Chapter 14 Summary

  1. Sexual orientation defines how a person’s disposition to experience sexual attraction varies with the sex of their potential partners. It can be represented on a 5- or 7-point scale from heterosexual (attracted to people of the opposite sex only), through varying degrees of bisexuality, to homosexual (attracted to people of one’s own sex only.) A small percentage (2% to 3%) of the population is homosexual. Exclusively homosexual men are more common than exclusively homosexual women. The percentage that is bisexual depends greatly on the definition used but is always higher in women than in men.
  2. Lesbians and gay men, although very diverse, tend to be sex-atypical in their self-described masculinity–femininity, in cognitive and personality traits, and in occupational interests. This gender nonconformity is evident in children who later become gay adults.
  3. A variety of theories have been put forward to explain how sexual orientation develops. According to Freudian psychoanalytic theory, heterosexuality emerges from a complex sequence of stages of psychosexual development; the disruption of several of these stages may lead to homosexuality. According to socialization theories, a child’s ultimate sexual orientation is molded by innumerable rewards and punishments given by parents and others.
  4. According to biological theories, sexual orientation is affected by factors such as prenatal hormone levels, which are thought to influence the organization of brain systems responsible for sexual attraction. Genes also influence sexual orientation, especially in men, but the specific genes that are involved have not yet been identified.
  5. The idea that same-sex desire defined a specific class of “homosexual” people first became prevalent in the late 19th century as a result of urbanization, the rise of companionate marriage, and the writings of sexologists. Initially, homosexual men and women were thought of as “gender inverts”—people born with many physical and psychological traits of the other sex.
  6. In the 20th century it became apparent that homosexual people were not all alike. This led initially to the concept of a “butch/femme” or “top/bottom” duality, but more recently it has become apparent that gay people include a wide variety of “types” that cannot easily be shoehorned into gender categories. Sexual orientation is a more fluid concept than originally conceived, especially for women.
  7. The modern gay rights movement began in 19th-century Germany and spread to the United States after the Second World War. A key event was the Stonewall Rebellion, a riot in New York City in 1969 that led to the politicization of the gay community. The AIDS epidemic, which began around 1980, devastated gay male communities. It was also the spur to more effective political action and to greater openness on the part of gay people.
  8. The rapid advances made by lesbians and gay men have made them the focus of a cultural conflict between conservative and progressive forces in American society. The same conflict is playing itself out worldwide; in some countries, gay people have gained greater acceptance than in the United States, while in others they are more severely stigmatized.
  9. Pre-gay children who are markedly gender-nonconformist typically experience taunting, abuse, or efforts to normalize them. For gay people, psychological development is a process of “coming out.” This process involves several stages: self-realization and self-acceptance, disclosure to others, joining the gay community, and integrating one’s homosexuality with other aspects of one’s cultural identity.
  10. Gay sex and gay relationships are quite similar to their heterosexual counterparts. Gay men tend to be more sexually adventurous and to have more partners than lesbians or heterosexual people, but monogamous gay relationships are also common.
  11. Many lesbians and some gay men are parents, either from earlier heterosexual relationships or as a result of a variety of reproductive techniques that are open to gay couples. The children of gay parents generally thrive: They may experience some taunting in school, but they are as well adjusted as the children of straight parents, and they tend to be more tolerant and empathetic.
  12. Anti-gay attitudes and behaviors (homophobia) have multiple roots. These roots include cultural indoctrination, an aversion to the idea of engaging in sex with a same-sex partner, an image of homosexuality as a transgression of social rules, or a defense mechanism against one’s own real or feared homosexual tendencies. Overcoming homophobia depends primarily on personal interactions at a grassroots level.
  13. Bisexual men and women have the advantage of a wider potential range of sexual experience, but they also face social stigma (“biphobia”). They may be mischaracterized as closeted gay people, as oversexed, as spreaders of AIDS, or as inconstant partners. Bisexuals have attempted to forge a social and political identity that is at least partially separate from that of gay people.