The American Psychological Association describes sexual orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectional attraction toward others. It is different from the other variables of sexuality including our biological sex (we are born male of female), our gender identity (our mental sense of being male or female), and our social gender roles (how much or less we adhere to cultural norms for feminine and masculine behavior).
Sexual orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from one end at exclusive heterosexuality to the other end at exclusive homosexuality and includes the various levels of bisexuality inbetween. Bisexual persons can experience sexual, emotional, and affectional attraction to both their own sex and the opposite sex. Persons with a homosexual orientation are sometimes referred to as gay (both men and women) or as lesbian (women only).
Sexual orientation refers to our feelings and self-concept.and may be different than our sexual behavior.
Q. What Causes a Person To Have a Particular Sexual Orientation?
There is no one answer and there are a multitude of theories about the roots of our personal sexual orientation. Most psychologists today agree that sexual orientation is the result of a a combination of our interactions in the environment, in our cognitive and our genetical factors. It is most likely that sexual orientation is shaped at an early age. There is more and more evidence that suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person’s sexuality.
It’s important to recognize that there are probably many reasons for a person’s sexual orientation, and the reasons are probably different for different people.
Q. Is Sexual Orientation a Choice?
No, I do not believe that as human beings we can choose to be either gay or straight. Although it is true we can choose whether to act on our feelings. Psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed. And believe that for most people, sexual orientation emerges in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience.
Q. Can Therapy Change Sexual Orientation?
No. Therapy cannot change your sexual orientation. There are some homosexual or bisexual people who may seek to change their sexual orientation through therapy, often coerced by family members or religious groups to try and do so. The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness that can be cured. Homosexuality does not require treatment and it cannot be changed.
However, people should seek assistance from a mental health professional not to change their sexual orientation but for mental assistance and support for such things as the coming out process or for strategies to deal with prejudice.
Q. What About So-Called “Conversion Therapies”?
Some organizations take on this so-called conversion therapy and they report that they have been sucessful in changing their clients’ sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. But when you look closely at these reports there are many facets which suggest that only behavior is being changed. For one, most of these claims come from organizations with an ideological perspective that condemns homosexuality. Not to mention, their claims are poorly documented; in that the treatment outcome is not followed and reported over a long period of time, which is standard in test the validity of any mental health intervention.
PLEASE NOTE: The American Psychological Association is 1. Concerned about such therapies and their potential harm to patients, and 2 . Does not condone Homophobia. In 1997, the Association’s Council of Representatives passed a resolution reaffirming psychology’s opposition to homophobia in treatment and reminds us that a client has the right to unbiased treatment and self-determination. That is : Any person who enters into therapy to deal with issues of sexual orientation has a right to expect that such therapy will take place in a professionally neutral environment, without any social bias.
Q. Is Homosexuality a Mental Illness or Emotional Problem?
No. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals agree that homosexuality is not an illness, a mental disorder, nor an emotional problem. More than 35 years of objective, well-designed scientific research has shown that homosexuality, in and itself, is not associated with mental disorders or emotional or social problems. Homosexuality was once thought to be a mental illness because mental health professionals and society had biased information.
In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the official manual that lists mental and emotional disorders. In 1975, the American Psychological Association also removed this.
For more than 25 years, both associations have continued to advocate for homosexual and bisexual orientation and urge all mental health professionals to help breakdown the stigma of mental illness that some people and organziations still associate with homosexual orientation.
Q. Can Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals Be Good Parents?
ABSOLUTELY. Studies have been conducted comparing groups of children raised by homosexual and by heterosexual parents and there was no evidence for developmental differences in their intelligence, psychological adjustment, social adjustment, and popularity with friends. And a parent’s sexual orientation does not indicate their child's will be the same.
Another myth about homosexuality is the mistaken belief that gay men have more of a tendency than heterosexual men to sexually molest children. This is false. Sexual predator does not equate homosexuality.
Q. Why Do Some Gay Men, Lesbians, and Bisexuals Tell People About Their Sexual Orientation?
Talking, sharing and verablizing our identities with others is important to our mental health. The process of identity development for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals is called “coming out” and has been found to be strongly related to psychological adjustment; the stronger the gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity, the better one’s mental health and the higher one’s self-esteem.
Q. Why Is the “Coming Out” Process Difficult for Some Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual People?
The “coming out” process is difficult for some and for others it is not. People feel afraid, different, and alone when they first realize that their sexual orientation is different from the societal norms.
Children and adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of bias and stereotypes. The fear of being rejected by family, friends, co-workers, and religious institutions is real. Another reality is that people in some places have to worry about losing their jobs or being harassed at school if their sexual orientation became well known.
Hate crimes are a reality too. Studies have shown that gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals are at a higher risk for physical assault and violence, and these can range anywhere from name-calling to physical violence.
Q. What Can Be Done to Overcome the Prejudice and Discrimination that Gay Men, Lesbians, and Bisexuals Experience?
Education and Exposure. Research have shown that negative attitudes toward gay people as a group are biases which are not grounded in actual experience and knowledge, but are based on stereotypes and misinformation. In other words, a fear of the unknown.
Educating all people about sexual orientation and homosexuality is likely to diminish anti-gay prejudice. Accurate information about homosexuality is especially important to young people who are first discovering and seeking to understand their sexuality, whether homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. Fears that access to such information will make more people gay have no validity; information about homosexuality does not make someone gay or straight.
Q. Are All Gay and Bisexual Men HIV Infected?
No. But, this is a common myth. In reality, the risk of exposure to HIV is related to a person’s behavior, not their sexual orientation. What’s important to remember about HIV/AIDS is that contracting the disease can be prevented by using safe sex practices and by not using drugs.