Sexual Orientation

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Sexual Orientation
Chapter 8 Motivation and Emotion
There are differences, too, in what women and men find sexually arousing. For
example, in many cultures, men are far more interested in, and responsive to, erotic
visual images than women are (Herz & Cahill, 1997; Symons, 1979). A biological basis
for this difference was investigated in a study that scanned the brain activity of males
and females while they looked at erotic photographs (Hamann et al., 2004). As
expected, the men showed greater activity in the amygdala and hypothalamus than the
women did. But even though there were gender differences in brain activity, the male
and female participants rated the photos as equally attractive and sexually arousing. In
another study, when men reported sexual arousal in response to erotic films, they
showed signs of physiological arousal, too. For women, self-reports of arousal were not
strongly correlated with signs of physiological arousal (Chivers et al., 2004).
These are just a few examples of the fact that sexuality is a product of a complex
mixture of factors. Each person’s learning history, cultural background, and perceptions
of the world interact so deeply with such a wide range of physiological processes that—
as in many other aspects of human behavior and mental processes—it is impossible to
separate their influence on sexuality. Nowhere is this point clearer than in the case of
sexual orientation.
Sexual Orientation
heterosexual Referring to sexual desire or behavior that is focused on
members of the opposite sex.
homosexual Referring to gay men
and lesbians, whose sexual desire or behavior is focused on members of their
own sex.
bisexual Referring to sexual desire or
behavior that is focused on members of
both sexes.
Sexual orientation refers to the nature of a person’s enduring emotional, romantic, or
sexual attraction to others (American Psychological Association, 2002a; Ellis & Mitchell,
2000). The most common sexual orientation is heterosexual, in which the attraction
is to members of the opposite sex. When attraction focuses on members of one’s own
sex, the orientation is called homosexual, and more specifically, gay (for men) and
lesbian (for women). People who are attracted to members of both sexes are said to
have a bisexual orientation. Sexual orientation involves feelings that may or may not
be translated into corresponding patterns of sexual behavior. For example, some people whose orientation is gay, lesbian, or bisexual may have sex only with opposite-sex
partners. Similarly, people whose orientation is heterosexual may have had one or more
same-sex encounters.
In many cultures, heterosexuality has long been regarded as a moral norm, and
homosexuality seen as a disease, a disorder, or even a crime (Hooker, 1993). Yet
attempts to alter the sexual orientation of gay men and lesbians—using psychotherapy,
brain surgery, or electric shock—have usually been ineffective (American Psychiatric
Association, 1999; Haldeman, 1994). In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association
dropped homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
thus ending its official status as a mental disorder. The same change was made by the
World Health Organization in its International Classification of Diseases in 1993, by
Japan’s psychiatric organization in 1995, and by the Chinese Psychiatric Association in
Nevertheless, some people still disapprove of homosexuality. Because gays, lesbians,
and bisexuals are often the victims of discrimination and even hate crimes, many of
them are reluctant to let their sexual orientation be known (Bernat et al., 2001; Meyer,
2003). It is difficult, therefore, to obtain an accurate picture of the mix of heterosexual, gay, lesbian, and bisexual orientations in a population. In the Chicago sex survey
mentioned earlier, 1.4 percent of women and 2.8 percent of men identified themselves
as exclusively gay or lesbian (Laumann et al., 1994). These figures are much lower than
the 10 percent found earlier in Kinsey’s studies. However, the Chicago survey’s face-toface interviews did not allow respondents to give anonymous answers to questions
about sexual orientation. Some researchers suggest that if anonymous responses to
those questions had been permitted, the prevalence figures for gay, lesbian, and bisexual orientations would have been higher (Bullough, 1995). In fact, studies that have
allowed anonymous responding estimate that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people make
up between 2 and 21 percent of the population in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe (Aaron et al., 2003; Bagley & Tremblay, 1998; Binson et al., 1995; SavinWilliams, 2006; Sell, Wells, & Wypij, 1995).
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