Homosexuality and India

By Rao, T. Sathyanarayana; Jacob, K. | Indian Journal of Psychiatry, January-March 2012 | Go to article overview

Homosexuality and India


Rao, T. Sathyanarayana, Jacob, K., Indian Journal of Psychiatry


Byline: T. Sathyanarayana Rao, K. Jacob

The shift in the understanding of homosexuality from sin, crime and pathology to a normal variant of human sexuality occurred in the late 20 [sup]th century. [sup][1],[2] The American Psychiatric Association, in 1973, and the World Health Organisation, in 1992, officially accepted its normal variant status. Many countries have since decriminalised homosexual behavior and some have recognised same-sex civil unions and marriage.

The new understanding was based on studies that documented a high prevalence of same-sex feelings and behavior in men and women, its prevalence across cultures and among almost all non-human primate species. [sup][2] Investigations using psychological tests could not differentiate heterosexual from homosexual orientation. Research also demonstrated that people with homosexual orientation did not have any objective psychological dysfunction or impairments in judgement, stability and vocational capabilities. Psychiatric, psychoanalytic, medical and mental health professionals now consider homosexuality as a normal variation of human sexuality.

Human sexuality is complex. [sup][2] The acceptance of the distinction between desire, behavior and identity acknowledges the multidimensional nature of sexuality. The fact that these dimensions may not always be congruent in individuals suggests complexity of the issues. Bisexuality, both sequential and concurrent, and discordance between biological sex and gender role and identity add to the issues. Medicine and psychiatry employ terms like homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality and trans-sexuality to encompass all related issues, while current social usage argues for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), which focuses on identities.

The prevalence of homosexuality is difficult to estimate for many reasons, including the associated stigma and social repression, the unrepresentative samples surveyed and the failure to distinguish desire, behavior and identity. The figures vary between age groups, regions and cultures.

Medicine and science continue to debate the relative contributions of nature and nurture, biological and psychosocial factors, to sexuality. [sup][2] Essentialist constructs argue for biology and dismiss personal and social meanings of sexual desire and relationships. On the other hand, constructivists support the role of culture and history. While essentialism and constructionism, on the surface appear contradictory, they may mediate orientation and identity, respectively.

Anthropologists have documented significant variations in the organisation and meaning of same-sex practices across cultures and changes within particular societies over time. The universality of same-sex expression coexists with variations in its meaning and practice across culture. Cross-cultural studies highlight the limits of any single explanation of homosexuality within a particular society.

Classical theories of psychological development hypothesize the origins of adult sexual orientation in childhood experience. [sup][2] However, recent research argues that psychological and interpersonal events throughout the life cycle explain sexual orientation. It is unlikely that a unique set of characteristics or a single pathway will explain all adult homosexuality.

The argument that homosexuality is a stable phenomenon is based on the consistency of same-sex attractions, the failure of attempts to change and the lack of success with treatments to alter orientation. [sup][2] There is a growing realisation that homosexuality is not a single phenomenon and that there may be multiple phenomena within the construct of homosexuality.

Anti-homosexual attitudes, once considered the norm, have changed over time in many social and institutional settings in the west. However, heterosexism, which idealises heterosexuality, considers it the norm, denigrates and stigmatises all non-heterosexual forms of behavior, identity, relationships and communities, is also common. …

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