What Is Sexual Orientation?
Sexual Orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or
affectional attraction to another person. It is easily distinguished
from other components of sexuality including biological sex, gender
identity (the psychological sense of being male or female) and the
social gender role (adherence to cultural norms for feminine and
Sexual orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from
exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality and includes
various forms of bisexuality. Bisexual persons can experience
sexual, emotional and affectional attraction to both their own sex
and the opposite sex. Persons with a homosexual orientation are
sometimes referred to as gay (both men and women) or as lesbian
Sexual orientation is different from sexual behavior because it
refers to feelings and self-concept. Persons may or may not express
their sexual orientation in their behaviors.
What Causes a Person To Have a Particular Sexual Orientation?
There are numerous theories about the origins of a person's sexual
orientation; most scientists today agree that sexual orientation is
most likely the result of a complex interaction of environmental,
cognitive and biological factors. In most people, sexual orientation
is shaped at an early age. There is also considerable recent
evidence to suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn
hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person's sexuality.
In summary, it is important to recognize that there are probably
many reasons for a person's sexual orientation and the reasons may
be different for different people.
Is Sexual Orientation a Choice?
No, human beings can not choose to be either gay or straight. Sexual
orientation emerges for most people in early adolescence without any
prior sexual experience. Although we can choose whether to act on
our feelings, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be
a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.
Can Therapy Change Sexual Orientation?
No. Even though most homosexuals live successful, happy lives, some
homosexual or bisexual people may seek to change their sexual
orientation through therapy, sometimes pressured by the influence of
family members or religious groups to try and do so. The reality is
that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment
and is not changeable.
However, not all gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who seek
assistance from a mental health professional want to change their
sexual orientation. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people may seek
psychological help with the coming out process or for strategies to
deal with prejudice, but most go into therapy for the same reasons
and life issues that bring straight people to mental health
What About So-Called "Conversion Therapies"?
Some therapists who undertake so-called conversion therapy report
that they have been able to change their clients' sexual orientation
from homosexual to heterosexual. Close scrutiny of these reports
however show several factors that cast doubt on their claims. For
example, many of the claims come from organizations with an
ideological perspective which condemns homosexuality. Furthermore,
their claims are poorly documented. For example, treatment outcome
is not followed and reported overtime as would be the standard to
test the validity of any mental health intervention.
The American Psychological Association is concerned about such
therapies and their potential harm to patients. In 1997, the
Association's Council of Representatives passed a resolution
reaffirming psychology's opposition to homophobia in treatment and
spelling out a client's right to unbiased treatment and self-
determination. Any person who enters into therapy to deal with
issues of sexual orientation has a right to expect that such therapy
would take place in a professionally neutral environment absent of
any social bias.
Is Homosexuality a Mental Illness or Emotional Problem?
No. Psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health
professionals agree that homosexuality is not an illness, mental
disorder or an emotional problem. Over 35 years of objective, well-
designed scientific research has shown that homosexuality, in and
itself,is not associated with mental disorders or emotional or
social problems. Homosexuality was once thought to be a mental
illness because mental health professionals and society had biased
information. In the past the studies of gay, lesbian and bisexual
people involved only those in therapy, thus biasing the resulting
conclusions. When researchers examined data about these people who
were not in therapy, the idea that homosexuality was a mental
illness was quickly found to be untrue.
In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association confirmed the
importance of the new, better designed research and removed
homosexuality from the official manual that lists mental and
emotional disorders. Two years later, the American Psychological
Association passed a resolution supporting the removal. For more
than 25 years, both associations have urged all mental health
professionals to help dispel the stigma of mental illness that some
people still associate with homosexual orientation.
Can Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals Be Good Parents?
Yes. Studies comparing groups of children raised by homosexual and
by heterosexual parents find no developmental differences between
the two groups of children in four critical areas: their
intelligence, psychological adjustment, social adjustment, and
popularity with friends. It is also important to realize that a
parent's sexual orientation does not dictate his or her children's.
Another myth about homosexuality is the mistaken belief that gay men
have more of a tendency than heterosexual men to sexually molest
children. There is no evidence to suggest that homosexuals are more
likely than heterosexuals to molest children.
Why Do Some Gay Men, Lesbians and Bisexuals Tell People About Their
Because sharing that aspect of themselves with others is important
to their mental health. In fact, the process of identity development
for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals called "coming out", has been
found to be strongly related to psychological adjustment—the more
positive the gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity, the better one's
mental health and the higher one's self-esteem.
Why Is the "Coming Out" Process Difficult for Some Gay, Lesbian and
For some gay and bisexual people the coming out process is
difficult, for others it is not. Often lesbian, gay and bisexual
people feel afraid, different, and alone when they first realize
that their sexual orientation is different from the community norm.
This is particularly true for people becoming aware of their gay,
lesbian, or bisexual orientation as a child or adolescent, which is
not uncommon. And, depending on their families and where they live,
they may have to struggle against prejudice and misinformation about
homosexuality. Children and adolescents may be particularly
vulnerable to the deleterious effects of bias and stereotypes. They
may also fear being rejected by family, friends,co-workers, and
religious institutions. Some gay people have to worry about losing
their jobs or being harassed at school if their sexual orientation
became well known. Unfortunately, gay, lesbian and bisexual people
are at a higher risk for physical assault and violence than are
heterosexuals. Studies done in California in the mid 1990s showed
that nearly one-fifth of all lesbians who took part in the study and
more than one-fourth of all gay men who participated had been the
victim of a hate crime based on their sexual orientation. In another
California study of approximately 500 young adults, half of all the
young men participating in the study admitted to some form of anti-
gay aggression from name-calling to physical violence.
What Can Be Done to Overcome the Prejudice and Discrimination the
Gay Men, Lesbians, and Bisexuals Experience?
Research has found that the people who have the most positive
attitudes toward gay men, lesbians and bisexuals are those who say
they know one or more gay, lesbian or bisexual person well—often as
a friend or co-worker. For this reason, psychologists believe
negative attitudes toward gay people as a group are prejudices that
are not grounded in actual experiences but are based on stereotypes
Furthermore, protection against violence and discrimination is very
important, just as it is for other minority groups. Some states
include violence against an individual on the basis of his or her
sexual orientation as a "hate crime" and 10 U.S. states have laws
against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Why is it Important for Society to be Better Educated About
Educating all people about sexual orientation and homosexuality is
likely to diminish anti-gay prejudice. Accurate information about
homosexuality is especially important to young people who are first
discovering and seeking to understand their sexuality—whether
homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. Fears that access to such
information will make more people gay have no validity—information
about homosexuality does not make someone gay or straight.
Are All Gay and Bisexual Men HIV Infected?
No. This is a commonly held myth. In reality, the risk of exposure
to HIV is related to a person's behavior, not their sexual
orientation. What's important to remember about HIV/AIDS is it is a
preventable disease through the use of safe sex practices and by not
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
APA on Sexual Orientation
What Is Sexual Orientation?