Homosexuality refers to sexual interaction between individuals of the same gender. The term "gay" is used predominantly to refer to self-identified homosexual people of either sex. "Lesbian" is a gender-specific term that is only used for self-identified homosexual females. Bisexuality refers to individuals who are comfortable with both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.
Homosexuality has been widely maligned as deviant or sinful behavior in most cultures, attitudes stemming from religious and philosophical ideas about what behaviors are in accord with nature and natural law. On the other hand, many cultures throughout history have had specific socially sanctioned roles for erotic love and sexual expression between individuals of the same sex. Today attitudes towards homosexuality are changing from hostility to tolerance, as efforts are made to combat homophobic prejudice, to end discrimination, and to ensure the civil rights of all people irrespective of their sexual orientation.
Nevertheless, the topic has become one of great controversies of the twenty-first century. On the one hand, gay activists and many liberals regard homosexuality as an innate condition; they believe that homosexual behavior should be accepted as within the range of the diverse ways human beings express sexual love. They believe society should protect homosexuals as a civil rights issue. On the other side, many conservatives and religious people regard homosexuality as a deviant state and same-sex relations as outside the norm of what should be acceptable behavior. They regard homosexual behavior as a sin and believe society should treat it as a moral issue.
The causes of homosexuality are as yet unclear, and may be a complex of many factors. Same-sex attraction can be a powerful force that neither religious teachings nor will-power can defeat. Mainstream psychology has come around to the view that homosexuality is an innate condition, although a dissenting minority regard it as a disorder and have developed specialized therapies that can enable those who are willing to deal with their same-sex attraction and settle into a heterosexual lifestyle.
These days, most homosexuals at first struggle against but eventually choose to accept their proclivity for the same sex as a part of their identity. In so doing, they may have to overcome social and familial disapproval, religiously based guilt, and personal shame. Some decide to openly identify themselves as "gay"; others choose to remain "in the closet," in keeping with the discretion that most heterosexuals practice in concealing their sex lives.
People whose value system is rooted in religion continue to see homosexual behavior, like all sexual behavior, as a moral issue. Morality is rooted in the responsible use of one's freedom to refrain from acting on illicit sexual urges—whether heterosexual or homosexual. Some churches condemn the homosexual lifestyle by its most unsavory aspects, like sprees with many partners. However, their judgment would be hypocritical unless they were equally opposed to the promiscuous behavior that has become so commonplace and accepted among heterosexuals. A consistent biblically based standard is that sexual activity is only appropriate to (heterosexual) marriage. Churches that condemn homosexuals may justifiably do so because they uphold the marriage standard for all their members, and see accommodating the wishes of homosexuals as corrosive to morality generally. Other churches take the path of compassionate ministry: they include homosexuals as mandated by Jesus' call to minister to every lost sheep. They believe that God's grace is for all people whatever their sexual orientation, and see a homosexual not primarily as a homosexual but first as a human being made in the image of God.
Estimates of the modern prevalence of homosexuality vary considerably. They are complicated by differing or even ambiguous definitions of homosexuality, the stigma associated with homosexuality, frequent use of non-random samples, and by fluctuations over time and according to location.
The controversial Kinsey Reports of 1948 found that 37 percent of males in the United States had had some sexual experience with other men, and that four percent had always been exclusively homosexual. Among women, Kinsey found between two percent and six percent had "more or less exclusively" homosexual experience. His results, however, have been disputed, and follow up studies claimed that much of Kinsey's work was based on convenience samples rather than random samples, and thus would have been vulnerable to bias. "His figures were undermined when it was revealed that he had disproportionately interviewed homosexuals and prisoners (many sex offenders)."
More modern and precise research by Edward O. Laumann, reported in Sex in America: A definitive survey (1995), presented data on sexual practices and sexual relationships, number of partners, and the rate of homosexuality in the population. Homosexuality was reported to be 1.3 percent for women within the past year, and 4.1 percent since 18 years; for men, 2.7 percent within the past year, and 4.9 percent since 18 years.
Societal attitudes towards same-sex relationships, reflected in the attitude of the general population, the state and the church, have varied over the centuries, and from place to place. They have ranged from acceptance and even encouragement of pederastic relationships (as in Ancient Greece), to seeing the practice as a major sin deserving of repression through law enforcement and judicial mechanisms, even proscribing it under penalty of death.
Today many people argue for social acceptance and legal recognition of same-sex relationships, believing that homosexuality is an inborn trait. This is the position of the American Psychiatric Association, which since 1973 has rejected the view that homosexuality is a mental disorder and has called for society to respect homosexual rights. Many others still maintain the traditional view that homosexuality is a sin, the result of a choice to indulge in immoral behavior. For most religious-minded people, same-sex relationships are incompatible with their beliefs and world view.
Controversy over the issue of homosexuality became acute in the United States as the success of the Gay Rights Movement brought with it social and legal pressures to tolerate and accept behavior that a majority of the population had traditionally regarded as sinful and/or deviant. To draw the issue sharply: Many believe that the root cause of homosexuality is genetic, like left-handedness. Therefore a homosexual cannot be held morally responsible for his or her sexual orientation, and cannot be expected to change it. Having subjected them to discrimination in the past, society should now treat homosexuals as a discriminated minority in need of legal protection and civil rights, in the same manner as civil rights were guaranteed to African-Americans.
On the other side, those who reject this view regard homosexuality as a life-style in which same-sex attractions (which are common to numerous people) are acted upon instead of suppressed, and a homosexual as someone who has formed his or her identity from this attraction. The behavior is addictive and difficult to change. Even so, homosexual behavior is a moral issue, and those who identify themselves as homosexuals do not deserve any more protection than do alcoholics or smokers.
There are a number of shades of opinion between these two viewpoints. Generally, young people side with the liberal viewpoint, which is promoted by gays themselves. It has the endorsement of most mental health professionals. Older people, and members of conservative religious groups including Christians, Muslims and Jews, tend to hold the conservative view.
|Question||The most conservative view||The most liberal view|
|What homosexuality is||A chosen lifestyle, and an identity formed around it.||An innate orientation that one does not choose.|
|What causes it||Multiple causes including: poor parenting, sexual molestation during childhood, demon possession. Addiction traps them in the lifestyle.||Genetic causes plus unknown environmental factor in early childhood which "turns on" the gay gene(s).|
|At what age can it be detected||During the teenage years, after puberty, when it is chosen.||Same-sex orientation can be detected in pre-school children.|
|Is it a sin?||Yes, a most serious sin, endangering the family and social stability.||No, since there is no choice, there is no sin. Safe and consensual relationships are not inherently sinful.|
|Is it natural?||It is unnatural and deviant, violating the principle of male-female relationships found throughout nature.||It is normal and natural for a minority of humans, just as it is found in a minority of animals and birds of many species.|
|What should a homosexual do?||Choose to remain celibate or attempt to change their orientation to hetersexual through therapy.||Accept their sexual orientation and find a monogamous relationship with a same-sex partner. Attempting to change sexual orientation is impossible; therapies are futile and even dangerous.|
|God's attitude towards homosexuality||He loves the sinner but hates the sin. He loves homosexuals but homosexual behavior is always sinful.||He loves homosexuals as persons and approves of homosexual love if it is consensual and committed.|
|Can sexual preference be changed?||Yes, through counseling, reparative therapy and prayer. Yet requires great effort because it is so addictive.||No. Sexual orientation is fixed from birth. Therapy is ineffective and potentially dangerous, leading to depression and suicide.|
|Are anti-discrimination laws beneficial?||No. Granting special privileges to a group defined by their moral choice is wrong. It can encourage more youth to embrace homosexuality.||Yes. Homosexuals are a discriminated-against minority in need of protection.|
|What happens to children raised by gay or lesbian parents?||A large percentage will become homosexuals. Those who don't will be deeply disturbed by their parents' homosexual lifestyle.||The vast majority will be heterosexual, more tolerant and less judgmental than average.|
|Should same-sex couples be permitted to marry?||No. By changing the time-honored basis of marriage, permitting same-sex marriages threatens regular families and thus the stability of society.||Yes. Official recognition of their relationship and government benefits that come with it are a fundamental civil right.|
|Should churches recognize committed monogamous same-sex relationships?||No. Gay relationships are an abomination, hated by God.||Yes. All loving, committed adult relationships should be recognized and honored as God's gift of love.|
|Should gays be eligible for ordination as clergy?||No. It would be a major lowering of standards and the condoning of sin.||Yes. One's sexual orientation has no bearing on one's ability to be a priest or minister.|
Although homosexual acts were decriminalized in some parts of the Western world, such as in Denmark in 1933, in Sweden in 1944, in the United Kingdom in 1967, and in Canada in 1969, it was not until the mid-1970s that homosexuals first began to achieve actual, though limited, civil rights in developed countries. A turning point was reached in 1973 when, in a vote decided by a plurality of the membership, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, thus negating its previous definition of homosexuality as a clinical mental disorder. In 1977, Quebec became the first state-level jurisdiction in the world to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Since the 1960s, in part due to their history of shared oppression, many gays and lesbians in the West, particularly those in major metropolitan areas, have developed a so-called "gay culture." To many, gay culture is exemplified by the gay pride movement, with annual parades and displays of rainbow flags. Yet not all gays choose to participate in such displays of "queer culture": some view it to be a frivolous display that perpetuates gay stereotypes and widens the gulf between gay and straight people.
The bewildering death toll wrought by AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s at first seemed to slow the progress of the gay rights movement, but in time it galvanized some parts of the gay community into community service and political action, and challenged the heterosexual community to respond compassionately. Many gay and lesbian groups and individuals organized campaigns to promote efforts in AIDS education, prevention, research, and patient support, and community outreach, as well as to demand government support for these programs. Gay Men's Health Crisis, Project Inform, and ACT UP are notable American examples of the gay community's response to the AIDS crisis. American motion pictures from this period dramatized the response of individuals and communities to the AIDS crisis, including An Early Frost (1985), Longtime Companion (1990), And the Band Played On (1993), Philadelphia (1993), and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989), the last referring to the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt last displayed in its entirety on the Mall in Washington, DC in 1996.
Today the Gay Rights Movement in the United States is highly organized and is working through the legal system and political process to secure complete civil rights for homosexuals in matters of employment, adoption, inheritance rights, up to and including gay marriage.
Legislation designed to create provisions for gay marriage in a number of countries has polarized international opinion and led to many well-publicized political debates and court battles. By 2006, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa had legalized same-sex marriage; in the United States, only Massachusetts had legalized gay marriage while the states of Vermont, Connecticut, and New Jersey allowed civil unions. Maine, California, and Hawaii, as well as the District of Columbia, offered domestic partnerships.
The majority of European nations have enacted laws allowing civil unions designed to give gay couples similar rights as married couples concerning legal issues such as inheritance and immigration. In the United States, the framing of the debate around marriage rather than civil unions may have been partly responsible for the defeat of a number of measures by sparking opposition from many conservative and religious groups.
For moderate and conservative religious-minded people, the activism of the Gay Rights Movement in seeking civil rights for themselves up to the point of civil unions may be tolerable, but it becomes objectionable and even threatening when the legal changes they propose alter of the meaning and purpose of marriage, which affects everyone. They maintain that marriage is a specific institution designed as the union of a man and a woman, as a foundation for parenthood and the establishment of a family.
Many homosexuals recognize the norm of a long-term relationship with one partner. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the homosexual population includes a large percentage whose sexual behavior is aberrant by any standards. The health consequences of promiscuous homosexuality are tragic. In comparison to ordinary heterosexual lifestyles, homosexuals vary on a number of measures including the following:
The medical problems associated with homosexuality are well-known in the gay community. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association warns gay men about the following:
Yet many homosexuals seem to be ignoring the widespread publicity of these medical risks within the gay community. A CDC study concluded that gay men ignore health warnings to practice "safe sex." According to researchers, "One fourth of the men admitted having had unprotected sex with a "non-main" partner during the previous 12 months. These men tended to be white, older and high on drugs or drunk during their last encounter. They admitted knowing they were HIV-infected but engaged in unprotected sex anyway."
In the close quarters of male barracks and under the pressure of combat, many in the military see the presence of homosexuals as potentially creating problems of troop cohesiveness, discipline and morale. The United States settled on a “Don't ask, don't tell” policy, which requires homosexual soldiers to conceal their orientation and refrain from homosexual behavior. This imperfect compromise between open acceptance and prohibition is intended to enable homosexual men to serve their country honorably and without causing any disruption in the ranks. Difficulties remain: for troop morale, if men who conceal their homosexuality are unable to control their attraction in the barracks, and for responsible homosexuals who have found a satisfying career the military, for whom there is the ever-present risk of being "outed" and discharged.
A few countries like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands accept openly homosexual individuals into the armed forces. Islamic nations that adhere to the strict interpretation of Sharia remove individuals from their armed forces who are believed to be homosexual and may subject them to legal penalties.
Sexual customs have varied greatly over time and from one region to another. Modern Western gay culture, largely a product of the loosening of sexual restraints generally in the twentieth century and given widespread social sanction as a result of the contemporary Gay Rights Movement, is a relatively recent manifestation of same-sex desire. It is generally not applicable as a standard when investigating same-gender sex in other cultures and historical periods.
Homosexual expression in sub-Saharan Africa was present that the time of European colonization and took a variety of forms, most often pederasty. Anthropologists Murray and Roscoe reported that certain women in Lesotho engaged in socially sanctioned "long term, erotic relationships" named motsoalle. These practices were more or less tolerated, until attitudes hardened after the coming of Christianity.
In North American Native society, the most common form of same-sex sexuality centers around the figure of the "two-spirit" individual or berdache. Such people seem to have been recognized by the majority of tribes, each of which had its particular term for the role. These individuals are often viewed as having two spirits occupying one body. Their dress is usually a mixture of traditionally male and traditionally female articles. They have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes. Typically the two-spirit individual was recognized early in life, given a choice by the parents to follow the path, and if the child accepted the role then raised in the appropriate manner, learning the customs of the chosen gender. Two-spirit individuals were commonly shamans and were revered as having powers beyond those of ordinary shamans. Most of these individuals had relationships with the same, opposite, or either sexes. Female-bodied two-spirits usually had sexual relations or marriages with only females. Male two-spirit people were often prized as wives because of their greater strength and ability to work. In the Lakota tribe, two-spirits commonly married widowers; in this function they parented their husband's children without any risk of bearing new children that she might give priority to.
The Spanish conquerors were horrified to discover sodomy openly practiced among native peoples, and attempted to crush it out by subjecting the berdaches under their rule to severe penalties, including public execution and burning. In a famous example of homophobic cruelty, in 1513 the conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa:
discovered that the village of Quarequa (in modern-day Panama) was stained by the foulest vice. The king’s brother and a number of other courtiers were dressed as women, and according to the accounts of the neighbors shared the same passion. Vasco ordered forty of them to be torn to pieces by dogs. The Spaniards commonly used their dogs in fighting against these naked people, and the dogs threw themselves upon them as though they were wild boars on timid deer.
In Asia same-sex love has been known since the dawn of history. Early Western travelers were taken aback by its widespread acceptance and open display.
Homosexuality in China, known as the "pleasures of the bitten peach," "the cut sleeve," or "the southern custom," has been recorded since approximately 600 B.C.E. These euphemistic terms were used to describe behaviors, but not identities. In more recent times, the Chinese society adopted the term "brokeback," 斷背 duanbei, due to the success of Chinese director Ang Lee's film Brokeback Mountain. In the past, such relationships were marked by differences in age and social position. However, the instances of same-sex affection and sexual interactions described in the Hong Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber, or Story of the Stone) seem as familiar to observers in the present as do equivalent stories of romances between heterosexuals during the same period.
Homosexuality in Japan, variously known as shudo or nanshoku, terms influenced by Chinese literature, has been documented for over one thousand years. This same-sex love culture gave rise to strong traditions of painting and literature documenting and celebrating such relationships.
In Thailand, Kathoey, or "ladyboys," have been a feature of Thai society for many centuries, and Thai kings had male as well as female lovers. Kathoey are men who dress as women. They are generally accepted by society, and Thailand has never had legal prohibitions against homosexuality or homosexual behavior. Thai Buddhism recognized the existence of this third gender.
Ancient Greek art, mythology and philosophic works depict a society in which relationships between adult men and adolescent youths were often valued for their pedagogic benefits and as a means of population control, although they were occasionally blamed for causing disorder. Generally these relationships were seen as part of a young man's education before he became an adult, took a wife and formed a heterosexual family. Plato praised the benefits of pederasty in his early writings, but later rejected its erotic character in favor of chaste relationships, what became known as Platonic love.
Socially sanctioned man-boy love continued in the Roman Empire until the coming of Christianity. Emperor Theodosius I decreed a law in 390 C.E. condemning passive homosexuals to be burned at the stake. However, taxes on brothels of boys available for homosexual sex continued to be collected until the end of the reign of Anastasius I in 518. Justinian, towards the end of his reign, expanded the proscription to the active partner as well (in 558) warning that such conduct can lead to the destruction of cities through the "wrath of God."
Accusations of homosexuality have at times been used as a political weapon. For example, during the early fourteenth century, accusations of homosexual behavior were instrumental in disbanding the Knights Templar under Philip IV of France, who profited greatly from confiscating the Templars' wealth.
During the Renaissance, rich cities in northern Italy, Florence and Venice in particular, were renowned for their widespread practice of same-sex love, engaged in by a considerable part of the male (elite) population and constructed along the classical pattern of Ancient Greece and Rome.  The eclipse of this period of relative artistic and erotic freedom was precipitated by the rise to power of the moralizing monk Girolamo Savonarola. In northern Europe the artistic discourse on sodomy was turned against its proponents by artists such as Rembrandt, who in his Rape of Ganymede no longer depicted Ganymede as a willing youth, but as a squalling baby attacked by a rapacious bird of prey.
In seventeenth-century England the homosexual relationships of socially prominent figures, such as King James I and the Duke of Buckingham, were a source of scandal, as described in anonymously authored street pamphlets: "The world is chang'd I know not how, For men Kiss Men, not Women now; …Of J. the First and Buckingham: He, true it is, his Wives Embraces fled, To slabber his lov'd Ganimede;" (Mundus Foppensis, or The Fop Display'd, 1691.)
In the twentieth century, tens of thousands of homosexuals were murdered in the Holocaust, based upon the Nazi proposition that they were a risk of contamination to the "Aryan race."
Among many Middle-Eastern Muslim cultures, homosexual practices were widespread and public. Persian poets, such as Attar (d. 1220), Rumi (d. 1273), Sa’di (d. 1291), Hafez (d. 1389), and Jami (d. 1492), wrote poems replete with homo-erotic allusions. The two most commonly documented forms were commercial sex with transgender males or males enacting transgender roles exemplified by the köçek and the bacchá, and certain Sufi spiritual practices.
In Persia, homosexuality and homo-erotic expressions were tolerated in numerous public places, from monasteries and seminaries to taverns, military camps, bathhouses, and coffee houses. In the early Safavid era (1501-1723), male houses of prostitution (amrad khane) were legally recognized and paid taxes.
A rich tradition of art and literature sprang up, constructing Middle Eastern homosexuality in ways analogous to the ancient tradition of male love in which Ganymede, cup-bearer to the gods, symbolized the ideal boyfriend. Muslim—often Sufi—poets in medieval Arab lands and in Persia wrote odes to the beautiful Christian wine boys who, they claimed, served them in the taverns and shared their beds at night. In many areas the practice survived into modern times (as documented by Richard Francis Burton, André Gide, and others).
In Central Asia, on the Silk Route, the two traditions of the East and the West met, and gave rise to a strong local culture of same-sex love. In the Turkic-speaking areas, one manifestation of this involved the bacchá, adolescent or adolescent-seeming male entertainers and sex workers.
Same-sex relationships were an integral part of the culture of many Melanesian societies before the introduction of Christianity. Traditional Melanesian insemination rituals existed where a boy, upon reaching a certain age would be paired with an older adolescent who would become his mentor and whom he would ritually fellate over a number of years in order to develop his own masculinity. In certain tribes of Papua New Guinea, it is considered a normal ritual responsibility for a boy to have a relationship in order to accomplish his ascent into manhood. Most of these practices have since died out.
Researchers studying the social construction of same-sex relationships in the various cultures around the world have suggested that the concept of homosexuality would best be rendered as "homosexualities." They document that same-sex relations have been, and continue to be, organized in distinct categories by different societies in different eras. These variations are grouped by cultural anthropologist Stephen O. Murray and others into (usually) three separate modes of association:
|Egalitarian||features two partners with no relevance to age. Additionally, both play the same socially-accepted sex role as heterosexuals of their own sex. This is exemplified by relationships currently prevalent in western society between partners of similar age and gender.|
|Gender structured||features each partner playing a different gender role. This is exemplified by traditional relations between men in the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and Central and South Asia, as well as Two-Spirit or shamanic gender-changing practices seen in native societies. In North America, this is best represented by the butch/femme practice.|
|Age structured||features partners of different ages, usually one adolescent and the other adult. This is exemplified by pederasty among the Classical Greeks; southern Chinese boy-marriage rites; and Central Asian and Middle Eastern practices.|
Gender-structured and age-structured homosexuality typically involve one partner adopting a "passive" and the other an "active" role to a much greater degree than in egalitarian relationships. Among men, being the passive partner often means receiving semen, by performing fellatio or being the receptive partner during anal sex. This is sometimes interpreted as an emphasis on the sexual pleasure of the active partner, although this is disputed. For example, in gender-structured female homosexuality in Thailand, active partners (toms) emphasize the sexual pleasure of the passive partner (dee), and often refuse to allow their dee to pleasure them, while in ancient Greece the pederastic tradition was seen as engendering strong friendships between the partners, and was blamed for predisposing males to continue seeking the "passive" pleasures they experienced as adolescents even after they matured.
Usually in any society one form of homosexuality predominates, though others are likely to co-exist. As historian Rictor Norton says in Ancient Greece egalitarian relationships co-existed (albeit less privileged) with the institution of pederasty, and sexual fascination with adolescents can also be found among modern homosexuals. Egalitarian homosexuality has emerged as the principal form practiced in the Western world, while age- and gender-structured homosexuality have become less common. As a byproduct of growing Western cultural dominance, this egalitarian homosexuality is spreading from western culture to non-Western societies, although there are still defined differences between the various cultures.
A hotly debated topic among biologists, psychologists and anthropologists concerns the causes of homosexuality. The current debate is whether homosexuality is the result of nature—a person's biology and genetics, or of nurture—a person's environment and surroundings. Much about human sexuality remains unknown, and the debate continues to this day without any conclusive resolution. Most likely there are both innate and environmental factors at work.
This debate is inevitably tied to the moral issue. Many believe that prejudice against gays and lesbians will melt away if the public were to accept the belief that a person's sexual orientation is mainly determined by genes. If genetic, then same-sex orientation is not a choice but something beyond one's control. Moreover, belief that homosexuality is determined by nature predisposes homosexuals to accept their sexual orientation as natural and to live a homosexual lifestyle; furthermore it fosters the belief that they cannot change and live as a heterosexual even if they want to. On the other hand, some homosexuals fear the development of a genetic "cure."
If homosexuality is primarily fostered by the environment, e.g., family upbringing, molestation as a child, or affiliation with a youth sub-culture, then homosexual individuals can change their orientation, either through therapy or by suppressing same-sex attraction and taking on a heterosexual lifestyle. Indeed, they have a moral obligation to do so, in order to reject behavior that is sinful and unhealthy, and find fulfillment in the normative structure of the monogamous heterosexual family. The power of belief to shape an individual's identity would argue that accepting the view that one's homosexuality is genetically determined means to participate in a particular social construction in which that identity becomes permanent.
Much research on the biology of homosexuality has sought to demonstrate an innate biological and even a genetic basis for this sexual orientation. To date the results have been equivocal.
Several studies, including pioneering work by neuroscientist Simon LeVay, have demonstrated that there are notable differences between the physiology of a heterosexual male and a homosexual male. These differences are primarily found in the brain, inner ear, and olfactory sense. LeVay discovered in his double-blind experiment that the average size of the INAH-3 in the brains of homosexual men was significantly smaller than the average size in heterosexual male brains.
This study has come under criticism for not taking into account the fact that all of the brains of homosexual men he studied were from men who had died of AIDS, which was not equally true of the heterosexuals whose brains he studied. Therefore, rather than looking at the cause of homosexuality, he may have been observing the effects of HIV/AIDS. Still, similar size differences were found when comparisons were made of the INAH-3 measurements in only the brains of those in each group who died from complications due to AIDS, although that sample group was too small to be definitive. Moreover, currently no evidence has been found to suggest that HIV or the effects of AIDS would result in changes in INAH-3 size.
Some people have interpreted LeVay's work as showing that some people are born homosexual; however, in LeVay's own words:
It's important to stress what I didn't find. I did not prove that homosexuality was genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn't show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain. INAH-3 is less likely to be the sole gay nucleus of the brain than a part of a chain of nuclei engaged in men and women's sexual behavior…. Since I looked at adult brains we don't know if the differences I found were there at birth, or if they appeared later.
While animal behavior cannot easily be extrapolated to humans, homosexual advocates seize upon this data to suggest that homosexual behavior is part of the order of nature and not contrary to nature. Critics point out that much of the homosexual behavior observed in animals is situational, occurring only when there is no opportunity for heterosexual activity, for example in the crowded conditions of zoos where the animals are penned in, or as a means of social cooperation in raising young. It thus may be analogous to the situational homosexuality found in prison and the military where otherwise heterosexual humans may resort to homosexual activity.
The strongest evidence for genetic inheritance of a particular trait or condition would be to find higher incidence in identical twins. Bailey and Pillard studied the sexual orientation of male siblings in the same family. They found that if one sibling was homosexual, the chance of the other sibling also being homosexual was 52 percent for an identical twin, 22 percent for a fraternal (non-identical) twin, and 10 percent for adopted or non-twin brothers. The study is suggestive, but it is not definitive and has been critiqued for possible sampling errors. A 2000 study of Australian identical twins found a much lower correlation. Well-run studies of identical twins who were separated at birth and raised in different households will be needed to confirm or deny the linkage.
Dean Hamer of the National Cancer Institute used chromosome mapping to attempt to identify some genetic markers responsible for same-sex attraction, the so-called "gay gene." However, Hamer failed to use a control group, as the subjects' heterosexual brothers might have had the same genetic markers. A Canadian research team using a similar experimental design was unable to duplicate the findings of Hamer’s study. This line of research is so preliminary as to prove very little.
At this point, research attempting to demonstrate biological causes of homosexuality are regarded skeptically by many mainstream biologists. The research has been suggestive, but it is plagued by methodological problems including poor sampling, lack of rigorous control groups, and lack of replicability by other researchers. Comments like this are typical:
Supposing these genetic studies are borne out by further research; how does one interpret them? Quite a number of diseases, mental disorders and disabilities have a genetic component, including Huntington's disease, Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, alcoholism and autism. On the other hand, normal traits such has left-handedness and skin color are also genetic. Hence, finding a genetic factor in homosexuality does not in itself prove that homosexuality is within the range of normal behavior. Furthermore, as genetic research proceeds with the goal of finding methods of gene manipulation to effect cures for illnesses like diabetes and autism, the same could potentially be done for homosexuality.
Neither do such studies prove that genes are the cause of homosexuality. If homosexuality were strictly caused by genes—as is, for example, skin color—then 100 percent of identical twins of homosexuals would become homosexual; but Bailey and Pillard find that the percentage is around 50 percent. This means that some other cause must contribute the other 50 percent—Dr. Bailey himself stated, “There must be something in the environment to yield the discordant twins.” The alleged genetic basis would create a propensity to be homosexual, but it does not determine homosexuality. The other factor is likely to be environmental. Schizophrenia presents similarly: genes account for about 50 percent and the other 50 percent is environmental. There is some yet unknown synergy between genes and environment that together produces homosexuality. Some researchers speculate that some environmental effect may trigger the "gay gene" to full expression—perhaps an event in early childhood. More likely, the gene or genes may confer a certain heightened susceptibility to same-sex attraction that will become fixated based on life-choices made after puberty. In short, both nature and nurture may be involved.
Psychologist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis (1866) was the first scientific discussion of homosexuality. After interviewing many homosexuals, both as his private patients and as a forensic expert, Krafft-Ebing arrived at the conclusion that homosexuality is an anomalous process of embryonic development that leads to a "sexual inversion" of the brain.
Today the neurobiology of the masculinization of the fetal brain is fairly well understood. Estradiol, and testosterone, which is catalyzed by the enzyme 5α-reductase into dihydrotestosterone, act upon androgen receptors in the brain to masculinize it. If there are few androgen receptors (people with Androgen insensitivity syndrome) or too much androgen (females with Congenital adrenal hyperplasia) there can be physical and psychological effects. It has been suggested that both male and female homosexuality are results of variation in this process. However, studies seeking to demonstrate a link between this developmental process and homosexuality have been inconclusive. While lesbianism is linked with a higher amount of masculinization than is found in heterosexual females; however, the data as regards male homosexuality shows no significant correlation.
Failure to confirm the prenatal hormone theory does not mean that some other developmental mechanism may be at work, perhaps in early childhood. Even if such a mechanism were found, we would be far from knowing whether this mechanism was the result of the genetic factor mentioned above or an independent factor, perhaps environmental.
The variety of the specific social constructions of homosexuality across cultures (above) supports the view that a large component of homosexuality is socially conditioned and learned behavior. In societies with age-structured homosexuality such as Ancient Greece, homosexual youths upon maturity would take on heterosexual patterns of life. The social argument for homosexuality dates back to the ancient Greeks. Aristophanes in the Symposium viewed homosexuality as a desire by men to share a long-term fulfillment of the soul. He believed that two souls are longing to be together, however sexual desire alone is not strong enough to create that bond; rather it is the cultural environment that allows or forbids the relationship to occur.
The view that much homosexuality is socially constructed is supported by clear instances of situational homosexuality. Situational homosexuality occurs when there is no opportunity for heterosexual activity, as in prison, the military, and monastic orders. In prisons for example, homosexual behavior is commonplace and provides a way of asserting dominance and requiring submission. In some tribes of Papua New Guinea insemination of adolescent boys by the warriors of the tribe was mandatory. Most "situational homosexuals" are heterosexual in other social contexts.
Yet there is no bright line between situational homosexuality and other homosexualities. For example, the well-known pederasty of ancient Greece mentioned above, was expected of well-bred youths as society regarded it beneficial to their education.
Psychologists, particularly in psychoanalytic or developmental traditions, speculated that formative childhood experiences underlie sexual orientation. Classically, Sigmund Freud believed that all children go through a stage in their psychosexual development when they are bisexual and have the potential for either heterosexual or homosexual expression, from which they normally make the transition to heterosexuality in adulthood. Those who turn to homosexuality as adults he believed had experienced some traumatic event that arrested their sexual development. Contemporary psychologists look at problems in parental and family dynamics in childhood that create issues of gender identification later in life.
Among psychologists who regard homosexuality as a treatable condition, the prevailing theory is that homosexual feelings, thoughts, and desires are symptoms of deeper psychological issues. They represent a defensive response to conflicts in the present, a way to compensate for the pain and discomfort of an unresolved childhood trauma, archaic emotions, frozen feelings, and wounds that never healed. They also represent a reparative drive to fulfill unmet homo-emotional love needs of the past—an unconscious drive for bonding with the same-sex parent. Elizabeth Moberly and Joseph Nicolosi developed the term "homo-emotional love need."
A homo-emotional love need is an unconscious drive for bonding between a son and his father, or between a daughter and her mother. If questioned, the active homosexual would not say he is looking for his father’s love in the arms of another man. It is rather a hidden, unconscious drive buried deep in the psyche. This is a variation of the general principle that applies to people's choice of partners in heterosexual relationships, which are conditioned by unconscious childhood needs. Dr. Harville Hendrix states,
Reparative therapist Richard Cohen rejects the view that homosexuality is a sexual condition at all. He calls homosexuality "same-sex attachment disorder" and describes three underlying drives to same-sex attractions:
According to this therapeutic perspective, homosexuality represents an attachment strain, defensive detachment, or defensive exclusion from the same-sex parent, same-sex peers, one’s own body, and one’s own sense of gender identity. It is an attachment disorder, whereby the individual feels separated from parents, self, body, and others. “I don’t fit in,” “I don’t belong,” “I’m different from the rest,” “I’m neither a boy nor girl,” are some of the thoughts of those who experience same-sex attractions. The result is a "Same-Sex Attachment Disorder."
Cohen further lists ten psycho-social wounds that can destabilize the formation of healthy attachments and contribute to the formation of homosexual attachments:
That homosexuality is no longer generally viewed as a treatable disease by mental health professionals is mainly due to the APA's position that homosexuality should be regarded not as a disorder but rather within the range of socially acceptable sexual expression. Therefore, there are ethical and political issues surrounding treating homosexuality as a disorder. The prevailing attitude of the mental health profession and recovery movement is “gay affirmative therapy,” helping the client come to accept their homosexuality. Yet helping clients in this way may leave an unresolved ache in the soul, if that person is inwardly crying out for recovering his or her original heterosexual being.
Those who do believe homosexuality to be a condition have developed programs similar to alcohol and drug treatment programs in which clinicians help homosexuals overcome their preference for homosexual behavior and attraction to people of the same sex, as well as developing satisfying heterosexual relationships. These treatment programs are run by religious groups and psychotherapists.
Therapists recognize the futility of simply "toughing it out" in a heterosexual marriage or striving to "pray away" unwanted homosexual feelings:
Reparative therapists have developed a four-stage plan of therapy that begins with behavior change and continues over several years of to build up a healthy sense of self and deal with childhood wounds through non-sexual bonding in a supportive context supervised by the therapist.
Generally, traditional religious teachings condemn homosexuality as unnatural, abhorrent to God, and not leading to human fulfillment. Homosexuality, however, is rarely singled out but is classified among the several illicit sexual practices that are inimical to marriage and family, or among the failings on the path of self-control required of those pursuing a religious vocation.
In response to the modern view that homosexuality is within the range of natural sexual attractions, some liberal religious groups have adopted an open stance towards homosexuals.
According to the Torah, "[A man] shall not lie with another man as with a woman, it is a toeva (abomination)" (Leviticus 18:22). Like many similar commandments, the stated punishment for willful violation is the death penalty, although in practice rabbinic Judaism rid itself of the death penalty for all practical purposes 2,000 years ago. Rabbinic Jewish tradition understands this verse to prohibit all forms of homosexual contact between men. Rabbinic works ban lesbian acts of sex as well.
Many liberal Jewish congregations are accepting of homosexuals. Reform Judaism does not argue that normative Jewish law can change to validate homosexual sex; the argument is that this law, like many of the laws in the Torah, is archaic and no longer binding in today's modern culture. Reform and Reconstructionist congregations now welcome members regardless of sexual orientation, and some rabbis have been known to perform same-sex marriages.
Traditional Christianity is firm in rejecting all forms of homosexuality. The condemnation in Leviticus mentioned above is confirmed by passages in New Testament, such as Acts 15:29 which explicitly advised that Gentile converts were to keep from sexual immorality. The first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans contains the only explicit mention of lesbianism in the Bible, calling it "against nature:"
God gave them up unto vile passions: for their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another…. (Romans 1:26-27)
God's judgment on homosexuality is illustrated by the fate of Sodom (from whence comes the term 'sodomy') and Gomorrah, after a mob surrounded Lot's house and demanded that he bring out the men who had come to lodge with them.
The men of Sodom surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; and they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them." But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, and said, "Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly. Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof." (Genesis 19:4-8)
By offering his daughters, Lot was protecting the guests who had taken refuge in his home—an act of great hospitality—from the mob who were intent on homosexual rape. The cities were subsequently burned with fire and brimstone, a deserved punishment. The unnaturalness of the intended crime was made worse by the fact that the guests were in fact angels. In the New Testament, the Epistle of Jude refers to this incident when describing an earlier unnatural union, between angels and human women in Genesis 6:1-2, which is said to have brought disaster upon the earth, when the sons of God took wives from among the daughters of men. It can also be interpreted as a reference to the relations between Lucifer and Eve at the Fall of Man:
And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day; just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 6-7 RSV)
Some Christians therefore make the connection between homosexuality and demon possession, the activity of fallen angels. Since angels are without gender, the behavior of fallen angels with one another and with humans could be a spiritual prototype of homosexuality.
From early Christianity until recent times, the leading lights of the church have universally condemned homosexuality as among the worst of all sexual sins. Denunciations of sodomy are found in the church fathers, including Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Saint Cyprian, Eusebius, Saint Basil the Great, Saint John Chrysostom, and Saint Augustine of Hippo. In the Medieval church, Thomas Aquinas denounced sodomy as second only to bestiality as the worst of all sexual sins, and Hildegard of Bingen in Scivias condemned sexual relations between women as "perverted forms." The Roman Catholic Church requires homosexuals to practice chastity in the understanding that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered," and "contrary to the natural law." It insists that all are expected to only have heterosexual relations and only in the context of a marriage, describing homosexual tendencies as "a trial," and stressing that people with such tendencies "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity." For those seeking to become priests, the Vatican requires that any homosexual tendencies "must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination."
In recent years, many liberal Christians have come around to accept the view that homosexuality is an innate condition rather than a moral fault. Some major denominations, such as the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Church and some Presbyterian and Anglican churches welcome members regardless of sexual orientation, and some ministers in these churches even perform same-sex marriages. There is even a new denomination, the Metropolitan Community Church, that ministers specifically to the gay community.
Christians in these churches have developed doctrinal stances that support open ministries to homosexuals. Taking an historicist interpretation of scripture, they conclude that past scriptural prohibitions must give way to the modern understanding of homosexuality as the outworking of an orientation. Some consider that scripture has a thoroughgoing patriarchal bias, which expresses itself in a disapproval of all gender-transgressive sexual practices; present-day readings must account for this. The inclusion of the "unclean" Gentiles in the early Church is sometimes said to be a model for the inclusion of other peoples called "unclean" today. Above all, these churches regard homosexuals as first and foremost human beings created in the image of God, and take Jesus' imperative to seek and find the "lost sheep" as requiring ministry to this group that the church has disregarded for so long.
Ordination of gay clergy, however, has led to heated controversy, as many are not willing to accept homosexuals in a position of spiritual authority. The Anglican Communion encountered discord that caused a rift between African (except Southern Africa) and Asian Anglican churches on the one hand and North American churches on the other when some American and Canadian churches openly ordained gay clergy and began blessing same-sex unions.
What! Of all creatures do ye come unto the males, and leave the wives your Lord created for you? Nay, but ye are froward (disobedient) folk. (Qur'an 26:165-166)
All major Islamic sects disapprove of homosexuality, and same-sex intercourse is an offense punishable by execution in six Muslim nations: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mauritania, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. In Muslim nations such as Bahrain, Qatar, Algeria, Pakistan the Maldives, and Malaysia, homosexuality is punished with prison, fines or corporal punishment.
Islam tolerates same-sex desires by viewing them as a temptation; sexual relations, however, are seen as a transgression of the natural role and aim of sexual activity. Islamic teachings (in the hadith tradition) presume same-sex attraction, extol abstention, and (in the Qur'an) condemn consummation. Islamic law governs the physical actions, not a person's inner thoughts and feelings. Thus, same-sex intercourse is punishable under the Sharia, but homosexuality as an attraction is not against the Sharia. Indeed, the Qur'an's realism about pederastic impulses is seen in its description of the rewards in Paradise for those who abstain from such impulses; there believers are attended by perpetually young virgin lovers, women and men, houri and ghilman (56.37).
Among the religions that originated in India, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, teachings regarding homosexuality are less clear than among the Abrahamic traditions. However, most contemporary religious authorities view homosexuality negatively, and when it is discussed, it is discouraged or actively forbidden.
Sexuality is rarely discussed openly in Hindu society, and homosexuality is largely a taboo subject—especially among the strongly religious. The ancient Hindu law codes such as the Manu Smriti refer to both female and male homosexuality as a punishable crime. In a 2004 survey, a large majority of swamis opposed the concept of a Hindu-sanctified gay marriage.
Several Hindu texts, such as Manu Smriti and Sushruta Samhita, assert that some people are born with either mixed male and female natures, or sexually neuter, as a matter of natural biology. Such people worked as hairdressers, flower-sellers, servants, masseurs, and prostitutes. Today, many people of this "third gender" (hijras) live throughout India, mostly on the margins of society, and many still work in prostitution, or live as beggars.
Buddhism discourages sexual behavior that would disturb the equanimity of the practitioner or of others, and Buddhism is often characterized as distrustful of sensual enjoyment in general. Accordingly, homosexual conduct and gender variance are seen as obstacles to spiritual progress in most schools of Buddhism.
References to pandaka, a deviant sex/gender category that is usually interpreted to include homosexual males, can be found throughout the Pali canon. In Buddhaghosa's Samantapasadika, they are described as being filled with defiled passions and insatiable lusts, and are dominated by their libido. The Abhidhamma states that a pandaka cannot achieve enlightenment in his or her own lifetime, but must wait for rebirth as a normal man or woman.
The third of the Five Precepts of Buddhism states that one is to refrain from sexual misconduct; this precept is usually understood to include homosexuality. The Dalai Lama interprets sexual misconduct to include lesbian and gay sex, and indeed any sex other than penis-vagina intercourse, including oral sex, anal sex, and masturbation or other sexual activity with the hand. Nevertheless, he urges "respect, compassion, and full human rights for all including gays." On the other hand, some contemporary Western Buddhists and hold very accepting views of lesbians and gays, and may even consecrate same-sex marriages.
Sikh (Punjabi) society is conservative and intoleration of homosexual behavior. In 2005, the world's highest Sikh religious authority described homosexuality as "against the Sikh religion and the Sikh code of conduct and totally against the laws of nature," and called on Sikhs to support laws against homosexuality.
Chastity is one of the five virtues in the fundamental ethical code of Jainism. For laypersons, the only appropriate avenue for sexuality is within marriage, and homosexuality is believed to lead to negative karma. A modern Jain authority wrote in 2004 that homosexuality and transvestism "stain one's thoughts and feelings" because they involve sexual passion.
The Confucian moral code emphasizes a person's responsibility to family and society. Confucians are expected to get married and have children; this is their responsibility to their parents and their ancestors. A male's duty is to have male children to pass on his family name; a female's duty is to bear her husband male children to carry on his family name. Homosexuality cannot result in reproduction; this is the main reason why Confucians disapprove of it. However, there are records of married men who took male lovers, which was seen as a private matter.
Confucianism stresses an individual's obligations of filial piety to his parents and loyalty to his country. If a one's parents forbade one from engaging in homosexuality, or if the state outlawed homosexuality (as was the case in China between 1740 and 1997), one would be expected to comply with these orders.
Daoism stresses the relationship between yin and yang: two opposing forces which maintain harmony through balance. The Daoist tradition holds that males need the energies of females, and vice versa, in order to bring about balance, completion, and transformation. Heterosexual relations is seen as the physical and emotional embodiment of the harmonious balance between yin and yang. Homosexuality is seen as the union of two yins or two yangs, and therefore unbalanced; hence it does not lead to human fulfillment. Same-sex sexual practices are thought to make people susceptible to illness.
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