Sexual Orientation, Identity, and Behavior

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Sexual Orientation, Identity, and Behavior
Homosexuality has been a hot topic for the last fifty or so years, as it has been at various times in the past. There are different theories pertaining to the history of homosexuality. Essentialists say it has existed in all times and cultures, while social constructionists believe that it has arisen only in certain places and eras (ancient Greece, for instance) (Bailey 54). Its social acceptability has varied widely as well. The stigma of non-heterosexuality has faded considerably in the twenty-first century. Psychology no longer views homosexuality, bisexuality, and transexuality through a lens of pathology, instead recognizing that lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgenders (collectively referred to as LGBT individuals) have particular issues related to their minority status and the ways in which they are viewed by American society (Garnets and Kimmel, Introduction 2). Formation of an identity that is faithful to the self rather than formed according to societal expectations is now encouraged and recognized as healthy. Nonetheless, many in the heterosexual population are not fully informed about homosexuality and struggle to understand how the needs and outlooks of their LGBT neighbors differ from their own. This paper looks at several aspects of the lives of LGBT individuals, and argues that equal rights for this community have yet to be achieved in this country. Today, the numbers of LGBT individuals in the United States are neither as large as some LGBT supporters would like to think nor as small as some LGBT opponents imagine. According to Gary J. Gates of the University of California School of Law, approximately 3.5% of the population, or nine million people, identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, with an additional 0.3% identifying as transgender (Gates 1). Slightly more adults identify as bisexual than as gay or lesbian, and more women than men state that they are bisexual. Additionally, approximately nineteen million Americans, or 8.2% of the total population, have engaged in same-sex behaviors at some point in their lives, and 25.6%, or 11% of the total population, have felt an attraction to the same sex. The boundaries of heterosexuality are clearly not as rigid as has often been proclaimed in the past. The dichotomous model of sexuality that prevailed throughout history began to change in the late twentieth century. Researchers realized that the model of heterosexuality-or-homosexuality did not include large numbers of individuals whose sexuality was more complicated. As a consequence, [i]n the early 1980s, researchers began to rethink approaches to sexuality. They realized that sexual orientation is more complex than either homosexuality or heterosexuality. . . . [S]exual orientation is a continuum (similar to a spectrum of colors as in a rainbow) that varies in degree, diversity, and intensity. . . . Sexual orientation reflects the affectional-erotic attractions and love toward the same gender, other gender, or both genders. It is the combination of an individual’s relative homosexuality and heterosexuality, representing two separate and independent parallel dimensions. This, in turn, makes it possible to view bisexuality as a distinct sexual orientation and identity. (Garnets and Kimmel, Introduction 4) Sexual orientation includes more than just the sex act. It also refers to emotions, thoughts and fantasies, relationships, and self-identity (Garnets and Kimmel, Introduction 5). Attractions (if not basic identity) may change over time, particularly in the case of women. And regardless of sexual orientation, men and women have strong commonalities in sexual behavior; both gay and straight men, for instance, “tend to have a recreational or body-centered orientation” to sex, while both lesbian and straight women “tend to have a relational or partner-centered orientation” (Garnets and Kimmel, Introduction 6). A study in 1973 by Bell, Weinberg, and...
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