Sexual Orientation Definitions

Why do people become gay (or straight)?

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Why do people become gay (or straight)?

  • genetic factors

  • prenatal factors

  • brain factors

  • hormonal imbalance

  • Learning theory

  • people are born sexual, not heterosexual or homosexual

  • + or – reinforcements (rewards or punishments) in early learning experiences result in predominant homosexuality or predominant heterosexuality

  • Interactionist theory

  • includes biological factors and environmental experiences

  • designed to explain sexual orientation rather than homosexuality
  • Sociological theories

  • Labeling theory: acceptance of label becomes self-fulfilling prophecy

  • Reiss’ explanation of cross-cultural differences

  • 1. societies that have high maternal & low father involvement w/infants, and that have rigid gender roles, have the highest incidence of male homosexuality

  • 2. in less gender rigid societies with more permissiveness about sexuality, individuals feel freer to experiment w/same gender behavior & may find it satisfying

So, which theory is right?

  • In summary, we do not know what causes sexual orientation.

  • Unlike gender identity which is determined in childhood, sexual identity (and orientation) continues to evolve into adulthood for some people.

  • There is probably not a single cause of homosexuality (or heterosexuality), but rather many causes.

  • Why isn’t everyone bisexual?

Multicultural Differences

  • Less tolerance of homosexuality among non-white Americans than white Americans

    • lowest level of tolerance in African American community

  • Black & Latino men more likely than White men to engage extensively in homosexual behavior while still considering themselves heterosexual (“down low”)

  • Mexican American men engaging in anal intercourse are more likely than White men to exclusively adopt either the role of inserting partner or receptive partner


  • A bisexual is a person whose sexual orientation is toward members of the same gender as well as members of the other gender.

  • bisexuality is more common than exclusive homosexuality

  • bisexuality is viewed with suspicion and hostility by many in the gay community

  • monogamy is an issue for bisexuals
  • bisexual men and women usually begin to think of themselves as bisexual in their early to mid-twenties

  • women usually have heterosexual attractions and experiences before homosexual ones

  • men more likely to have homosexual experiences first, followed by heterosexual ones

Importance of late occurring experiences in shaping one’s sexual behavior and identity

  • unlike gender identity, which seems to be fixed in preschool years, sexual identity seems to evolve in adulthood for some people (especially women)

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