Three criteria are typically used for defining human sexuality:
When these criteria are fully aligned, one’s sexuality is considered fully integrated.
Everyone possesses a natural innate sexual value system that propels males and females them toward sexual intimacy with one sex or another.
People usually think only of attraction when defining orientation. Males and females who are attracted to the opposite sex are considered heterosexual, while people enticed by the same sex are homosexual.
Another element that complements this attraction is aversion.
Heterosexual men, for instance, aren’t only attracted to females but also have an aversion to—or a strong dislike of—male genitalia and are sexually repulsed by the thought of sex with another man. Similarly, homosexual males have an aversion to female genitalia and naturally avoid the thought of physical sex with a female. Bisexuals are attracted to both sexes and lack aversions to either.
Psychiatrist Dr. Richard Isay suggests in his book “Being Homosexual” that the best way for a person to determine his or her sexual orientation is to examine fantasies over a long period of time, including during masturbation. Society generally doesn’t care about one’s sexual fantasy life.
Sexual orientation is a fixed attribute, according to a consensus in the scientific community, and doesn’t change over time. In other words, certain basic attractions and aversions never go away. No amount of therapy can change this.
Respected organizations agreeing on this premise include the:
- American Psychiatric Association
- American Psychological Association
- National Association of Social Workers
- American Academy of Pediatrics
Extensive research shows when attempts are made to suppress sexual feelings, results produce:
- Obsessive/compulsive behavior (including addiction)
- A lifetime of unhappiness
While orientation does not change, what can and does change is behavior.
The following 2 dual reward and punishment systems motivate sexual behavior:
- Sexual Feelings (attraction and aversion)
- Expectations (acceptance and rejection)
In most cases, behavior follows orientation. A noted exception is prison sex. Numerous studies show men with heterosexual orientations engage in homosexual behavior when they have no other outlet for sexual expression.
Unfortunately, society’s expectations can create a kind of “internalized prison” that prevent a person with a homosexual orientation from expressing his or her sexuality consistently with his or her orientation.
Expectations are comprised of rewards and punishments. Perceived rewards are usually the acceptance from others or self, while punishment is associated with anticipated pain by the rejection or disapproval of others. This fear of rejection is real.
When a heterosexual couple marries, they naturally benefit from both internalized expectations of societal acceptance and each person’s innate or inborn motivating sexual value system.
In the case of homosexuals marrying a person of the opposite sex, expectations compel the behavior and not the innate value system. The rewards of a heterosexual lifestyle and avoidance of a homosexual “stigma” become a tradeoff for not acting on one’s true orientation.
Studies in Arab countries, where a homosexual lifestyle can frequently lead to death, show that married homosexuals have significantly less sex than their heterosexual counterparts.
Many homosexuals who have ended up leaving heterosexual relationships, have said it was the fear of rejection and not the reward of the heterosexual lifestyle that kept them from embracing their sexual orientation. Ultimately, they really didn’t want to marry a person of the opposite sex. They wanted acceptance and ultimately found it inside themselves.
Society’s Attitudes Changing
In the United States, public attitudes toward homosexual relationships have changed. Those homosexuals, who have either noted these changes or overcome inappropriate expectations by finding acceptance within themselves, are leading fully integrated lives in public.
Something to ponder: To the extent society is still prejudiced against homosexuals, should a homosexual be forced to change his or her behavior, or should society be called upon to change its attitudes?
Let’s examine the final criteria for defining human sexuality—identity. How does an individual identify?
Heterosexuals have very few problems self-identifying.
Similarly, fully integrated homosexuals have little difficulty identifying.
Still, there are those who know they have a homosexual orientation and intentionally choose to live a heterosexual lifestyle, nonetheless. These people usually choose to identify as straight.
Much of this blog discussion is based on science and empiricism (originating in experience). Another point of view comes from a conservative, faith-based epistemology, where proponents don’t believe there is such a thing as a homosexual—only a disabled heterosexual. Some take a broader view of sexuality and call themselves pansexual, while others proclaim they’re asexual.
So, who’s right? Which is right?
In the end, sexuality is a subjective matter.
According to the Code of Ethics of the American Psychological Association, every person is entitled to dignity. Part of that dignity is the right of self-determination. Each person speaks for himself or herself. Dignity and respect are owed to each person, regardless of each self-determination.
Culturally, there’s a distinction between “gay” and “homosexual”. Men with homosexual orientations have all the same psychosocial and sexual needs that straight men possess. Straight men have been engaging in sex and intimacy since the beginning of humankind. So have homosexuals.
All men and women—regardless of their orientation—are entitled to sex and intimacy. By acknowledging to themselves a willingness to act in accordance with their innate distinctive value system, people with same-sex attractions give themselves permission to get all of their social, psychological and sexual needs met, just like a heterosexual.
That’s called being gay.
Concerning a person coming out as gay, scientific research shows:
- Associates around him or her are more likely to become accepting of homosexuality.
- People close to the person become more accepting of other minorities, as well.
- A son’s relationship with his mother impacts the adjustment more than his relationship with his father (defying prior psychosocial community beliefs leaning toward father relationships).
- The parents’ ability to accept their child’s homosexuality is directly related to their satisfaction and security with their own sexuality.
- The gay community is full of men and women who after decades of heterosexual marriage have chosen to come out as gay.
What is the relevance of this discussion? A person’s ability to build a relationship and achieve intimacy in life are dependent on understanding one’s sexuality. To understand this is to understand one’s capacity for happiness.