. Biological explanations focus on research into genetics, hormones (perinatal and postpubertal), and differences in brain anatomy, while psychological and socioenvironmental explanations examine parent-child interactions, sex roles, and early sexual and interpersonal interactions. Collectively, this growing body of research suggests that the origins of homosexuality, like heterosexuality, are complex. To diminish the complexity of sexual orientation to “a choice” is a clear misrepresentation of current research. Homosexuals do not “choose” their sexual orientation any more than heterosexuals do.
Much of people’s need for “explaining” homosexual needs, feelings, and behaviors arise from a fear of the unknown. In many instances, those fears are irrational. Irrational fear or hatred of homosexuality creates antigay prejudice and is expressed as homophobia. Homophobia in our society is expressed in many ways, subtle and not so subtle. Homophobic behaviors range from avoiding hugging same-sex friends to name-calling and physical attacks. Herek and colleagues surveyed 2,259 gay and lesbian people and found that one in five women and one in four men had been victimized in the preceding 5 years because of their sexual orientation.
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