The term “sexual orientation” refers to a consistent pattern of attraction – emotional, sexual, romantic, or a combination – to another person, according to the American Psychological Association. It also refers to the sense of identity you develop based upon those attractions. If you are attracted to people of the opposite sex, you have a heterosexual orientation. If you are attracted to people of the same sex, you have a homosexual orientation (otherwise known as being gay or lesbian). You may be bisexual if you have been attracted to men and women, because heterosexual is the perceived “norm,” many myths, misconceptions and irrational fears are propagated about people with sexual orientations different from your own.
Although many believe that homosexuality is a choice, more and more evidence shows that same-sex attraction is at least partially based upon biological and genetic factors. For example, a 2006 study published in a February issue of the “Human Genetics” journal suggests that at least one gene on an X chromosome in a mother partly influences her son’s chances of being gay. A 2001 review of twin research showed another genetic link. According to the review, identical twins in most studies were significantly more likely to share the same sexual orientation than were fraternal twins. This is a significant finding because identical twins share all the same genes, whereas fraternal twins share only about 50 percent. The American Psychological Association states that most people have little or no choice about their orientation.
The term “lifestyle” is also problematic, because sexual orientation is defined by an individual’s identity more it is defined by his or her way of living. Although many conservative thinkers may like to believe that a “normal” heterosexual lifestyle involves a traditional marriage and two children, less than 7 percent of family units in the United States are actually made up of one mom, one dad, and two children living with each other, according to Case Western Reserve University. So-called “lifestyles” of homosexuals and bisexuals are just as diverse as are the “lifestyles” of heterosexuals.
In reality, homosexual relationships are just as stable as are heterosexual relationships. According to a 12-year observational study published in a 2003 issue of “The Journal of Homosexuality,” researchers found that 20 percent of homosexual couples broke up in that span of time. According to the researchers, if that breakup rate was computed over a 40-year period, it would be approximately 63.5 percent. That is slightly lower than is the divorce rate for first time heterosexual marriages.
Furthermore, homosexuals and bisexuals are no more likely to be sexually promiscuous than are heterosexuals, according to the Counseling Services Office of the State University of New York at Buffalo. They, too, may choose to stay celibate, have a single partner, or have multiple partners.
In a 2010 analysis of studies on parental sexual orientation and parenting outcomes, researchers at New York University found that children raised by homosexual parents are just as likely to be well adjusted as are children raised by heterosexual parents. In one study, teen boys with same-sex parents had a grade point average of 2.9, whereas teen boys in opposite-sex households had a grade point average of 2.65. In the same study, teen girls in raised by same-sex parents had a 2.8 grade point average and teen girls raised by opposite-sex parents had a 2.9 grade point average. In another study, children with same-sex parents were just as likely to have delinquent behaviors such as shoplifting, getting into fights and damaging other people’s property as were children with opposite-sex parents.
Other indicators, such as gender role behavior and emotional functioning, have also been constant in children regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Also, the American Psychiatric Association asserts that children raised in households with homosexual parents are not any more likely to become homosexual or have gender identity issues than are children raised in households with heterosexual parents. Statistically speaking, most homosexual adults were raised by heterosexual parents and most children raised by same-sex parents end up being heterosexual.
A statement by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says that some people have a continuous and fixed sexual orientation whereas others have a more fluid orientation that changes over time. It also describes sexuality as a continuum that contains many points in the middle. For example, you may generally identify as bisexual but be more towards the “exclusively straight heterosexual” end of the scale or more towards the “exclusively lesbian or gay” end of the scale.
Similarly, you may identify as heterosexual but not be exclusively heterosexual. According to a questionnaire of 300,000 people on the dating website OKCupid, 13 percent of men who identified as heterosexual reported having a same-sex sexual encounter and an additional 5 percent reported wanting to have one. In the same questionnaire, 33 percent of women who identified as heterosexual reported having an encounter with another female and 18 percent reported wanting to have one. The higher numbers in women may be explained by 2003 research at Northwestern University, which found that all women – regardless of their sexual orientation – became just as sexually aroused when they watched female stimuli as they did when they watched male stimuli.
It is easy to assume heterosexuality is the only “normal” orientation because it is the only one that aids in reproduction. However, consider the frequency of same-sex pairings in the animal kingdom. Animals such as dolphins, penguins, giraffes, chimpanzees and swans sometimes pair up with a same-sex partner of the same species, according to LiveScience. Although same-sex pairing doesn’t directly result in offspring, it may boost social bonds or encourage some individuals to nurture their siblings’ offspring rather than their own. In some cases, sexual acts between same-sex pairs may solely occur for pleasure.
Homosexuality is also not considered a mental disorder. In 1973, The American Psychiatric Association declared homosexuality to be as healthy as heterosexuality and also removed homosexuality from its official diagnostic manual. Furthermore, it opposes any treatment effort, including “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, because the use of those treatments presupposes that homosexuality is a problem that needs to be fixed.
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