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Definitions of the term "sexual orientation"

A novel, conservative Christian
 definition that includes 30 behaviors

Sponsored link.

Background: Definition among secular sources:

According to Wikipedia: "Sexual orientation is usually classified according to the sex or gender of the people who are found sexually attractive." 1

Many other secular sources would agree with this definition. Note that sexual behavior is not necessarily part of the definition. So the sexual orientation of a virgin, or a person who has just decided to cease being sexually active is still defined on the basis of their feelings of attraction towards men and/or women.

The vast majority of information sources on sexual orientation recognize three sexual orientations in adults:

bulletHeterosexuals are sexually attracted only to members of the opposite sex.
bulletHomosexuals are sexually attracted only to members of the same sex.
bulletBisexuals are sexually attracted to both men and women, although not necessarily to the same degree.

Some add a fourth sexual orientation -- asexuality: the absence of sexual attraction.

Background: Definition by many religious & social conservatives:

Social and religious conservatives often assign unique meanings to commonly used words. This is particularly obvious for terms related to human sexuality and abortion. They generally define sexual orientation in terms of behavior, rather than sexual attraction. For example, the Equal Opportunity Office at the University of Texas at El Paso defines sexual orientation as: "A person's predisposition or inclination toward a particular type of sexual activity or behavior; heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality." 2 (Emphasis ours)

Many religious and conservative Christians rarely if ever refer to bisexuality. They refer to people who engage in same-sex behavior as homosexuals. Everyone else:

bulletIndividuals who only engage in opposite-sex behavior;
bulletIndividuals who are attracted to both men and women but only choose to engage in opposite-sex behavior;
bulletVirgins and other individuals who are now sexually inactive. 
bulletIndividuals who are only attracted to the same-sex partners but choose to remain sexually inactive,

are referred to as heterosexuals or "ex-gays" depending upon their past behaviors.

A new definition developed by some fundamentalist Christians:

A few influential fundamentalist Christian groups have broadened their definition of "sexual orientation" far beyond the three that other groups recognize -- by a factor of ten or more.

They seem to have reasoned that because they believe that sexual orientation is defined by a person's sexual behavior, then all sexual behaviors may be defined as sexual orientations.

They list together a group of terms that they regard as sexual behaviors:

bulletThe three universally accepted sexual orientations: heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality.
bullet Two gender identities: transgenderism and transexualism. These describe rare occurrences that have are sometimes described as having a female brain in a male body, or vice versa.
bulletAbout two dozen or more paraphilias. These are "a family of persistent, intense fantasies, aberrant urges, or behaviors ..." involving human sexuality. 3

bulletSome additional behaviors like incest, prostitution, etc.

They call all of these "sexual orientations."

Having defined sexual orientation so broadly, they are then free to attack any legislative bills intended:

bulletTo protect people's employment,
bulletTo protect their accommodation,
bulletTo protect them from hate crimes, etc.

on the basis of their sexual orientation.

For example, they conclude that a federal hate crime law that gives higher sentences to violent crimes motivated by hatred of the victim's sexual orientation would also protect people who engage in sex with young prepubescent children, with pubescent children, with dead people, with animals, etc.

Unfortunately, many evangelical Christians are somewhat isolated from sources of information outside of their wing of Christianity. They may assume that the above are mainstream beliefs.

What are paraphilias?:

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) lists about 30 paraphilias in their "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . Wikipedia lists about 80. 4 One source lists almost 250. 5 Many paraphilias are criminal sex acts.

Paraphilias include:

bulletBestiality: having sex with animals,
bulletBiastophilia: sexual arousal through assault and rape,
bulletDendrophilia: sex involving trees (I have difficulty imagining this),
bullet Ephebophilia: sexual attraction to older teenaged minors
bulletExhibitionism: exposing one's sexual organs to others,
bulletFrotteurism: rubbing against a person without their consent,
bullet Hebephilia: sexual attraction to pubescent children,
bulletNecrophilia: having sex with dead bodies,
bulletMasochism: sexual arousal by having suffering and pain inflicted on them,
bulletParaphilic infantilism: behaving like an infant,
bullet Pedophilia: sexual attraction to prepubescent children,
bulletSadism: sexual arousal through the inflicting of suffering and pain on another,
bulletTelephone scatologia: making obscene phone calls, particularly to strangers,
bulletTroilism: Watching one's partner having sex with a third party,
bulletVoyeurism: watching naked persons or persons engaged in a sexual act.

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Information from Concerned Women for America (CWA)

The CWA is a fundamentalist Christian activist group. To our knowledge, they are the first group to promote this vastly expanded definition of sexual orientation. We may be wrong.

In 2002, Robert Knight of the CWA wrote an article titled " 'Sexual Orientation' and American Culture: Some corporations are adopting policies based on flawed reasoning."

The real meaning of "sexual orientation"

Springing from the psychological literature, "sexual orientation" is often taken to mean 'homosexuality." Given that its inclusion in policies is the singular work of the homosexual pressure groups, that is a reasonable deduction. However, the two words constitute an umbrella term for numerous sexual behaviors, including paraphilias, which are sexual disorders. According to the therapeutic manual of the American Psychiatric Association, there are at least 20 distinctive sexual variations of "sexual orientation," and perhaps many more.

A partial list of 'sexual orientations' from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association, are included in an appendix. Heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality are routinely included in broad legal definitions of 'sexual orientation.' A fourth 'sexual orientation,' transgenderism, is beginning to be included in such descriptions. Other categories consist of paraphilias, which are defined as sexual disorders." 6

As of 2009-MAY-12, this essay is still online on the CWA website. Over the past seven years they must have received hundreds of complaints from people familiar with the actual definition of "sexual orientation." Yet the essay remains.

Political action by the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC)

In 2007, the TVC issued a news release 7 and published a special report 8 describing 30 behaviors that they feel qualify as sexual orientations.

Rev, Lou Sheldon's news release referred to a federal employee protections act, R. 2232, 3 intended to protect employees on the basis of their sexual orientation, Unfortunately, the act's wording lacked a definition of the term "sexual orientation." He writes:

"...  the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has listed 30 such sexual orientation behaviors that would potentially be granted special minority status, like race, under this legislation. ..."

"You will very much want these three bills stopped when you hear what the definition is of sexual orientation. Some are even against the law. TVC will be working night and day with this and other new information which we have to convince Members of Congress not to support these bills."

"What Is A 'Sexual Orientation?' There are 30 different categories of 'sexual orientation'!"

"The American Psychiatric Association (APA), which is dominated by homosexual activists, publishes a huge document called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-R). This manual is used by psychiatrists and other mental health workers to define various mental illnesses. This is their list of 30 'sexual orientations' ... 7

As noted above, the TVC list includes the three universally defined sexual orientations: bisexuality, heterosexuality and homosexuality. These three are defined as:

bullet4: Bisexuality: "The capacity to feel erotic attraction toward, or to engage in sexual interaction with, both males and females."
bullet9. Heterosexuality: "the universal norm of sexuality with those of the opposite sex."
bullet10. Homosexual/Gay/Lesbian: "people who form sexual relationships primarily or exclusively with members of their own gender."

I was unable to find these definitions in the DSM-IV-TR. #9's definition seems very strange. I doubt that there are many members of the APA who regard heterosexuality as "the universal norm." #10's definition also looks strange. The APA defines homosexuality in terms of feelings, not sexual activity. As indicated in the APA essay "Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues," sexual orientation is defined in terms of attraction.

Seventeen additional urges and behaviors that the TVC considers to be "sexual orientations" appear to be taken from the DSM-IV-RT chapter on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders,  Pages 535 to 582. These are not sexual orientations! They are a list of what the APA calls "Paraphilias," which they define as being:

"...characterized by recurrent, intense sexual urges, fantasies, or behaviors that involve unusual objects, activities, or situation and cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning."

That is, paraphilias are sexual obsessions so serious that it intrudes on a person's life.

The only disorder mentioned in the DSM-IV-RT that is related to sexual orientation is listed as #302.9. "Sexual disorder not otherwise specified." item 3 is:

"Persistent and marked distress about sexual orientation."

That is, heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality are not themselves sexual disorders. However, a patient who is exhibiting a great deal of distress about their sexual orientation is suffering from a disorder.

The TVC missed this one and did not include it .

Some of the paraphilias listed by the APA in DSM IV-TR and miscategorized as sexual orientations by the Traditional Values Coalition are:

bullet 3. Autogynephilia - the sexual arousal of a man by his own perception of himself as a woman or dressed as a woman (Page 574)
bullet 6. Exhibitionism - the act of exposing one's genitals to an unwilling observer to obtain sexual gratification (Page 569)
bullet 7. Fetishism/Sexual Fetishism - obtaining sexual excitement primarily or exclusively from an inanimate object or a particular part of the body (Page 570)
bullet 17.Partialism - A fetish in which a person is sexually attracted to a specific body part exclusive of the person (Page 576)
bullet 18.Pedophilia - Sexual activity with a prepubescent child (generally age 13 years or younger) ... . (Page 571)
bullet 22.Telephone Scatalogia - sexual arousal associated with making or receiving obscene phone calls (Page 576)
bullet 27.Transvestic Fetishism - intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving cross-dressing (Page 575)
bullet 30. Zoophilia/Bestiality - engaging in sexual activity with animals (Page 576)

They also added ten terms that they also define as sexual behaviors and thus "sexual orientations." Including are incest, prostitution, transgenderism, transexual, and transvestite.

Related essays:


Federal hate-crimes bill H.R. 1913, (2009)

References used:

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

  1. "Sexual Orientation," Wikipedia, downloaded 2009-MAY-09 from:
  2. "Glossary of terms," Equal Opportunity Office, University of Texas at El Paso, undated, at:
  3. "Paraphilia," Wikipedia, downloaded 2007-APR-18, at:
  4. "List of paraphilias," Wikipedia, at:
  5. Anil Aggrawal, "Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices," CRC Press, 2009. Pages 369-382.
  6. Robert Knight, " 'Sexual Orientation' and American Culture,' Concerned Women for America, 2002-JUL-10, at:
  7. Rev. Lou Sheldon, "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," News release, Traditional Values Coalition, 2007-JUN-04.
  8. "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," Special report, Traditional Values Coalition, undated, at:
  9. The text of H.R. 2232 is at:

Site navigation:

 Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Basic data > Orientation > here

Copyright © 2007 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-JUN-05
Latest update: 2011-SEP-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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