Page 394-422, 28 pages Page 1 of 15
Chapter 14: Sexual Orientation & Identity
• Sexual Orientation: A person’s erotic and emotional orientation toward members of his/her own
gender, or members of the other gender. Androphilic individuals are attracted to males, and gynephilic
• Homosexual: Orientation is towards members of his/her own gender; a lesbian is a woman whose
sexual orientation is toward other women. Heterosexual (Straight): Orientation is toward members of
the other gender.
• Bisexual: Orientation is toward both genders. Asexual: Person does not have a sexual orientation
toward either men or women.
• Sexual Identity: One’s self-label or self-identification with a sexual orientation
• There may be contradictions between people’s sexual identity, which is subjective, and their actual
choice of sexual partners. A woman may identify herself as lesbian, yet occasionally have sex with men
(choice of sexual partners is bisexual). More common are persons who think of themselves as
heterosexuals, but engage in bisexual behaviour, such as heterosexual men who engage in oral sex with
another men (tearoom trade).
• Use of the term “homosexual” has been associated with negative stereotypes such as deviance, mental
illness, and criminal behaviour. It also emphasizes sexual behaviour rather than sexual identity – many
men and women may engage in same-sex behaviour but do not consider themselves gay or lesbian.
• Some members of the LGB communities have reclaimed terms historically used as derogatory terms
such as dyke, fag, and queer. Queer in particular has been used as an umbrella term instead of narrow
labels that may not reflect the fluidity of sexual identity.
• Pansexual: Individuals who are open to relationships with people or any sex, gender, or gender
identity, including men, women, transgender, and intersex individuals.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE GAY, LESBIAN, BI, STRAIGHT, OR
• Determining how best to define and measure sexual orientation is complicated – attraction, identity,
and behaviour do not always match
• In terms of behaviour, adolescent may not yet be involved in sexual relationships. Does the definition of
gay or lesbian require exclusively same-sex sexual relationships, some, or just one? Is attraction enough
without ever acting upon it?
• Surveys assessing sexual identity show that for men, 1.4% are homosexual and 0.7% bisexual. For
women, 0.8% homosexual and 0.9% bisexual.
• However, sexual identities can change over time, with women reporting more changes in patterns of
attraction than men. For women, this is often in response to relationship experiences; this occurs in all
directions, not just in amount of lesbians due to coming out. Page 394-422, 28 pages Page 2 of15
• About 10% of both men and women have had at least one same-sex sexual experience in adulthood,
about 4% of each experience sexual attraction to their own sex, and 2% of men and 1% of women
engage exclusively in same-sex sexual activity.
• About 1% of people in a British study reported no sexual attraction to men or women (asexual),
although some did engage in low levels of sexual activity with a partner.
• Typological conceptualization that homosexual and heterosexual are two separate and distinct
• Kinsey conceptualized this as variations on a continuum with many shades of grey between
experiencing both opposite-sex and same-sex experiences in mixtures.
• 0 is exclusively heterosexual behaviour/experience, 6 exclusively homosexual and midpoint of 3 equals
• Two-Dimensional Scheme: One scale for heteroeroticism, and another for homoeroticism both
ranging from low to high. Bisexuals are high on both, while asexuals are low on both.
• Kinsey defined asexual individuals as those with no socio-sexual contacts or reactions in about 1.5% of
men. This group reports fewer sexual partners, a later debut of sexual activity (if at all), and less frequent
sexual activity with a current partner.
• Some people think life-long lack of interest in sexual activity is a sexual dysfunction as a lack of sexual
desire. This raises questions of whether sexual attraction is evolutionarily pre-wired, the assumption that
there is an underlying mechanism that drives procreation.
• Asexual individuals often retain romantic attraction with desire to have a meaningful, committed, and
emotionally-fulfilling relationship with a partner – uncoupling of this with sexual attraction. In a British
survey, 44% of asexual individuals had been or were currently in a serious relationship.
• Asexuality as an identity and orientation hold that asexuality is genetic, lifelong, and not amenable to
“treatment”. Biological links include later onset of menarche, and shorter and lower weight.
• Asexual individuals may experience lower sexual desire and arousability; this may be related to have
lower excitatory processes and perhaps higher inhibitory processes. However, asexual individuals just as
likely to masturbate and have no problems with physiological arousal and orgasm.
• Is asexuality an extreme sexual dysfunction, disconnect between psychological and genital sexual
• Asexual individuals do not experience any distress over their lower rates of sexual desire and activity
• Studying asexuality and relation to genetic markers. Found asexual individuals more likely to be non-
right handed, and asexual men more likely to have older brothers than sexual men; however, no
differences in 2D:4D digit ratios
Asexuality, A Mixed-Methods
Approach by Brotto et al (2007)
• Studying how definitions around
sexual attraction, behaviour, and
lack of sexual orientation or
excitation are accepted by self-
identified asexuals recruited
through the Asexuality Visibility and
Education Network (AVEN)
• Characteristics of asexual
individuals: later age of first sexual
intercourse, fewer sexual partners, Page 394-422, 28 pages Page 3 of15
engage in sexual activity less frequently. Also more likely to be female, older, from lower SES, and have
• Biological factors of asexuality hypothesized based on asexuals having poorer health status, lower
weight, shorter height, and later age of menarche.
• Low sexual excitatory processes may characterize asexuality, who have a higher threshold for sexual
• Some accept and some resist traditional categories of gender and sexual orientation – asexuality is a
• Much higher number of female than male participants at 71%, may reflect population gender difference
in sexuality since women have greater sexual plasticity and are more likely to show desynchrony
between mental and physiological arousal than men
• Assessing sexual behaviour (touching, petting, kissing, masturbation, intercourse):
o Masturbation frequency in males similar to normative data for sexual men, motivated by non-
sexual reasons such as reducing tension
o Most cite ideal frequency of sexual intercourse as 0 to 2 times/year, and have lower overall
frequency of these behaviours and of use of sexual fantasies than normative data
o 27% report having engaged in sexual intercourse, but still self-identify as asexual
o Lack of recall about onset of sexual interests, which is unusual
• Assessing sexual desire:
o Assessed sexual desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, global satisfaction, and pain in women;
erectile function, orgasmic function, sexual desire, intercourse and overall satisfaction in men
o Sexual desire was lower than normative data, and also lower than individuals with hypoactive
sexual desire disorder (HSDD)
o Lubrication and pain scores comparable to control group, while orgasm and satisfaction similar
to those with HSDD
• Majority were not currently in a relationship, but women were significantly more likely than men to
currently be in a relationship. Relationships described with emphasis on romance, e.g. heteroromantic
• Assessing sexual distress:
o Sexual distress below clinical cut-off for both men and women – only 10% above cutoff
o Sexual distress experiences correlated with higher sexual desire
o Majority deny being distressed about their asexual orientation
o Lack of relation of sexual activity to avoidance, disgust, or fear
• Assessing personality traits relevant to social functioning:
o Depressive scores on average in the non-clinical range, with 18.3% in the minimal depression
range, 3.5% in the moderate range, and 2.8% in the severe range
o Social withdrawal was the most elevated personality subscale, with discomfort in relationships
and social detachment.
o Alexithymia in 12% of the population, involving difficulty identifying and distinguishing feelings
from bodily sensations, difficulty describing feelings, and externally-oriented thinking
o There were not higher rates of psychopathology among asexuals, but for those who did have
psychopathologies it was correlated with more sexual response difficulty/dysfunction
• Assessing interpersonal problems:
o Some individuals eligible for schizoid personality disorder, a Cluster A personality disorder
characterized by emotional coldness, limited capacity to expressing feelings towards others, and Page 394-422, 28 pages Page 4 of 15
lacking desire for close, confiding relationships asexuality as byproduct of atypical social
o Interpersonal functioning was in the normal range
• Strong opposition to viewing asexuality as an extreme case of sexual desire disorder
• Assessing social desirability:
o To control for possibility that asexuals may provide exaggerated socially desirable responses as
reaction to stigma associated with the term.
o Showed lack of socially-desirably responding in the non-clinical range
• Asexuality best conceptualized as a lack of sexual attraction, but asexuals vary greatly in their
experience of sexual response, behaviour, and relationships. Some are partnered with sexuals, and
“negotiate” sexual activity
• Qualitative design, asking 15 participants from study 1 to clarify findings. Asexuals were invited to
describe their own sexuality in whatever words they chose, and to answer questions including about
definitions of asexuality, and its correlations with sexual desire, personal distress, religion, etc.
• Definition of Asexuality: Consistently include “lack of sexual attraction” distinct from lack/presence of
sexual desire or arousal. When present this is not directed towards any individual, and is characterized
by a lack of anticipation leading up to the experience.
• Feeling Different: Sense of difference since puberty, lack of intense sexual urges or interests and
difference from peers. Agreed that asexuality was a sexual orientation rooted in biology
• Distinguishing Romantic from Asexual Relationships: Careful distinction between romantic and sexual
aspects, desiring closeness, companionship, and intellectual and emotional connection – however, this is
not universal as some indicate they desire neither sexual nor romantic interactions.
• Asexuality is not a Disorder: Many oppose notion that asexuality is a symptom or component of another
disorder, such as HSDD. State that individuals with HSDD still have sexual attraction, and not all
asexuals have low sexual desire or response.
• Overlap with Schizoid Personality: Some feel they personally met criteria for schizoid personality
disorder, and other suggest asexuals may fit criteria for Asperger’s Disorder
• Motivations for Masturbation: Label of asexuality incongruent for someone who continues to engage in
intentional and planned sexual activity? Sentiment that “sex with oneself” was qualitatively different form
sex with another individual, and that the former can exist without sexual attraction and may stem more
from physical or physiological needs.
• Technical Language: Language used to describe sexual activities and their bodies was void of
pleasurable or sexual affect, instead in technical and emotionally-stripped manner. However, this does
not extend to other aspects of their lives – does not appear asexuals are alexithymic in general or void of
ability to experience emotions
• Negotiating Boundaries in Relationships: 70% reported ever previously being in relationships. Where
the partner was sexual, they would have to negotiate types of sexual activities they were willing to take
part in, the frequency, and boundaries around the relationship in the absence of any sexual activity.
• In these cases, sexual activity is viewed as consensual but unwanted. Many say sexual activity did not
help them feel closer to their partners in the way their sexual partners described.
• Religion: Contrary to expectations, expressed resistance against sexual attraction and activity were not
manifestations of moral or religious feelings of prohibition about sexuality. Rather, there was a
disproportionately high number of atheists – identity of being a nonconformist, religious value on
marriage and gender roles
• Need to Educate and Destigmatize: Strong desire to educate the public about asexuality, willingness to
participate in scientific studies and trials Page 394-422, 28 pages Page 5 of 15
Attitudes toward Gay Men & Lesbians
• Most Canadians are in favour of equal rights for gay men and women, but are more divided on same-
sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. This has been part of the trend towards acceptance.
• Many think being homophobic is as bad, or worse, than being racist or anti-Semitic.
• Those who are women, younger, had more education, and are living in Quebec and BC are more
• Homophobia: A strong, irrational fear of gay men and women, which may lead to negative attitudes
and reactions. Homonegativity: negative attitudes and behaviours toward gay men and women,
sometimes called anti-gay prejudice or sexual prejudice rather than focus on “phobia”.
• Traditionally, homonegativity was based on moral or religious views that homosexuality is not normal.
Modern homonegativity reflect beliefs that gay men and women exaggerate the importance of their
sexual orientation, and make unnecessary demands for social change.
• Heterosexism: The belief that everyone is heterosexual and heterosexuality is the only legitimate,
acceptable, and healthy way for people to be; homosexuality is denigrated.
• Homonegativity and heterosexism can have serious emotional and health consequences. Anti-gay
bullying and anti-gay prejudice can cause significant pain and suffering, even messages meant to be
humorous such as “that’s so gay”. This can lead to internalized homonegativity, making it difficult to
accept one’s sexual orientation.
• Hate crimes are crimes motivated by hate, bias, and prejudice against specific groups. They can
involve horrendous acts of violence against an individual due to their sexual orientation, include physical
and verbal assault, harassment by the police, and assault with a weapon.
• Canadians over 15 who identify as gay or lesbian are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violent
• Sexual minority youth are much more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to experience physical
and sexual victimization, verbal harassment, and discrimination. This can impact mental and physical
health, and development.
• More representations of sexual minorities in the media, but many of these represent LGB characters in
stereotypic ways, such as lacking a stable relationship, being preoccupied with their sexuality, and
laughable. Others argue using humour to expose and challenge stereotypes is positive.
Attitudes toward Bisexuals
• There are few cultural images of bisexuality, and it may be more misunderstood than LG
• Bisexuals are often stereotyped as internally conflicted or psychologically immature, as non-
monogamous and needing both same-sex and other-sex partners to satisfy both sides of their sexuality.
• Research shows few bisexuals have both female and male partners at the same time, and do not differ
from LG individuals in their relationship status and length.
• Bisexuals may be viewed with suspicion and hostility by the LG community, may be told they are
denying their true identity or viewed as heterosexuals experimenting because being gay or lesbian is
• Bisexuality is sometimes seen as “fence-sitting” and a way to get the best of both worlds without having
to commit to a particular identity
Gay Men, Lesbians, and Bisexuals as a Minority Group
• LGB people, like other minority groups, can experience discrimination such as wage discrimination
despite gay men being more educated than straight men in the US. Page 394-422, 28 pages Page 6 of 15
• Same-sex sexual activity used to be illegal in Canada, but consensual same-sex activity was
decriminalized in 1969 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
• However, the age of consent for anal sex is 18 years, whereas for vaginal intercourse it is 16; as well,
anal sex is deemed not to be done in private (and therefore illegal) if there are more than 2 persons
present. Thus, the Criminal Code still discriminates against gay men.
• More vigorous enforcement of bawdy-house and obscenity laws against LGBs and same-sex erotic
materials. Before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, LGB human rights were not guaranteed, and if
suspected would be investigated, interrogated, and dishonourably released from the military.
• In 1996, the Human Rights Act was amended to specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual
orientation. This means LGBs cannot be fired because of their sexual orientation, refused housing, or
forbidden from adopting
• In 2003, Ontario and BC were the first to legalize same-sex marriage, followed by many other provinces
in 2004. In 2005 the House of Commons passed a bill ensuring that marriage is a right for all Canadians.
• Stereotype that gay men are child molesters – research shows vast majority of child abusers are
• LGBs differ from other minorities in that appearance is not a good indicator of minority-group
status. This may make it easier to “pass” in the heterosexual world, but may also encourage the person
to conceal their true identity, which may be psychologically stressful. This hiding is correlated with higher
incidence of cancer and infectious diseases (HIV infection controlled for).
• At the individual level, we must examine our own attitudes toward LGBs and determine if they are
consistent with our basic values, such as a commitment to justice.
• At the interpersonal level, people must recognize that LGBs are often a hidden minority and stop
assuming that everyone is heterosexual until proven otherwise; this includes being sensitive in our
interactions and not telling jokes at the expense of LGBs.
• At the institutional level, a strong program of sex education with open discussion of sexual orientation is
needed. Schools have a responsibility to ensure that homophobic harassment does not occur. It is not
enough to discipline offending students, but to provide preventive education.
LIFE EXPERIENCES OF LGB INDIVIDUALS
• Covert Homosexual: A gay man or lesbian who is “in the closet”, keeping their sexual orientation a
secret. Overt Homosexual: A gay man or lesbian who is “out of the closet”, open about their sexual
• There are various degrees of overtness and covertness – one may be out with trusted friends but not
• Perhaps due to different roles assigned to men and women, gay men will face different discrimination
than lesbians. It is considered natural for two women to share an apartment, but not two older men.
• Many athletes wait until they retire to come out, fearing this information could ruin their professional
career. This includes Marc Leduc, silver medal winner in boxing at the 1992 Olympic Games.
• Coming Out: The process of acknowledging to oneself, and then to others, that one is gay or lesbian.
Whether this is met with acceptance or rejection from friends and others can be critical to self-esteem.
• Following coming out, there is a stage of exploration, in which the person experiments with their new
open sexual identity, and may make contact with the LGB community. A stage of forming first
relationships typically followed, though they are often short-lived and characterized by turbulence and
jealousy. Finally, there is a stage of integration, where one becomes a fully functioning member of
society and is capable of maintaining long-term committed relationships. Page 394-422, 28 pages Page 7 of15
• Stage approach for identity development:
o 1) Identity Confusion: Person most likely begins assuming a heterosexual identity because it
is normative in our society. As same-sex attractions or behaviours occur, there is confusion.
o 2) Identity Comparison: “I may be gay”. There may be feelings of alienation because the
comfortable heterosexual identity has been lost.
o 3) Identity Tolerance: “I probably am gay”. The person seeks out gay men or lesbians and
makes contact with the subculture, hoping for affirmation. The quality of these initial contacts is
o 4) Identity Acceptance: “I am gay”, accepts rather than tolerates identity
o 5) Identity Pride: The person dichotomizes the world into LGB and heterosexuals. There is
strong identification with the LGB group, and increased coming out.
o 6) Identity Synthesis: The person no longer holds an “us versus them” view of heterosexuals,
recognizing there are supportive heterosexuals and distorted LGBs. This person is able to
synthesize public and private sexual identities.
• However, research shows some people do not go through one or more of these stages, and not
everyone goes through them in this order. This does not fit for many individuals who adopt a bisexual
• There is evidence that sexuality is more fluid and capable of change over time, e.g. a heterosexual
woman changing identity to lesbian if she falls in love with a woman.
• It is not true that to be fully developed a person must reach the final stage (only one positive ending).
• Bisexual men and women generally start self-identifying in their early to mid-20s. Bisexual women
typically have their opposite-sex attraction and experiences before their first same-sex ones; bisexual
men have same-sex experiences before opposite-experiences.
• Most bisexual individuals base their bisexual identity on feelings of sexual attraction or capacity to fall in
love with either men or women, regardless of behaviour.
• Most who have had sexual experiences with both genders report these occur serially over time, often
including lengthy monogamous relationships. They do not cease to be bisexual when they become
monogamously involved with either a man or a woman.
• Some see bisexuality as a challenge to the importance of gender in sexuality, viewing it not as a
combination of attractions to men and women, but an attraction to specific people regardless of their
Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Communities
• There are distinct LGB communities in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. This includes businesses that
cater to a gay clientele, such as bars, clubs, bookstores, and theatres – generally fewer geared
specifically toward lesbians or bisexuals. LGB residential areas around these commercial establishments
create LGB neighbourhoods.
• Symbols are used to represent LGB pride: upside-down pink triangle (reclaimed from Nazis), Greek
letter lambda λ, and the rainbow flag. A pink, purple, and blue striped flag symbolizes bisexual pride.
• Gay Bars: Gay-friendly bar or club frequented by LGBs, where one can socialize and perhaps find a
romantic or sexual partner. In smaller cities, they are mixed orientation, catering to both gay-positive
heterosexuals and LGBs; what’s important is that patrons can be open about their sexual orientation
without fearing backlash.
• Gay Baths: Clubs where gay men can socialize, with features including swimming pools or whirlpools
with most areas dimly lit, and access to casual sex in small secluded rooms. There are no or relatively
few bathhouses in most parts of Canada, except urban areas. Page 394-422, 28 pages Page 8 of15
• Bathhouses are controversial since they may encourage risky sexual practices – some see them as a
hotbed for spreading HIV, while others celebrate the liberated sexuality it fosters.
• Internet used to meet partners and to find communities, especially for rural individuals.
• Gay Liberation Movement: Encouraging LGBs to be more overt and feel less guilty about