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Homosexuality is a type of sexual orientation characterized by sexual desire or romantic love exclusively or almost exclusively for people who are identified as being of the same sex. (For an analysis of the difficulties involved in the issue of identification, see Homosexuality and Transgender and also heterosexuality, and bisexuality).

People who are homosexual, particularly males, are also known as "gay"; gay females are also known as "lesbians" (see Etymology and usage, below).

Table of contents
1 Etymology and usage
2 Incidence and prevalence of homosexuality
3 Homosexuality as one end of a bisexual continuum
4 Homosexual behavior in animals
5 Theories on homosexuality and homosexual behavior
6 Society, religion, and the law
7 History
8 Related articles
9 External links and references
10 Source

Etymology and usage

The term homosexuality appears in print for the first time in 1869 in an anonymous German pamphlet 143 des Preussischen Strafgesetzbuchs und seine Aufrechterhaltung als 152 des Entwurfs eines Strafgesetzbuchs für den Norddeutschen Bund ("Paragraph 143 of the Prussian Penal Code and Its Maintenance as Paragraph 152 of the Draft of a Penal Code for the North German Confederation") written by Karl Maria Kertbeny. This pamphlet advocated the repeal of Prussia's sodomy laws (Bullough et. al. ed. (1996)). Kertbeny had previously used the word in a private letter of 1868 written to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Kertbeny used Homosexualität in place of Ulrichs's Urningtum; Homosexualisten instead of Unringe, and Homosexualistinnen instead of Urninden. The term was first used in English by Charles Gilbert Chaddock in his translation of Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis'', a study on deviant sexual practices, and was popularized in the 1906 Harden-Eulenburg affair.

The word homosexual translates literally as "of the same sex," being a hybrid of the Greek prefix homo- meaning "same" (as distinguished from the Latin root homo meaning human) and the Latin root sex meaning "sex." Although some early writers used the adjective homosexual to refer to any single-gender context (such as the Roman Catholic clergy or an all-girls' school), today the term implies a sexual aspect, and the term homosocial is used for single-sex contexts that are not specifically sexual. Older words for homosexuality, such as homophilia and inversion have fallen into disuse.

Western people who regard themselves as having a same-gender sexual orientation tend to prefer the terms gay and lesbian; the latter term (noun or adjective) refers specifically to women. The term gay can apply to both men and women, but it is often used only for males (hence the expressions gays and lesbians and gay men and lesbians) and its inclusive use is common but not standard. Other terms include same-gender-loving, and same-sex-oriented. Less frequently, the terms queer, homo, and fag or faggot, and dyke are used positively among gay men and lesbians; these terms may be considered derogatory when used by non-gays.

The term homosexual can be used as a noun or adjective to describe same-sex oriented persons as well as their sexual attraction and behavior. However, some recommend that the terms homosexual and homosexuality be avoided lest their use cause confusion or arouse controversy. In particular the description of individuals as homosexual may be offensive, partially because of the negative clinical association of the word stemming from its use in describing same-sex attraction as a pathological state before homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders in 1973. The use of the word homosexual in describing individuals and same sex relationships may also be inaccurate.

Likewise, the use of homosexuality to describe sexual behavior between people of the same sex can be seen as insulting and may be inaccurate. Same-sex oriented people seldom apply these terms to themselves, and public officials and agencies often avoid them. For instance, the Safe Schools Coalition of Washington's Glossary for school employees advises that gay is the "preferred synonym for homosexual," and goes on to advise avoiding the term homosexual as it is "clinical, distancing and archaic":

Sometimes appropriate in referring to behavior (although same-sex is the preferred adjective). When referring to people, as opposed to behavior, homosexual is considered derogatory and the terms gay and lesbian are preferred, at least in the Northwest.

The Guardian Style Guide, Newswatch Diversity Style Guide, and the Committee on Lesbian and Gay Concern of the American Psychological Association's Avoiding Heterosexual Bias in Language all agree that "gay" is the preferred term.

Which terms are acceptable and which are offensive varies widely with location and culture, and the connotations of the words gay and lesbian are also culturally dependent. For instance, among some sectors of African-American gay sub-culture, same-sex sexual behavior is sometimes viewed as solely for physical pleasure. Men on the down-low (DL) may engage in regular (although often covert) sex acts with other men while continuing sexual and romantic relationships with women who are uninformed. These men often regard gay as a term that applies to stereotypically flamboyant and effeminate men of European ancestry, a group from which some may wish to distance themselves. Some experts have suggested that this DL subculture may have come about because of stronger stigmas against same-sex behavior in African-American communities, and greater dependence on possibly homophobic family networks for support.

Other communities have created their own terms or have adapted English terms for their own purposes. In Japan, for example, use of the word "gay" is fairly recent. In recent history the more descriptive dōseiaisha; (同性愛者, literally same-sex-loving person) was the only term available. Prior to that a variety of obscure historical terms largely influenced by classical Chinese literature were employed. More recently the contraction "homo" was used; somewhat confusingly this term was used both positively and pejoratively. Nowadays the terms gei (ゲイ, a transliteration of gay) and bian or rezubian (ビアン、レズビアン, transliterations of lesbian) are the most common in the gay community, while pejorative terms like okama (a word of obscure origin literally meaning a cooking pot) are sometimes used by non-gays.

Incidence and prevalence of homosexuality

See: Prevalence of homosexuality.

Homosexuality as one end of a bisexual continuum

Some people who are in general heterosexual may have mild or occasional interest in members of their own sex. Conversely, many people who identify themselves as homosexual, or who might prefer homosexual activities or relationships, have engaged in heterosexual activities or even have long-term heterosexual relationships. Such heterosexual behavior by people who otherwise show homosexual behavior has often been part of being "in the closet," or concealing one's homosexual orientation, and may be becoming less common as acceptance of homosexuality increases.

Some studies, notably Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) by Alfred Kinsey, point out that when asked to rate themselves on a continuum from completely heterosexual to completely homosexual, and when the individual's behavior as well as their identity is analyzed, the majority of people appear to be at least somewhat bisexual. During their lives most people have some attraction to both sexes, although usually one sex is preferred. Kinsey and his followers therefore consider only a minority (5-10%) to be fully or exclusively heterosexual or homosexual. Conversely, only an even smaller minority can be considered "fully" bisexual, if that term is defined as having no preference for one sex over another. Some later studies have suggested that Kinsey's studies exaggerate the occurrence of bisexuality in the population at large, but his idea of a sexuality continuum still enjoys wide acceptance.

Sexual activity with a person of the same sex, in and of itself, does not necessarily demonstrate homosexual orientation, but is considered homosexual behavior. Not all who are attracted to or have sexual relationships with members of the same sex identify themselves as homosexual or even bisexual. Some people frequently have sex with members of the same sex yet still see themselves as heterosexual. It is important therefore to distinguish between homosexual behavior, homosexual attraction, and homosexual identity, which need not coincide. For example, people in prison, the military, or other sex-segregated environments may engage in situational homosexual behavior despite being heterosexual outside these environments. In addition, some people engage in homosexual behaviors for reasons other than desire. One example is male prostitutes (often called hustlers) who earn money by having sex with other men: while some hustlers are homosexual themselves, a significant number are not.

Homosexual behavior in animals

Main article: Homosexuality in animals

Such behavior appears to be fairly common amongst birds and mammals such as apes and giraffes. Some believe that this behavior has its origin in male social organization and social dominance, similar to that in prison sexuality.

Theories on homosexuality and homosexual behavior

Various groups differ on the definition of homosexuality and theories on its origin. Some see it as innate, immutable and deterministic. Others see it as a function of environment or as something that can be embraced or rejected. Others still (a subset of this latter group) see it as a type of dysfunction to be corrected.

Some scholars in Queer studies, and most famously the French philosopher Michel Foucault (though some have argued that his opinions on this issue have been distorted by later scholars), attack the notion that sexual identities such as 'homosexuality', 'heterosexuality' or 'bisexuality' have any objective existence, viewing them instead as social constructions. (See Queer theory.) A frequent argument used is that homosexuality prior to the modern period differed from modern homosexuality (age-, gender- or class-structured rather than the more egalitarian form seen today). Critics argue that, although homosexuality in different periods has had different features, the underlying phenomenon has always existed and is not a recent invention of our society or that, while the particular manifestations of homosexuality may highly depend on social factors, its facticity remains constant.

Once homosexual desire or behavior has been singled out for attention, and especially negative attention, the question naturally arises: What makes people this way? The causes of sexual orientation are currently under investigation. The general understanding that seems to be emerging is that rather than a single cause being involved, there is instead a symphony of factors that act over a long time to determine each individual's sexual orientation. Nurture, nature, or some combination of the two are often thought to determine human sexual behavior.

One theory, presented by Susan Blackmore, is that homosexuality is largely genetic in origin. The question of how homosexuals counterintuitively replicated their genes, given that homosexual sex does not result in reproduction, can be answered by the theory that social dogma prompted individuals with homosexual genes to behave heterosexually and thus reproduce. This theory goes on to predict that homosexuality will be less common in the future because, as we enter the information age, homosexuality will become more widely known and accepted, and therefore individuals with homosexual genes will feel less inclined to behave heterosexually and will thus reproduce less frequently.

Prenatal hormones have been indicated both in Simon LeVay's study of the anterior hypothalamus in cadavers with homosexual contraction of AIDS as cause of death and Marc Breedloves study of birth order and finger length ratios in living individuals. LeVay's study suggests that homosexual men are feminized, Breedlove's study suggests that both homosexual men and homosexual women are masculinized.

It is conjectured by some, usually those outside of professional medical or research communities that Imitation, a major mechanism of cultural transmission, may account for some homosexual behavior. Proponents of the idea suggest that as representations of homosexuality are presented through television and other mass media, and as society becomes more tolerant of public affection between gay couples, homosexuality may have a greater chance of being imitated or the exploration of homosexual tendencies which have been repressed in the past may become more viable. This idea is generally rejected by mainstream researchers in the field due to the fact that it conflicts with most studies done to date which indicate the incidence of homosexual identity remains surprisingly constant across history and cultures.

Society, religion, and the law

Societal attitudes towards homosexuality have varied over the centuries, from complete rejection (termed homophobia by some groups) through covert acceptance, to complete normalisation, with most degrees in between.

The religious response to homosexuality varies, though in most Abrahamic religions homosexuality is considered a sin; see religion and homosexuality for a comprehensive discussion.

In some cultures, especially those influenced by anti-gay religions, homosexuality is considered a perversion and has been outlawed (see sodomy law, consensual crime); in some jurisdictions homosexual behaviour is a capital crime. Persecution of homosexuals ("gay bashing") in such cultures is common; the experience of homosexuals in Nazi Germany is an egregious example.

In pre-industrial societies homosexuality was generally accepted by the lower classes while some members of upper classes considered it immoral. However with the rise of urbanisation and the nuclear family homosexuality became much less tolerated and even outlawed in some cases.

Beginning in the 20th century, gay rights movements, as part of the broader civil rights movements, in concert with the development of the often activist academic treatment of sexuality in queer studies, have led to changes in social acceptance and in the media portrayal of homosexuality. The legalization of same-sex marriage and non-gender-specific civil unions is one of the major goals of gay rights activism. In recent years a number of jurisdictions had relaxed or eliminated laws curbing homosexual behavior, including sodomy laws and laws preventing homosexuals from serving in armed forces. This trend culminated on June 26, 2003 with the landmark Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas which overturned all sodomy laws in the United States.


Main article:History of homosexuality

When discussing the history of homosexuality, one must first understand that the term 'homosexuality' and its associated meanings are a product of 19th century psychology as well as the years of post-Stonewall gay liberation. Throughout most of written history, homosexual relations usually took the form of pederasty (as distinguished from pedophilia), that is, they were characterized by a marked age difference and the fixed assignment of sexual roles. Another paradigm would be the two-spirited people of the American continent or the arivanna (see hijra) of the Indian sub-continent in which partners of the same biological sex but different social genders would be common.

The earliest western documents concerning homosexual relationships come from Ancient Greece, where same-sex relationships were a societal norm. Kenneth J. Dover has claimed that such relationships did not replace marriage between man and woman, but occurred before and beside it. These relationships were typically pederastic, and it would be unusual for a man to have a mature male mate (though some did, such as Alexander the Great and Agathon in Plato's Symposium) ; a greater number of men would be the erastes (lover) to a young eromenos (loved one). In this relationship, claims Dover, it was considered "improper" for the eromenos to feel desire, as that would not be masculine. Driven by desire and admiration, the erastes would devote himself unselfishly to providing all the education his eromenos required to thrive in society. In recent times, the research by Dover has been questioned in light of massive evidence of love poetry and paintings on ceramic vases, which suggest a more emotional connection than earlier researchers have liked to acknowledge.

The sexual orientation of pre-modern figures is a topic of intense controversy. It may be accepted, for example, that the sex lives of historical figures such as Alexander the Great, Plato, Hadrian, Virgil, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Christopher Marlowe included or were centred upon relationships with people of their own gender. Terms such as homosexual or bisexual might be applied to them in that sense. But many regard this as risking the anachronistic introduction of a modern social construction of sexuality that is foreign to their times. For example, their societies might have focused upon the sexual role one took in these encounters, namely active, passive, both, or neither, as a key social marker. This particular system of designation is currently the norm in many areas of Latin America.

It could be noted, on the other hand, that when evidence that a particular historical figure's sex life pointed exclusively toward an attraction to people of an opposite gender describing them as heterosexual rarely evokes such controversy. This tendency among Western historians, to view heterosexuality as an acceptable norm while regarding arguments that a particular historical figure may have been homosexual as controversial or requiring more evidence than a claim of opposite-sex attraction might warrant, is often attributed to homophobia on the part of historians and is referred to within queer studies as heteronormativity.

During the last few decades, in part due to their history of shared oppression, homosexuals in the West have developed a shared culture, although not all homosexuals participate in it, and many homosexual men and women specifically decline to do so. (See gay pride.)

Homosexuality in Asian, specifically Chinese and Japanese, cultures has been acknowledged since at least 600 BCE. Such relationships were similarly pederastic and marked by differences in age and social position. For more information see homosexuality in China and Homosexuality in Japan.

In many societies of Melanesia homosexuality is an integral part of the culture. In some tribes of Papua New Guinea for example it is considered ritual for a boy to have a same sex relationship as a part of his ascent into manhood. Many Melanesian societies however have become less tolerant of homosexuality since the introduction on Christianity by European missionaries.

Related articles

External links and references