Defining sexual orientation.
Who cares about its cause/causes?
Why are the causes so controversial?
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:"
|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 factors would define the
man's 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 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.
|The American Family Association (AFA) and Traditional Values
Coalition (TVC) state that there are a total of 30 sexual orientations.
They have taken the three generally accepted sexual orientations --
heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality -- 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,
"... 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."
Examples are voyeurism, bestiality, necrophilia, sexual masochism, sexual
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 equally protect heterosexuals, homosexuals and
bisexuals would also protect persons engaging in incest, bestiality,
prostitution, etc. It is thus of critical importance for such legislation to
clarify exactly what it includes by including a definition of "sexual
|Most religious and social
conservatives define sexual orientation in terms of behavior: specifically the gender
with which one engages in sexual behavior. Thus:|
|Heterosexuals are those who
have sex with others of the opposite gender.|
|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, 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
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.|
Impact of multiple, conflicting definitions:
Having multiple definitions causes major chaos. It is
almost as if people with different views intentionally sat down and
designed conflicting definitions that would make
communication, dialogue and debate impossible. For example:
||How can one discuss legislation
that bans hate crimes or that bans discrimination on the
basis of sexual orientation when some folks define sexual
orientation in terms only of the gender to which a person is
attracted while other folks define sexual orientation to
include pedophilia, bestiality, incest, etc.|
|If one group defines sexual
orientation in terms of behavior and another group defines
it in terms of sexual attraction, then how does one handle:|
|A sexually active lesbian who
has decided to become celibate. In terms of behavior,
she is no longer homosexual and might be called
"ex-gay." In terms of sexual attraction, she her sexual orientation remains
homosexual and her self-identification probably remains lesbian.|
||A bisexual male who has had sex
with other men who simply decides to have sex only with
women. In terms of behavior, he is no longer homosexual
but has become an ex-gay -- he has switched to heterosexuality. In terms of sexual
attraction, he remains unchanged as a bisexual.|
Beliefs about homosexuality by theologians and scientists:
Normally, there are minimal conflicts between scientists and theologians.
They usually work in different areas of study. Theologians are rarely
interested in the tensile strength of steel. Scientists are rarely interested in
the soul, salvation, heaven or hell. But there are some shared areas where both
scientists and theologians promote their beliefs. Often, these beliefs are in
conflict. As of 2007, the main areas of conflict are the
origins of the universe, and various human sexuality topics.
|Homosexual orientation is measurable and is thus a legitimate area of study for human sexuality researchers. They have generally
concluded that adult human sexuality comes in the three natural, normal, unchosen, and unchangeable orientations
as defined above.
|Same-sex behavior is mentioned in
the Bible, the Qur'an, writings of the Baha'i
Prophet Baha'u'llah, and in other texts considered sacred in various world religions. Thus, homosexuality is also a
legitimate area for theologians to study. Speaking generally:|
||Many religious conservatives who follow western
religions believe that their holy texts were written by
God, or dictated by an Archangel on behalf of God, or written by persons who were inspired by
God to produce books which are inerrant -- free of error. They base their beliefs about
homosexual behavior on their interpretation of the Bible,
and on church tradition. They conclude that it is unnatural, abnormal, chosen and changeable
|Religious liberals and progressives generally approach the Bible as a historical
document. They note that the authors of their religious texts lived in
a pre-scientific era and had no special knowledge of sexual
orientation. Religious liberals base their beliefs about homosexual orientation
their interpretation of the Bible, on the findings of sexuality
researchers, on church tradition, and personal experience. They generally agree with scientists that
a natural, normal, unchosen, and unchangeable orientation. |
Who cares about the causes?
If the root cause of a homosexual orientation is genetic, as it is for
Class 1 (early onset diabetes) and left-handedness, then the person will
probably be unable to change their sexual orientation. As adults, they may
decide to remain sexually inactive. However, their sexual attraction to persons
of the same sex will continue.
If the root cause of a homosexual orientation is
something in the environment, then there might be a significant possibility that
the individual can change their orientation through therapy. Many religious and
social conservatives believe that incompetent parenting and/or child sexual
abuse can cause -- or at least influence -- a person to choose a homosexual orientation later in life.
homosexuality is within or beyond the ability of a person to change may well
influence people's attitudes towards homosexuality. It would certainly help
homosexuals decide whether to try to change their orientation through
reparative therapy in spite of its
near zero success rate, cost, time,
agony, and danger of extreme depression and suicidal ideation.
An article in The Advocate, a gay-positive magazine states:
"Polls repeatedly indicate that Americans who believe sexual
orientation is either genetic or biological are much more likely to support
gay and lesbian civil rights than those who believe it is determined
primarily by environmental influences." 5
This may or may not be an accurate conclusion. Many religious and social
conservatives are generally opposed to equal rights for sexual minorities, and
believe on biblical grounds that sexual orientation is a decision made after
puberty -- perhaps triggered by incompetent parenting or childhood sexual abuse.
Those who favor gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual rights tend to base their
beliefs more on scientific findings and less on holy texts. So the root cause of
support for equal rights for all might be more related to religious beliefs than
beliefs about the cause of homosexuality. Besides, race has been known for
centuries to be genetically determined. Yet this knowledge has not eliminated
Why it is the question so controversial?
This topic has triggered many angry Emails from visitors to this web
|Many are from religious conservatives who are 100% certain that
homosexuality is totally caused by something in the environment.
|A few are from gays and lesbians who are 100% certain that
homosexuality is totally caused by genes.|
Evidence seems to point consistently to a genes as the root cause which
either lies dormant or is triggered into causing the individual to have a
homosexual orientation later in life. Such a finding makes many people --
both religious conservatives and homosexuals -- angry because their
cherished beliefs are disproved. Some direct that anger at us because we
report the information. Fortunately, we have developed very thick skins at
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Rev. Lou Sheldon, "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," News release,
Traditional Values Coalition, 2007-JUN-04.
- "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," Special report, Traditional Values
Coalition, undated, at:
- "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'?" American Family Association, undated, at:
- "Paraphilia," Wikipedia, at:
- David Mubarak, "Why are we gay? -- opinions and research," The Advocate,
Copyright © 1997 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2013-JAN-20
Author: B.A. Robinson