Sexual Orientation

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Sexual Orientation

This exercise is taken from Men As Partners (MAP): A Program for Supplementing the Training of Life Skills Educators (Second Edition) by EngenderHealth and Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa

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1. To facilitate an understanding of the different types of sexual orientation

2. To examine societal attitudes about homosexuality

3. To clear up myths that exist about homosexuality


15 to 30 minutes


• Flipchart paper


1. Begin a discussion by asking the group to define sexual orientation. Provide the following definition after the discussion:
Sexual orientation is the erotic or romantic attraction (preference) for sharing sexual expression with:

• Members of the opposite sex (heterosexuality)

• Members of your own sex (homosexuality)

• Members of both sexes (bisexuality)

2. Acknowledge that some of the participants might have very strong values about a person’s sexual orientation. Tell the participants that you will respect every individual’s right to his or her opinion. However, sexual orientation is important to discuss because homosexuality exists in South Africa, as well as throughout the rest of the world. Also, the new constitution in South Africa says that no one can discriminate against people because they are gay or lesbian. Allow for any questions at this point if needed.
3. Draw a line across the top of some flipchart paper. Label one side of the continuum “Heterosexual” and the opposite end “Homosexual.” Label the middle of the continuum “Bisexual.”
Use this diagram to explain that the range of sexual orientation, from heterosexuality to homosexuality, is a continuum. Most individuals’ sexual orientation falls somewhere along this continuum. While scientific studies have shown that an individual cannot change his or her sexual orientation at will, sexual orientation might change throughout a person’s lifetime. So an individual’s orientation can move along the continuum as time passes.
4. Explain that a person’s sexual orientation is often confused with other aspects of his or her sexuality. People often mistake sexual orientation with gender roles. To make this point, draw a second line below the first. Label one side “Masculine” and the other “Feminine.” Explain that gender roles are societal expectations of how men and women should act. Often, when a man acts in a feminine manner, he is assumed to be homosexual, but this may not be true because gender roles and sexual orientation are different. Explain that a person’s gender roles can also move across the continuum over time or can be based upon a given situation.
5. Another distinction to make is that a person’s sexual behavior does not always indicate his or her sexual orientation. To make this point, draw a third line below the other two. Label one side “Sex with Men” and the other “Sex with Women.”
Explain that not all individuals who have had one or more sexual contacts with members of their own sex define themselves as homosexual or are considered homosexual by society. For example, some adolescent boys who experiment sexually with other boys (for example, masturbating in a group) and some men who have sex with other men in isolated settings, such as prisons, do not consider themselves and are not considered by others to be homosexual. In addition, individuals who engage in same-sex sexual activity might not be exclusively attracted to members of their own sex and might not wish to engage in sex only with members of their own sex. Indeed, some married persons engage in same-sex sexual activity outside of marriage and still consider themselves to be heterosexual. People who have sex with both men and women might consider themselves to be bisexual, homosexual, or heterosexual.
6. Conclude this activity by making the following points about sexual orientation. Give the participants an opportunity to discuss any of these points:
Homosexuality is not a character defect or a mental illness. Scientific research has shown that people who have sex with members of their own sex can be just as emotionally healthy as those who have sex exclusively with members of the opposite sex.
Sexual orientation is not something a person can change at will. No scientifically valid studies have indicated that people can change their sexual orientation by wanting to do so. However, an individual’s orientation might change over time.
Homosexuality is different from transsexuality. A person who feels that he or she was born into the body of the wrong sex is a transsexual. Being a homosexual has nothing to do with feeling that you are in the body of the wrong sex. Most homosexual men feel perfectly comfortable being male, and most homosexual women, or lesbians, feel perfectly comfortable being female.
Children of homosexual or bisexual parents are no more likely to become homosexual lor bisexual than children of heterosexual parents are.

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