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Religious Tolerance logo

Definitions of the term "sexual orientation"

By the "Just the facts coalition,"
and by a couple of "APAs"

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Defining "sexual orientation:"

A broad group of professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, educators, social workers agree that sexual orientation relates to feelings of attraction to members of the opposite sex and/or the same sex. This definition is generally used also by GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual) persons and groups, religious liberals, human sexuality researchers and others. A sampling of statements on sexual orientation from these sources is shown below.

However, this definition is not universally used. Religious and social conservatives frequently use a definition that is based on behavior -- what a person does -- rather than on feelings of attraction -- what a person is. Many conservatives rarely mention bisexuality and stress only two orientations: heterosexuality and homosexuality. The result is confusion; dialogue becomes almost impossible.

A few conservative groups have folded a few dozen paraphilias into their definition of sexual orientation to produce 30 or more sexual orientations. (Paraphilias are compulsive sexual behaviors independent of sexual orientation; many are criminal acts. Examples are having sex with animals, having sex with corpses, pedophilia, etc.) Some conservatives have picked up this definition in order to fight hate crimes legislation. They claim that if a law protects persons from violent crimes motivated by hatred of a victim's sexual orientation, then the law will protect pedophiles, rapists, etc. More information.

In the following quotes, emphasis was added by us to highlight the most important text.

Fact sheet by the "Just the Facts Coalition:"

In 1998, a conservative political group organized a conference near Columbus OH to promote reparative therapy in public schools. The goal was to convert students with a bisexual or homosexual orientation into heterosexuals. Some staff from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) attended the conference and were disturbed at its content. One month later, Kate Frankfurt, Director of Advocacy for GLSEN shared information about the conference with leaders of a number of national education, health and mental health organizations. The end result was an essay titled "Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators and School Personnel."

The primer was prepared and endorsed by:

bulletAmerican Academy of Pediatrics
bulletAmerican Counseling Association
bulletAmerican Association of School Administrators
bulletAmerican Federation of Teachers
bulletAmerican Psychological Association
bulletAmerican School Health Association
bulletInterfaith Alliance Foundation
bulletNational Association of School Psychologists
bulletNational Association of Social Workers
bulletNational Education Association

It says in part:

"Sexual orientation is one component of a person's identity, which is made up of many other components, such as culture, ethnicity, gender, and personality traits. Sexual orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectional attraction that a person feels toward another person. Sexual orientation falls along a continuum. In other words, someone does not have to be exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, but can feel varying degrees of attraction for both genders. Sexual orientation develops across a person's lifetime. Different people realize at different points in their lives that they are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual."

"Sexual behavior does not necessarily equate to sexual orientation. Many adolescents -- as well as many adults -- may identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual without having had any sexual experience. Other young people have had sexual experiences with a person of the same gender, but do not consider themselves to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This is particularly relevant during adolescence because it is a time for experimentation -- a hallmark of this developmental period." 1

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Sexual orientation defined by the American Psychiatric Association:

The American Psychiatric Association has written a series of essays for the general public called "Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives." One helpful essay in the series is on "Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues." It states in part:

"Sexual orientation" is a term frequently used to describe a person's romantic, emotional or sexual attraction to another person.
bulletA person attracted to another person of the same sex is said to have a homosexual orientation and may be called gay (both men and women) or lesbian.
bulletIndividuals attracted to persons of the other sex are said to have a heterosexual orientation.
bulletSexual orientation falls along a continuum and individuals who are attracted to both men and women are said to be bisexual. ..."

"Sexual orientation is a relatively new concept. In fact, although same sex behavior has always existed, the idea of a homosexual identity or a homosexual person is only about 100 years old." 2

Note that this definition applies to persons who are:

bulletSexually active, or
bulletHave never engaged in sexual activity, or who
bulletHave been sexually active and are now celibate.

Virtually all religious liberals, Humanists, secularists -- as well as those therapists, counselors, gays, lesbians and bisexuals who are not religious conservatives -- would probably accept this definition of "sexual orientation."

Sexual orientation defined by the American Psychological Assoc.:

In congressional testimony during 1997 in support of the ENDA bill, the American Psychological Association (APA) stated:
"Sexual orientation is a component of sexuality that is characterized by enduring emotional, romantic, sexual and/or affectional attractions to individuals of a particular gender. Thus, sexual orientation refers to more than just certain behaviors. Persons may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors. Some people may engage in sexual behaviors with persons of the same gender but not identify themselves as gay. On the other hand, homosexual intimate relationships, like their heterosexual counterparts, do not always include sexually overt behavior. Three sexual orientations are commonly recognized: homosexual, attraction to individuals of one's own gender; heterosexual, attraction to individuals of the opposite gender; and bisexual, attractions to individuals of both genders." 3

In the 2008 edition of their brochure "Answers to your questions for a better understanding of sexual orientation & homosexuality" they state:

"Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person's sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions. Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex. However, sexual orientation is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of the other sex), gay/lesbian (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of one's own sex), and bisexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to both men and women). " 4

References used:

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

  1. "Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators and School Personnel," APA Online, at: http://www.apa.org/
  2. "Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues," American Psychiatric Association, undated, at: http://www.healthyminds.org/
  3. "Testimony of the American Psychological Association," 1997-OCT-23, at: http://www.apa.org/
  4. "Answers to your questions for a better understanding of sexual orientation & homosexuality," Copyright © 2008 by the American Psychological Association, at: http://www.apa.org/  This is a PDF file.

Site navigation: Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Basic data > Orientation > here

Copyright © 2007 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-JUN-05
Latest update: 2009-MAY-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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