Some religious conservatives take a very different path. They lump together three very different phenomenon:
They call all of these sexual "orientations" They are then able to make the case that legislation to protect individuals from hate crimes or discrimination motivated by the victim's sexual orientation would also protect from prosecution sexual exhibitionists, sexual abusers of children, those who practice bestiality, etc. Sometimes, members of Congress who compose such legislation do not define "sexual orientation" in their bills. They thus leave themselves open to this type of argument. More info.
About the expression "sexual preference:"
"Sexual preference" has been commonly used it the past in place of "sexual orientation." It is still frequently used by social and religious conservatives, and occasionally by others.
Using the word "preference" implies that a person is actually a bisexual. That is, they are attracted to both men and women, although they prefer one gender over the other.
However, bisexuals are in a distinct minority. They are massively outnumbered by heterosexuals who are only attracted to members of the opposite sex; they are significantly outnumbered by homosexuals who are only attracted to members of the same sex.
It would seem inappropriate to use the term "preference" to refer to a heterosexual or homosexual who is sexually attracted to persons of one gender and not at all attracted to the other gender. However, if you want to imply that homosexuals are sexually attracted to both men and women, then it can be an effective term.
An additional conflict over sexual orientation:
Most religious and social conservatives define sexual orientation in terms of behavior. Sexual orientation is what one does. It is chosen and changeable.
Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, human sexuality researchers, therapists, counselors, etc. generally agree that sexual orientation is defined by the gender to which a person has feelings of attraction. Sexual orientation is what one is. It is discovered during one's lifetime and is rarely or never changeable. Most would agree with a statement by the American Psychiatric Association:
The difference in the definitions is important. Everyone agrees that behaviors can be changed:
Thus, people who engage in same-sex behavior can change and become ex-gays in terms of their behavior.
However, there is a general consensus, except among religious conservatives, that feelings of sexual orientation are very rarely or never changeable. Thus all or essentially all adults with a homosexual or bisexual orientation can never change their orientation to heterosexual.
Conflicts over definitions of "sexual orientation:"
It is common practice for different individuals and groups to use their own favorite definitions without even acknowledging the existence of other meanings.
During discussions of sexual orientation, a person may switch between among various definitions. This causes much confusion and misunderstanding. It is sometimes done intentionally. We recommend that the terms homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual never be used in isolation, but always be identified as referring to either orientation or behavior: i.e. to feelings of attraction or practices.
This essay compares and contrasts different sets of meanings for "sexual orientation." Throughout the rest of this web site, we use the definitions used by the American Psychiatric Association, and all other major associations in the mental health field.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
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