The American Psychological Association
(APA) definition & its interpretation
A commonly accepted definition:
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines
sexual orientation as:
"... an enduring emotional, romantic,
sexual, or affectional attraction toward others. ... Sexual orientation
exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusive heterosexuality to
exclusive homosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality."
Various groups have different opinions of this and similar definitions:
Religious liberals, sexologists, therapists, human rights
promoters, etc. generally accept this definition of sexual orientation.
Most GLBT individuals (gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals) also
accept this definition although many are uncomfortable with the use of the
term "homosexual" and its derivatives, because they feel the
latter are medicalized terms. They imply that gays, lesbians and bisexuals have a mental
health problem. They prefer the phrases "gay and lesbian" or "lesbian and
gay." However, they accept the terms heterosexual and bisexual.
Religious and social conservatives rarely
refer to sexual orientation, probably because the term implies a situation that
a person discovers, rather than chooses, and is fixed. They prefer terms like "homosexual lifestyle" which
imply a situation that is chosen and changeable.
Faced with this conflicts between the GLBT community, religious/social conservatives,
and therapists, we have chosen to use the APA definition
and terms throughout most of this website. Similarly, when we discuss
abortion access, we choose medical terms instead
of those promoted by pro-life, anti-abortion, and pro-choice people and
The APA states that there are three possible sexual
Heterosexuals are attracted to persons of the
opposite sex only.
Homosexuals are attracted to persons of the
same sex only.
Bisexuals are attracted to both men and women,
although not necessarily to the same degree.
Conflicting interpretations of "sexual orientation:"
There are two main interpretations on what the term "sexual orientation"
Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, religious liberals, therapists, human sexuality
researchers generally interpret "sexual orientation" as referring feelings of affection and
When they use the term "sexual orientation," most religious conservatives define "sexual orientation" in terms of
behavior.-- what a person does. As noted above, most conservatives
prefer terms like "sexual preference," and "homosexual lifestyle."
Since sexual behavior almost always occurs between two persons who are either
of the same sex or opposite sex, religious conservatives have need of only two
orientations. They often ignore the bisexual category and treat everyone as
either homosexual or heterosexual.
Some conservative religious groups interpret "sexual orientation" very broadly.
In addition to the standard three orientations (heterosexuality, bisexuality
and homosexuality), they add as many
as 30 types of paraphilias -- sexual impulse
disorders -- including incest, bestiality, necrophilia, sexual exhibitionism,
etc. Some of the latter are criminal acts.
Needless to say, this difference in definition and interpretation creates a great deal of
Consider a person with homosexual feelings that they have aced upon, who
now decides to be celibate.
Under the conservatives' definition, they would be considered to be ex-homosexual
under the definition used by most others, they would be considered a celibate
homosexual or celibate gay person.
Consider a person with bisexual feelings who has had sex with same-sex
partners in the past. She/he now decides to only enter
relationships with members of the opposite gender. Under the conservative definition, they would be considered an ex-gay; under the
definition, they would remain a bisexual.
These two decisions are often used by religious and social conservatives as
proof that homosexuals can "change" and become ex-gays. Many -- perhaps most --
some would say all -- ex-gays fall into the above two categories.
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.