Sexual Orientation

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, sexual orientation refers to "the general attraction you feel towards people of one sex or another (or both). This relates to a person's emotional, romantic and sexual attraction to individuals of a particular gender and also determines a person's sense of identity. The concept is generally divided into three categories: heterosexual, which means having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of the other sex; gay/lesbian, which refers to having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of one's own sex; and bisexual, which means having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to both men and women.

Scientists are still trying to establish the exact reasons why an individual develops a certain orientation and research has been undertaken into the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences that determine this. Homosexuality was once thought to be caused by the flawed family or faulty psychological development. These assumptions are now understood to have been based on misinformation and prejudice. Many researchers consider sexual orientation to be the result of a combination of environmental, emotional, hormonal and biological factors. They agree that many factors contribute to a person's sexual orientation. Research shows that the way parents raise a child does not determine his or her homosexuality and bisexuality, neither does a sexual experience with someone of the same sex when the person is young.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official diagnostic manual. The action was taken following a review of the scientific literature and consultation with experts in the field who found that homosexuality does not meet the criteria to be considered a mental illness. Scientists have discovered that lesbian, gay and bisexual orientations are not linked to psychopathology as some had suggested in the past. Contrary to some conceptions that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are suffering from mental health problems, several decades of research point to the fact that these sexual preferences represent normal forms of human experience and human bonding. Mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies designed to modify sexual orientation. There is no evidence that therapies aimed at changing sexual orientation are safe or effective.

Most people become aware of their sexual orientation during adolescence or young adulthood. Sexual experience is not necessary for a person to realize his or her sexual orientation as people can be celibate and still know their sexual orientation. Fantasies or curiosity about people of the same sex does not necessarily mean that a person is homosexual or bisexual. Some people know that they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual for a long time before they actually pursue relationships with other people. Many people hesitate to openly declare their sexual orientation for fear of prejudice and discrimination. Therefore, coming out as a lesbian, gay, or bisexual may be a slow process. Some people with homosexual or bisexual identity may prefer to live as heterosexuals to avoid prejudice or to their own moral dilemmas when they cannot reconcile their sexual orientation with their personal beliefs.

Many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people face prejudice, discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation. Public opinion polls conducted between the 1970s and 1990s revealed that people generally have a negative attitude toward lesbian, gay and bisexual people and that lesbians and gay men still encounter a great deal of hostility. There are many support groups, including LGBT America, the African American Lesbian and Gay Association and the American Institute of Bisexuality who all campaign for the rights of gay and lesbian people.

Coming out, or the disclosing of people's sexual orientation, is deemed an important psychological step for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. The positive attitude towards a person's sexual orientation and the ability to accept it helps maintain good mental health. An individual who reveals their sexual identity also increases the chance of receiving social support, which is important for mental health and psychological well-being. It is estimated that lesbians and gay men who choose to conceal their sexual orientation report more frequent mental health concerns than lesbians and gay men who are more open. People who hide their sexual preferences are also more likely to have physical health problems.

Sexual Orientation: Selected full-text books and articles

Sexual Orientation and Psychoanalysis: Sexual Science and Clinical Practice By Richard C. Friedman; Jennifer I. Downey Columbia University Press, 2002
Can Anyone Tell Me Why I'm Gay? What Research Suggests regarding the Origins of Sexual Orientation By Jenkins, William J North American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 12, No. 2, June 2010
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Trouble with Nature: Sex in Science and Popular Culture By Roger N. Lancaster University of California Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 18 "The Biology of the Homosexual"
Sexual Orientation and Its Relation to Mental Disorders and Suicide Attempts: Findings from a Nationally Representative Sample By Bolton, Shay-Lee; Sareen, Jitender Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 56, No. 1, January 2011
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Sexual Orientation, Discrimination, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights By Yecies, Sharon Chicago Journal of International Law, Vol. 11, No. 2, Winter 2011
The Ethics of Genetic Research on Sexual Orientation By Schuklenk, Udo; Stein, Edward; Kerin, Jacinta; Byne, William The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 27, No. 4, July-August 1997
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Gay Science: The Ethics of Sexual Orientation Research By Timothy F. Murphy Columbia University Press, 1997
Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities in Families: Psychological Perspectives By Charlotte J. Patterson; Anthony R. D'Augelli Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Behavioral Genetics, Sexual Orientation, and the Family" and Chap. 2 "Biopsychosocial Interactions and the Development of Sexual Orientation"
Sexual Orientation & Human Rights in American Religious Discourse By Saul M. Olyan; Martha C. Nussbaum Oxford University Press, 1998
Parents' Awareness of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youths' Sexual Orientation By D'Augelli, Anthony R.; Grossman, Arnold H.; Starks, Michael T Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 67, No. 2, May 2005
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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