Biological vs. Environmental Factors (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
Sexual orientation is a fundamental aspect of human sexuality that usually results in females mating with males (heterosexuality). Sexual orientation may be closely linked to sexual experience, but many factors (social, religious, or logistic) can decrease the correlation. As a result, the frequency of homosexuality (a sexual orientation or attraction to persons of the same sex) varies from approximately 2 to 10 percent of the population, depending on how homosexuality is defined and measured. In general, there appears to be a continuum, from exclusive heterosexuality (90 to 92 percent) to exclusive homosexuality (1 to 4 percent) with many people falling somewhere between. Like most complex behaviors, homosexuality is probably influenced by both biological and environmental factors. The exact mechanism may differ for individuals who appear to exhibit similar behavioral patterns.
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Genetic Influences (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
The genetic basis of homosexuality has been assessed using twin studies and pedigree analysis. Lesbians are approximately three times as likely as heterosexual women to have lesbian sisters and generally have more lesbian relatives as well, which suggests that genes as well as environmental factors influence homosexuality in women. Similarly, among men, concordance in sexual orientation among monozygotic (MZ) twins is greater than that for dizygotic (DZ) twins or nontwin brothers. Since MZ twins share 100 percent of their genes but are not always either both straight or both gay, sexual orientation cannot be 100 percent due to genes.
Heritability of homosexuality has been estimated at 30 to 75 percent for men and at 25 to 76 percent for women. The different rates of heritability and frequency, with lesbians typically representing a smaller proportion of the population than gay men, suggests that men’s and women’s sexuality may have different origins. The X-linked locus associated with homosexuality in some men (Xq28, according to D. H. Hamer and S. Hu, 1993) does not appear to be associated with lesbianism (according to Hu et al., 1995). Further, research suggests that men’s orientation is bimodal in distribution relative to the Kinsey scale of sexual orientation, whereas women’s orientation is distributed more continuously and is more likely than men’s to change through adulthood.
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Neurohormonal InfluencesHormoneshomosexuality and (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
Adult homosexuals do not differ from their heterosexual counterparts in terms of circulating levels of sex hormones. Instead, the neuroendocrine theory predicts that prenatal exposure to high levels of androgens masculinizes brain structures and influences sexual orientation. Consistent with this, women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) who experience atypically high levels of androgens prenatally appear to be somewhat more likely to engage in same-sex sexual fantasies and behavior compared to heterosexual women, whereas XY women with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (cAIS) do not exhibit increased expression of lesbianism. Exposure to the synthetic estrogen DES, which is also thought to have a demasculating effect on the brain, also appears to influence women’s sexuality modestly and to induce higher levels of homosexuality.
Stress hormones generally reduce the production of sex hormones. The level and timing of stress experienced by women during pregnancy may therefore also affect the amount of sex hormones experienced prenatally and hence the sexual differentiation and organizational phase of early brain development. Studies suggest that some women who experience stress during pregnancy may be more likely to have homosexual children, but the data are still preliminary.
Given that most homosexuals do not have one of the aforementioned hormonal conditions and most...
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Neuroanatomical Influences (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
Although stereotypes exist, there is no overall lesbian or gay physique. There is some evidence that gay men’s brains may differ from heterosexual men’s in some structures where sexual dimorphism also occurs (for example, interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalmus 3, suprachiasmatic nucleus in the anterior hypothalamus and the anterior commissure), presumably due to the organizational effects of sex hormones. Structure size varies considerably both within and between sexes; however, all three structures appear to differ significantly in size for gay versus heterosexual men. It is not yet clear whether these differences cause homosexual activity or are caused by it.
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Evolutionary Perspective (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
Evolutionary biologists have suggested that homosexuality may persist because there is little cost associated with the behavior. In situations in which homosexuality is not exclusive (that is, most individuals engage in heterosexual as well as homosexual liaisons) homosexuals would experience little or no decline in reproductive success. This could occur when marriage is compulsory, where there are strict gender roles and religious requirements, or when homosexual behavior is situational or opportunistic. Similarly, in situations in which individuals are exclusively homosexual and experience no direct individual fitness (that is, no offspring are produced), homosexuals can reduce the reproductive cost by increasing their inclusive fitness via contributions to relatives’ offspring. Consistent with the latter hypothesis, there is some evidence that gay men exhibit increased levels of empathy, an accepted indicator of altruism.
Homosexuality is one of the three most common expressions of human sexual orientation and has been observed throughout human history and across religions and cultures. Like other complex behavioral traits, sexual orientation appears to be influenced by both biological and environmental factors. There is some evidence that situational or opportunistic homosexuality may differ from obligatory homosexuality and that the mechanisms influencing sexual orientation may be different in gay men and...
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Further Reading (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
Berman, Louis A. The Puzzle: Exploring the Evolutionary Puzzle of Male Homosexuality. Wilmette, Ill.: Godot, 2003. Berman, a psychologist, maintains that human male homosexuality has no evolutionary function and is a by-product of the effects of testosterone on the brain during prenatal development.
Diamant, L., and R. McAnuity, eds. The Psychology of Sexual Orientation, Behavior, and Identity: A Handbook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Draws from biological and psychological research to provide a comprehensive overview of the major theories about sexual orientation; to summarize developments in genetic and neuroanatomic research; to consider the role of social institutions in shaping current beliefs; and to discuss the social construction of gender, sexuality, and sexual identity.
Hamer, D. H., and S. Hu. “A Linkage Between DNA Markers on the X Chromosome and Male Sexual Orientation.” Science 261, no. 5119 (July 16, 1993): 321-327. The first study to identify genetic markers for male sexual orientation.
Haynes, Felicity, and Tarquam McKenna. Unseen Genders: Beyond the Binaries. New York: Peter Lang, 2001. Explores the effects of binary stereotypes of sex and gender on transsexuals, homosexuals, cross-dressers, and transgender and intersex people.
Hu, S., et al. “Linkage Between Sexual Orientation and Chromosome Xq28 in Males but Not in Females.”...
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Web Sites of Interest (Genetics & Inherited Conditions)
About Gender. http://www.gender.org.uk. A site that looks at the nature versus nurture debate in research on gender roles, identity, and variance, with special emphasis on genetics.
American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/topics/sorientation.html. Contains an online brochure that answers numerous questions about sexual orientation and homosexuality.
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. http://www.pflag.org. Site includes a section on frequently asked questions, as well as information about local chapters, news, and public advocacy.
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. http://www.siecus.org. A vast resource on all aspects of sex and sexuality. Includes links for teenagers, public policy issues, school health, and a searchable bibliography database.
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Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Theories on the origin and development of sexual orientation can be categorized into four groups: psychoanalytic, biological, social learning, and sociobiological theories. Psychoanalytic theories are based on the Freudian model of psychosexual stages of development, developed by Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. According to this model, every child goes through several stages, including the phallic stage, during which the child learns to identify with the same-sex parent. For boys, this is supposed to be particularly difficult, since it requires redefining the strong bond that they have had with their mother since birth. According to Freudian theorists, homosexuality is an outcome of the failure to resolve this developmental crisis: If a boy’s father is absent or “weak” and his mother is domineering or overprotective, the boy may never come to identify with his father; for a girl, having a “cold” or rejecting mother could prevent her from identifying with the female role. However, Freud himself said in his original work that he felt most humans’ natural inclinations were toward bisexuality.
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Theoretical Models (Psychology and Mental Health)
Research has found that same-sex attracted individuals are, in fact, more likely to feel an inability to relate to their same-sex parent than are heterosexuals and to report that the same-sex parent was “cold” or “distant” during their childhood. Some studies have suggested, however, that this psychological distance between parent and offspring is found mostly in families with children who show cross-gender behaviors when very young and that the distancing is more likely to be a result of preexisting differences in the child than as a cause of later differences.
Biological studies over the years have suggested that same-sex attraction is found in almost all animal species that have been studied. Bonobo chimpanzees, dolphins, lions, sheep, penguins, and many other species have been extensively studied and shown to form continuing, same-sex preferences even if there is ample availability of opposite-sex members. Biological theories have also considered a genetic component, unusual hormone levels, or prenatal maternal effects on the developing fetus. Although there may be genes that predispose a person to preferring same-sex partners, no specific genes for homosexuality have thus far been discovered. Most scientists believe that it is a combination of biological events and social circumstances rather than one determining factor that result in same-sex preferences. Similarly, there are no consistent differences between...
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Before the gay liberation movement of the 1970’s, homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder. In the 1970’s, however, when psychiatrists were revising the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (2d ed., 1968, DSM-II), they removed homosexuality from the list of illnesses. The subsequent editions of the manual no longer list homosexuality as a disease. Homosexuality is not associated with disordered thinking or impaired abilities in any way. Therefore, counseling or therapy for the purpose of changing sexual orientation is not recommended. Even when sought, such therapy is rarely successful. On the other hand, many gays and lesbians, especially adolescents, do benefit from counseling, which provides information, support, and ways to cope with their sexuality. Many who complete a successful round of counseling are empowered, have a better self-image, and are better able to cope with a sometimes hostile society.
For men, sexual orientation seems to be fixed at an early age; most gay men feel as though they have always been homosexual, just as most heterosexual men feel as if they have always been heterosexual. In women, however, sexual orientation is less likely to be fixed early; some women change from a heterosexual to homosexual orientation (or vice versa) in adulthood. In such cases, sexual orientation may be more of a choice than the acting out of...
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The Homosexual Spectrum (Psychology and Mental Health)
The word “homosexual” is commonly used as a noun, referring to someone who is sexually attracted to and has sexual relations with members of the same sex. Most same-sex attracted people now prefer the term gay or lesbian and consider themselves a part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) community. The labels “homosexual” and “heterosexual” are misleading, however, as many people who call themselves homosexual have engaged in heterosexual activity; similarly, many people who call themselves heterosexual have at some time engaged in some sort of same-sex activity. Therefore, many sex researchers (sexologists) use a seven-point scale first devised for the Alfred Kinsey surveys in the 1940’s, ranging from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual). Others prefer to use the words “heterosexual” and “homosexual” as adjectives describing behaviors rather than as nouns.
Homosexual behavior has been documented in every society that sexologists have studied; in many societies, it has been institutionalized. For example, the ancient Greeks believed that women were spiritually beneath men and that male-male love was the highest form of the emotion. In Melanesian societies, homosexual activity was thought to be necessary for young boys to mature into virile, heterosexual adults. In pre-Colombian South America, homosexual and transgendered relationships were quite common....
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Negative Cultural Stereotypes (Psychology and Mental Health)
In Western culture, even though homosexual behavior has long been considered taboo or sinful under Christianity, a small number of religious organizations are allowing the ordination of ministers who are gay or lesbian and sanctioning same-sex unions. The GLBT community is gradually becoming viewed as people following an alternative lifestyle, and increasingly, the acts of its members are no longer universally condemned or judged to be completely incompatible with Judeo-Christian beliefs.
Many heterosexuals (especially men) still harbor prejudices regarding gays and lesbians, a phenomenon called homophobia. Some of this unwarranted fear, disgust, and hatred is attributable to the incorrect belief that many homosexuals are child molesters. The statistics actually show that more than 90 percent of pedophiles are heterosexual.
Another source of homophobia is the fear of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). This deadly, sexually transmitted disease is more easily transmitted through anal intercourse than through vaginal intercourse and thus at first spread more rapidly among homosexuals. However, after large populations of women became infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)—60 percent of cases in sub-Saharan Africa and 48 percent in the Caribbean are in women—the gay stigma attached to AIDS has lessened. Safe-sex practices have dramatically reduced transmission rates in homosexual...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Bagemihl, Bruce. Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Fascinating account by a wildlife biologist who makes the case that some 450 species occasionally engage in homosexual behavior. Challenges the notion that all animal sexual behavior is driven by procreation.
Baird, Vanessa. The No-Nonsense Guide to Sexual Diversity. New York: Verso, 2001. A wide-ranging survey of cultural attitudes toward homosexuality throughout the world and over time. Provides a country-by-country survey of laws concerning homosexuality and addresses the rise in opposition to sexual nonconformism among religious fundamentalists.
Bell, Alan P., and Martin Weinberg. Homosexualities: A Study of Diversity Among Men and Women. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978. This official Kinsey Institute publication presents the methods and results of the most extensive sex survey to focus specifically on homosexual behavior. Presents descriptions of homosexual feelings, partnerships, and lifestyles, based on intensive interviews with more than fifteen hundred men and women.
Brookey, Robert Alan. Reinventing the Male Homosexual: The Rhetoric and Power of the Gay Gene. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. Discusses recent attempts to identify a genetic component to sexual orientation and the cultural effect of such research on gay...
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Homosexuality (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
Enduring emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to individuals of one's own gender.
For most of history, open discussions about homo-sexualityexual attraction to people of one's own genderave been taboo. Men and women with a homosexual orientation are referred to as gay, while the term lesbian refers to women only. Homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder until 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association removed "homosexuality" from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Two decades later, bias and discrimination against gays and lesbians still exists, but sexual orientation is discussed more openly.
There are no reliable statistics on the number of people who are homosexual. The American researcher Alfred C. Kinsey conducted extensive surveys on sexual behavior in the 1950s, and estimated that about 4% of men and 3% of women were exclusively homosexual; however, his research found that 37% of men and 28% of women had had some sexual experience with a person of their own gender. Most researchers in the 1990s estimate the percentage of the population with homosexual orientation at about 5%, while recognizing that the estimate is based on projections, not hard statistics.
The four components of human sexuality are biological sex, gender...
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Homosexuality (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
The term homosexuality designates a sexual orientation in which a person of the same sex is the object.
The term was apparently coined in 1869, from the Greek homos ("same"), by K. M. Benkert, a writer who published his works under the pseudonym Kertbeny Karoli. He was a defender of sexual rights, and he used the term "homosexual" during discussions on whether to change paragraph 143 of the Prussian Constitution of April 14, 1851, which punished acts of "unnatural indecency" committed between men, or between a man and an animal.
It is highly surprising that Freud took no interest in this manifestation of sexual life during the first years of psychoanalysis, despite the abundant literature on the topic by such writers as Jean-Martin Charcot, Valentin Magnan, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Albert Moll, Magnus Hirschfeld, and others. Though Freud views neurosis as the "negative of perversion" (without mentioning homosexuality), this is because he supposes that psychic processes do not undergo repression in the "pervert." Moreover, the theory of bisexuality (Freud-Fliess) introduces the question, albeit under the veil of biology. However, Freud did undertake to analyze a homosexual patient at the end of the nineteenth century, but the patient concerned apparently committed suicide at Trafoi.
The arrival of Isidore Sadger in Freud's circle in 1906 was to be decisive. As dialogue between him and Freud led to the laying down of an "etiological formula": masculine homosexuality results from a boy's childhood repression of the existence of a "strong" mother and a weak or absent father (Freud, 1910c). In the debate with Sadger, who adhered to the seduction theory, Freud proposed etiological variants in which the boy's arousal is transposed from the mother onto men (1905d ), or else there is identification with the mother, hatred towards boys is converted into love, there is a "narcissistic" fixation on the penis, or we see identification with the mother leading to repression of love for the mother (Nunberg, Federn, 1962-75). The theory of narcissism that developed in tandem with that of homosexuality opened up a path that Freud left relatively unexplored: the transmission of narcissism. Thus, Freud's descriptions in "On Narcissism: An Introduction" (1914c)A person may love . . . according to the narcissistic type . . . (a) what he himself is (i.e., himself), (b) what he himself was" (p. 90)ould be supplemented by formulae such as "a person loves that which the other wants him to be" and, eventually, "a person loves in himself that which the other would have liked to have or to be" (p. 90).
The other area barely outlined by Freud in the discussions of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society is that of the passage from autoeroticism to narcissism: "In general, man has two original sexual objects and his later life depends on the one upon which he remains fixated. These two sexual objects are, for each individual, the woman (the mother, the children's nurse, etc.) and his own person. It is a question of getting rid of both of them and not lingering over them. One's own person is the one which, most often, is replaced by the father; the latter soon enters the hostile position. Homosexuality bifurcates at this point. The homosexual is unable to detach himself from himself so soon" (1914c). This heavily significant appearance of the father-figure was not followed up in the etiology of masculine homosexuality but it was later to be found in the analysis of male paranoia (the Schreber case, reported in "Psycho-Analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia [Dementia Paranoides]": 1911c ), in which a pathological defense against homosexuality develops, though the role of the father is never specified. Is he an agent of culture because he brandishes castration in the name of the law that forbids masturbation and the mother? Might he not also fill a role as seducer?
In 1910, homosexuality was defined by the characteristics of the object or the subject, but in 1915, in place of this distinction, Freud returned to the conception he had earlier developed with Fliess: the object is merely the reflection of the bisexual nature of the subject ("Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality," 1905d ).
Homosexuality in women would remain less well explored ("The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman," 1920a), because the transposition of the etiological formula for menpecifically, excessive love for the fatherften works less well.
As Sándor Ferenczi remarked in 1914, drawing a distinction between "subject homoerotism" and "object homoerotism" (Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, note added in 1920, p. 147), psychoanalysis relied right from the start on a model of the "feminine man" and thus neglected the masculinity present in other homosexual men, just as it ignored the femininity of certain lesbians.
Since the 1970s, as homosexuality became more openly discussed, several authors (Chasseguet-Smirgel, J., et al., 1964; Isay, R. A., 1986) have communicated clinical observations that suggest other etiologies. But the psychoanalytic perspective has again become clouded by the way the question of "gender" has been biologized (Robert Stoller). Gays themselves have embraced theories of innate or physiological homosexuality in order to defend themselves against the inquisitorial persecution long meted out to them by justice, medicine, and even psychoanalysis.
Nonetheless, a first step towards the lessening of homophobia, on a basis other than that of moral principles, was taken by Freud, who put forward the idea that a manifest sexual tendency (heterosexuality, for instance) could conceal another, opposite tendency that remains latent (such as homosexuality). However, although Freud went along with increasingly progressive attitudes in society, he remained just as reserved as did societyitness this rather ambiguous and nuanced letter that he wrote in 1935 to the mother of a homosexual, whose sexuality he did not view as an illness but as a case of arrested development (while only heterosexuality is treated as normal): "Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.) It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crimend a cruelty, too. . . . By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual; in the majority of cases it is no more possible" (Letters of Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939, p. 423). However, such permissiveness was contradicted by the fact that from 1920 onwards many psychoanalytic societies refused to admit openly homosexual candidates.
The response to the theoretical and practical debate around homosexuality was nevertheless present, in embryonic form, in Freud's conceptualization of the sexual instinct in 1905. Indeed, at the beginning of the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality following Charcot and Magnan, he used the highly inappropriate word "inversion" to prove demonstrate that the instinct has no predefined object.
See also: Activity/passivity; Alcoholism; Anality; Dark continent; Eroticism, anal; Female sexuality; Fetishism; Heterosexuality; Identification; "Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood"; Libido; Narcissism, secondary; Neurosis; Paranoia; Paranoid position; Persecution; Perversion; Phallic mother; Projection; Psychology of Women, The: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation, Psycho-pathologie de l'échec (Psychopathology of Failure); Sadger, Isidor Isaak; Suicide; Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.
Bieber, Irving, et al. (1962). Homosexuality, a psychoanalytical study. New York: Basic Books.
Chasseguet-Smirgel, Jacqueline, et al. (1964). Female sexuality: New psychoanalytic views. London: Virago.
Freud, Sigmund. (1960). Letters of Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939. (Ernst L. Freud, Ed.; Tania and James Stern, Trans.). New York: Basic Books.
Isay, Richard A. (1986). The development of sexual identity in homosexual men. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 41.
Lewes, Kenneth. (1988). The psychoanalytic theory of male homosexuality. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Socarides, Charles W. (1978). Homosexuality. New York: Jason Aronson.
Friedman, Robert. (1988). Male homosexuality. A contemporary psychoanalytic perspective. New Haven and London: Yale University Press
Roughton, Ralph. (2002). Rethinking homosexuality: What it teaches us about psychoanalysis. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 50, 733-764.