Chapter 5: Sexual Orientation and Inequality
5.1 Understanding Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation - Preference for sexual relationships with individuals of the other
sex (heterosexuality), one's own sex (homosexuality), or both sexes (bisexuality).
• Gender identity - The personal conception of oneself as female, male, both, or
Transvestites - Those who dress in the clothing of the opposite sex
• Transsexuals- Those whose gender identity differs from their physiological sex and
who sometimes undergo a sex change.
• A transgender woman is a person who was born biologically as a male and becomes a
woman, and vice versa for a transgender male.
Counting Sexual Orientation:
• We will probably never know precisely how many people are LGBT
• Conceptual problem: What does it mean to be gay or lesbian? Does one need to
actually have sexual relations with a same-sex partner to be considered gay? What if
someone identiﬁes as heterosexual but engages in homosexual sex for money?
• Empirical problem: Even if we can settle on a deﬁnition of homosexuality, how do we
then determine how many people ﬁt this deﬁnition? Our best evidence of the number
of gays in the U.S. comes from anonymous surveys. However, some people may be
unwilling to disclose their sexual activity and thoughts so the surveys probably
underestimate by at least a small amount the number of gays and lesbians.
• Sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey interviewed 11,000 white women and men, asking
them questions about their sexuality. His most signiﬁcant and controversial ﬁnding was
that gradations did exist between being exclusively heterosexual on the one hand and
exclusively homosexual on the other hand.
• To reﬂect these gradations, he developed the well-known Kinsey Scale, which ranks
individuals on a continuum ranging from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively
• LGB women are twice as likely as LGB men to identify as bisexual.
• Women are twice as likely as men to have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior.
• Women are twice as likely as men to report having some same-sex sexual attraction.
Sexual Orientation in Historical Perspective:
• Homosexuality has existed since ancient times and in some societies has been rather
common or at least fully accepted as a normal form of sexual expression.
• In Athens in ancient Greece, male homosexuality (sexual relations between a man
and a teenaged boy and, less often, between a man and a man) was not only
approved but even encouraged. It also "entertained a low opinion of the intellectual
capacity and staying-power of women".
• Ancient Romans disapproved of sexual relations between a man and a freeborn male
youth, but they approved of relations between a slave master and his youthful male
slave. By the time Rome fell, Europe had become a Christian continent. Inﬂuenced by
several passages in the Bible that condemn homosexuality, Europeans considered
homosexuality a sin, and their governments outlawed same-sex relations.
• China and Japan, from ancient times onward, viewed homosexuality much more
positively than Europe.
• Because Confucianism, the major Chinese religion when the Common Era began,
considered women inferior, it considered male friendships very important and thus
may have unwittingly promoted same-sex relations among men.
Many famous individuals in Western political, literary, and artistic history certainly or
probably engaged in same-sex relations, either sometimes or exclusively: Alexander
the Great, Marie Antoinette, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Socrates, and
Leonardo de Vinci.
Explaining Sexual Orientation:
• When people believe that the roots of homosexuality are biological or that gays
otherwise do not choose to be gay, they are more likely to have positive or at least
tolerant views of same-sex behavior.
• When they believe that homosexuality is instead merely a personal choice, they are
more likely to disapprove of it.
• Although no "gay gene" has been discovered, studies of identical twins ﬁnd they are
more likely to have the same sexual orientation (gay or straight) than would be
expected from chance alone.
• Because identical twins have the same DNA, this similarity suggests, but does not
prove, a genetic basis for sexual orientation.
• Keep in mind, however, that any physical or behavioral trait that is totally due to
genetics should show up in both twins or in neither twin. Because many identical twins
do not have the same sexual orientation, this dissimilarity suggests that genetics are
far from the only cause of sexual orientation, to the extent they cause it at all.
• Another line of research concerns brain anatomy, as some studies ﬁnd differences in
the size and structure of the hypothalamus (which controls many bodily functions) in
the brains of gays versus straights. But other studies don't ﬁnd a difference.
• A third line of biological research concerns hormonal balance in the womb. Scientists
speculate that the level of prenatal androgen affects which sexual orientation
develops. Other studies ﬁnd no evidence of this connection.
Social and Cultural Factors
• Some sociologists believe that sexuality is learned. If we grow up with positive
messages about same-sex attraction, we are more likely to acquire this attraction. If
we grow up with negative messages about same-sex attraction, we are less likely to
acquire it and more likely to have heterosexual desire.
• Historical evidence: Homosexuality was generally accepted in ancient Greece, ancient
China, and ancient Japan and it also seemed rather common in those societies. In
contrast, homosexuality was condemned in Europe and it seems to have been rather rare (although it is very possible that many gays hid their sexual orientation for fear of
persecution and death).
• Most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.
*An estimated 3.8 percent, or 9 million, Americans identify as LGBT.
5.2 Public Attitudes about Sexual Orientation
English translations of the Bible's antigay passages may distort their original meanings
and various contextual studies of the Bible suggest that these passages (Leviticus) did
not make blanket condemnations about homosexuality.
• Most people "pick and choose" what they decide to believe from the Bible and what
they decide not to believe.
• Most people certainly do not believe people who engage in premarital sex or work on
the Sabbath should be executed, even though the Bible says that such people should
be executed. Citing the inconsistency with which most people follow Biblical
commands, many religious scholars say it is inappropriate to base public views about
homosexuality on what the Bible says about it.
The Extent of Heterosexism in the United States:
• Heterosexism - Negative views about, and discriminatory practices toward, LGBT
individuals and their sexual behavior.
• In just a decade, public opinion has shifted to a more acceptable view of
Correlates of Heterosexism:
• Gender - Men are somewhat more heterosexist than women.
• Age - Older people are considerably more heterosexist than younger people.
• Education - Less educated people are considerably more heterosexist than more
• Region of residence - Southerners are more heterosexist than non-Southerners.
• Religion - Religious people are considerably more heterosexist than less religious
Opinion on the Origins of Sexual Orientation:
• More people are saying that homosexuality is something in-born. In the past, more
people believed it was a choice.
• There is a slight majority of people who think that same-sex marriage should be
• The public is also less critical of same-sex couples raising children.
• Increase in people who think that "gays an