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Sexual Orientation
• Sexual orientation is defined by whom we are attracted to and have the potential for loving.
– erotic and emotional orientation toward one’s own gender, the opposite gender
• Sexual identity refers to one’s self-label or self-identification as heterosexual, homosexual, or
Attitudes about Homosexuality
• 2006 study indicated 55% of adult Americans believe homosexual behavior is always wrong
– proportion of population disapproving has decreased significantly in last 30 years
– most Americans’ attitudes reflect homophobia, antigay prejudice, heterosexism
• hate crimes against gays & lesbians are common
– Franklin’s research conclusions regarding causes/motivations
o enforcement of gender norms
o peer dynamics
o thrill seeking
o social powerlessness
LGBs as a Minority Group
• subject of negative attitudes, false stereotypes
• suffer from job discrimination, housing discrimination
• victims of hate crimes
• differ from other minorities in that they are not easily identified
Establishing a Gay or Lesbian Identity
• coming out process
– acknowledgement to self and others: vulnerable, acceptance or rejection critical to self-esteem
– exploration: contact LGB community , develop new interpersonal skills
– forming first relationships; short lived, turbulent
– integration: functioning member of society, capable of long-term relationship
• stages of identity development
– identity confusion: assumed heterosexual identity, confused by same gender attractions and
– identity comparison: may be homosexual, loss of comfortable heterosexual identity
– identity tolerance: probably homosexual, seeks affirmation
– identity acceptance: accept own homosexual identity
– identity pride: dichotomize world into (good) homosexuals and (not good) heterosexuals
– identity synthesis: no longer hold us vs. them attitude
Facts about Lesbians and Gays
• lesbian and gay relationships are very similar to straight relationships
• most in steady relationships, dealing with same adjustment issues, no difference in frequency
of sex
• no difference in psychological development of children raised by gay or straight parents
• crucial factor is presence of at least one supportive, accepting caregiver
• children no more likely to be gay than those in straight families
• lesbians and gays seem to be as well adjusted psychologically as straights
remarkable consider antigay prejudice in society
o higher rates of depression & suicide among LGBs reflect greater exposure to prejudice,
hate crimes, & stress of concealing identity; not that homosexuality indicates mental illness
How many people are gay, straight, or bi?
• Mutually exclusive categories are meaningless
• Kinsey’s continuum from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality
• NSFG & NHSLS surveys (adjusted to allow for concealment)
• about 90% of men and 90% of women are exclusively heterosexual
• about 10% of men and 10% of women have had at least one same gender sexual experience
in adulthood
• about 2% of men and 1% of women are exclusively homosexual
• about 1.8% of men and 2.8% of women claim bisexual identity
o Women are more likely to be bisexual and less likely to be exclusively homosexual than
Among both heterosexuals & homosexuals, women show more flexibility or change over time in their
sexual orientation (sexual fluidity).
Why do people become gay (or straight)?
• Biological theories
– genetic factors
– prenatal factors
– brain factors
– hormonal imbalance
• Learning theory
– people are born sexual, not heterosexual or homosexual
– + or – reinforcements (rewards or punishments) in early learning experiences result in
predominant homosexuality or predominant heterosexuality
• Interactionist theory
– includes biological factors and environmental experiences
– designed to explain sexual orientation rather than homosexuality
• Sociological theories
– Labeling theory: acceptance of label becomes self-fulfilling prophecy
– Reiss’ explanation of cross-cultural differences
o 1. societies that have high maternal & low father involvement w/infants, and that have rigid
gender roles, have the highest incidence of male homosexuality
o 2. in less gender rigid societies with more permissiveness about sexuality, individuals feel
freer to experiment w/same gender behavior & may find it satisfying
So, which theory is right?
• In summary, we do not know what causes sexual orientation.
• Unlike gender identity which is determined in childhood, sexual identity (and orientation) continues
to evolve into adulthood for some people.
• There is probably not a single cause of homosexuality (or heterosexuality), but rather many
• Why isn’t everyone bisexual?
Multicultural Differences
• Less tolerance of homosexuality among non-white Americans than white Americans
– lowest level of tolerance in African American community
• Black & Latino men more likely than White men to engage extensively in homosexual behavior
while still considering themselves heterosexual (“down low”)
• Mexican American men engaging in anal intercourse are more likely than White men to
exclusively adopt either the role of inserting partner or receptive partner
– The inserting partner is not considered homosexual or stigmatized, but the receptive
partner is considered unmanly, feminine, & homosexual.
• A bisexual is a person whose sexual orientation is toward members of the same gender as well as
members of the other gender.
• bisexuality is more common than exclusive homosexuality
• bisexuality is viewed with suspicion and hostility by many in the gay community
• monogamy is an issue for bisexuals
• bisexual men and women usually begin to think of themselves as bisexual in their early to midtwenties
• women usually have heterosexual attractions and experiences before homosexual ones
• men more likely to have homosexual experiences first, followed by heterosexual ones
Importance of late occurring experiences in shaping one’s sexual behavior and identity
• unlike gender identity, which seems to be fixed in preschool years, sexual identity seems to
evolve in adulthood for some people (especially women)