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Homosexuality and bisexuality

Conflicting definitions of heterosexuality,
homosexuality, bisexuality, & sexual orientation.

Conflicting definitions of "homosexuality" and "sexual orientation:"

Whether sexual orientation, or abortion access, or any other "hot" controversial topic is being discussed, the group who gets to define the terms has a tremendous advantage in any dialogue or debate.

There are four quite different definitions of the term "sexual orientation:"

To understand what a person is saying about this topic, it is vitally important to know the definition that they use. Otherwise no meaningful conversation is possible:

  • A few conservative Christian organizations define "sexual orientation" very broadly. They view orientation as a list of parameters that define all aspects of one's sexual desires. For example, a man might be particularly attracted to women who are of medium height, African American, a few years younger than he is, and with red hair. This collection of gender, height, skin color, age and hair color would then define the man's specific sexual orientation. Thus, being attracted only to members of the same gender would only be one component of a person's sexual orientation. Pedophilia -- being sexually attracted to children -- would be another part for a small minority of adults. So would bestiality -- being attracted to animals. Under this definition, hundreds of sexual orientations are possible.

    Accepting this definition would complicate government legislation dealing with sexual orientation. Any civil rights legislation which extends protection to persons on the basis of their sexual orientation would, under this definition, also decriminalize abusive pedophilia and bestiality. To our knowledge, this definition does not appear in any dictionary or medical text; it seems to be used only by a very small minority of fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians. It surfaced prominently during debate on a federal hate crime bill and reappears from time to time.

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  • The American Family Association (AFA) and Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) have stated that there are a total of 30 sexual orientations. They have taken the three generally accepted sexual orientations -- heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual -- and added to them 27 paraphilias listed by the American Psychiatric Association in their  "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders." 1,2,3 According to Wikipedia, paraphilia:

    "... is a term that describes a family of persistent, intense fantasies, aberrant urges, or behaviors involving sexual arousal to nonhuman objects, pain or humiliation experienced by oneself or one's partner, children, or nonconsenting individuals or unsuitable partners." 4

    Examples are:

    • voyeurism -- observing others engaged in sexual behavior;

    • bestiality -- engaging in sexual behavior with another species. These are typical non-human mammals, although Genesis 19 in the Bible discusses men in the city of Sodom attempting to rape male angels.

    • necrophilia -- engaging in sexual behavior with a corpse.

    • sexual masochism -- enjoying physical helplessness and the reception of pain delivered by another person in a sexual setting,

    • sexual sadism -- enjoying physical control and the infliction of pain on another person in a sexual setting,

    • etc.

    Finally, these groups tossed in some definitions of their own, including incest, prostitution, transsexuality, etc. If conservatives adopt such a broad definition of sexual orientation, they could argue that civil rights legislation intended to protect persons with a heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual orientation equally would also protect persons engaging in incest, bestiality, prostitution, sexual abuse of children, etc. It is thus of critical importance for such legislation to clarify exactly what it includes by first defining "sexual orientation." More information.

  • Most religious and social conservatives define sexual orientation in terms of behavior: specifically the gender with which one actually engages in sexual behavior. Thus:

    • Heterosexuals are those who have sex only with others of the opposite gender. Often asexuals -- persons who have no sexual attraction to others -- and celibate persons -- those who are sexually inactive -- are considered heterosexuals.

    • Homosexuals are those who have sex with others of the same gender.

    • Bisexuals are rarely discussed and often ignored.

  • Almost all human sexuality researchers, gays, bisexuals, lesbians, religious liberals, those who are not religiously affiliated, and professionals in the medical and therapeutic professions define a person's "sexual orientation" according to the gender(s) of the person to whom that person is sexually attracted:
    • Heterosexuality includes about 90% of adults -- those who are sexually attracted only to members of the opposite gender.

    • Homosexuality includes a small minority of adults -- perhaps 5% -- who are attracted only to members of the same gender.

    • Bisexuality also includes perhaps 5% of adults who are attracted to both men and women, although not necessarily to the same degree.

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"Sexual preference:" Another term that causes confusion:

In place of the generally accepted term "sexual orientation," many religious, political, and social conservatives use the term "sexual preference."

"Preference" is a meaningful term when applied to eating ice cream. The author of this essay loves ice cream, but prefers vanilla to chocolate. Considering sexual attraction, the term has meaning to about 5% of adults 6 -- those with a bisexual orientation. By definition, they are attracted to both men and women. But most have a preference -- they have greater attraction to members of one gender than the other.

Consider gays and lesbians, who form another approximately 5% of the adult population. 6 By definition, are sexually attracted only to persons of the same sex. They don't have a "preference" for members of the same-sex; they have an exclusive attraction to them only. So too, with heterosexual adults who form a 90% majority. They are attracted only to members of the opposite-sex. Thus, the term "preference" does not fit them either.

Still, the term "preference" is a useful term for conservatives to use. When used to refer to gays and lesbians, it implies that they all have some degree of sexual attraction to members of the opposite sex. If they truly had a preference rather than an exclusive attraction to members of the same sex, then perhaps counseling, prayer, reparative therapy, or other effort could result in them developing their attraction to the opposite sex further and eventually behaving as heterosexuals. In reality, they have no attraction to the opposite sex, and thus have nothing to develop. If gays and lesbians truly had a sexual "preference" then reparative therapy might acutally work. In practice it has consistently failed to change clients' sexual orientation.

Exodus International actively promoted "change" to gays, lesbians and bisexuals for almost four decades. In reality, they had some successes at:

  • Convincing some gays and lesbians to remain celiebate for the rest of their lives without a "significant other,"

  • Convincing some bisexuals to make a decision to only pursue sexually active relationships with members of the opposite sex.

But they finally realized that their efforts to change their clients' sexual orientation always -- or essentially always -- failed. Further their clients were often disappointed with the results of reparative therapy. They were sometimes depressed and occasionally were seriously depressed to the point where a few committed suicide. On the other hand, some of their clients resorted to reparative therapy as their last option to change their sexual orientation. When that failed, they realized that their orientation was fixed, accepted themselves as they are, and became much more emotionally healthy.

In 2013, the president of Exodus Internatonal offered a sincere apology for all of the harm that his organization had done to individuals members of the LGBT community, and ceased business.

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2015-APR: Movement is detectable among at least one Republican politician on homosexuality:

The Republican party has historically derived its beliefs about LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual) questions from fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians. However, perhaps driven by the increased public support for marriage equality in the U.S., there are signs that the party may be changing.

Since 2011-JAN, Marco Rubio (R) has been the junior U.S. Senator from Florida. He is a contender for President in the 2016 elections. After his surprising revelation in mid 2015-APR that he would attend a loved one's marriage to a person of the same sex, he was repeatedly asked questions to clarifiy his beliefs about homosexual orientation and same-sex marriage. Journalist Bob Schieffer asked:

"Do you think that homosexuality is a choice?"

Senator Rubio responded that he doesn't:

"... believe that your sexual preferences are a choice for the vast and enormous majority of people. In fact, the bottom line is, I believe that sexual preference is something that people are born with."

Perhaps sometime in the future, he will drop "sexual preference" and adopt "sexual orientation."

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Rev. Lou Sheldon, "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," News release, Traditional Values Coalition, 2007-JUN-04.
  2. "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," Special report, Traditional Values Coalition, undated, at:
  3. "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'?" American Family Association, undated, at:
  4. "Paraphilia," Wikipedia, at:
  5. David Mubarak, "Why are we gay? -- opinions and research," The Advocate, 2001-JUL-17, at:
  6. Estimates of the numbers of adults with a homosexual orientation vary widely. Many religious, social, and political conservatives estimate on the order of 2%. Some LGBT groups stick with Dr. Kinsey's estimate of 10%. Some surveys of the general population estimate that on the order of 20% of adults are gay or lesbian. The most accurate data that we have seen indicates about 5% of adults have a homosexual orientation, and another 5% are lesbians.
  7. Billy Hallowell, "Marco Rubio Was Asked If He Believes ‘Homosexuality Is a Choice’. Here’s How He Responded," The Blaze, 2015-APR-20, at:

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Copyright © 1997 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update/rewrite: 2015-APR-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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