Homosexuality is a term used to describe the sexual and emotional attraction that an individual experiences towards members of his or her own sex. The term first appeared in the nineteenth century although homosexual relations have been part of philosophical discussion from as early as the Classical Greek period. The term refers to two distinct phenomena — male attraction to male and female attraction to female.
Homosexuality is often described as sexual orientation. That idea suggests that the boundary between homosexuality and heterosexuality is not particularly rigid. Certain studies have proved that most individuals experience some kind of erotic attraction to both sexes. Those interested in both males and females are bisexuals while individuals that feel they belong to the opposite sex are transsexuals.
Homosexuals – now more commonly known as gays and lesbians — became more visible from the start of the gay liberation movement in 1969 through the early 1980s. By the end of the twentieth century interest towards homosexuality as a phenomenon had grown significantly on the back of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) epidemic and civil rights battles. In the twenty-first century homosexuality is widely accepted and, in many countries and states, gay marriage is now legal. However, young men and women who start realizing that their sexual interests do not correspond to the common model in society can face serious opposition from a homophobic element in society.
Throughout history there have been various, sometimes contradicting, explanations of homosexuality. Early Christianity, for example, regarded it as a sin, but not a significant one. Homosexuality has even been considered as a psychological disorder. German scholars and physicians performed what are believed to be the first scientific explorations of sexual preference late in the nineteenth and early in the twentieth century. Writer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825 to 1895) was among the first researchers in the field and one of the first self-proclaimed homosexuals.
German homosexuality researcher and psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840 to 1902) argued that the purpose of sex was reproduction and that all sexual activities that did not arrive at that ultimate purpose were "unnatural practices" or perversions of the sexual instinct. Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, published in 1887, was one of the most widely spread works on sex during his time.
Other German scholars that explored the topic of homosexuality include Carl Westphal (1833 to 1890) and Magnus Hirschfeld (1868 to 1935). Together with Krafft-Ebing and Ulrichs they arrived at the conclusion that male homosexuality was a common thing but failed to explain its origins. They accepted Hirschfeld's view that people were born that way. Research in the twenty-first century widely supports that view. Gay animals have also been proven to exist, a discovery that significantly contradicts both Christian theories and Krafft-Ebing's view.
German scholars did not pay any attention to women's sexual preferences as most men in the nineteenth century believed that women were not at all interested in sex. Research about lesbians remained scant and scattered even after female sexuality was acknowledged in the twentieth century. Katherine Bement Davis (1860 to 1935) carried out the first major study regarding lesbians in 1929. Discussions on the differences between gays and lesbians and the biological and social dimensions are now more commonplace. Some argue that discussions of homosexuality should be gender specific, which would mean that generalizations on the topic should give way to discussions either about women who are interested in women or specifically about gay men.
With the evolution of psychoanalysis in the early twentieth century a new definition of homosexuality appeared. According to psychoanalysts all sexual behavior that was not in line with the societal norms represented a treatable illness. Initially psychoanalysis explained homosexual behavior in males with an Oedipus complex, while in females, penis envy was considered the main reason.
The illness theory, however, did not hold up to serious scientific research. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association dropped ordinary homosexuality from the list of diagnoses that it publishes periodically. Homosexuality was no longer considered an illness. North American psychologist Evelyn Hooker (1907 to 1996) contributed significantly to that change. She examined the psychological profiles and life styles of a small group of homosexual men in depth. Comparing them to heterosexual men, she concluded their scores on psychological adjustment tests were similar and that the life styles of gay men vary greatly. Further research confirmed her conclusion.