Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality: Frequently Asked Questions

What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation refers to the sexual preference of a person, defining them as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Sexual orientation refers to the behaviors and desires associated with sexual actions and has nothing to do with biology or gender.

What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?

There are several different factors that can play into a person developing a particular sexual orientation. Though there have been no clear cut links to anything that causes a particular sexual orientation—there are several different theories as to what causes sexual orientation. There is a constant battle between nature vs. nurture. The consensus seems to be that most people have little or no choice about their sexuality. Childhood experiences, good or bad, could play a role in the developing orientation.

Is sexual orientation a choice?

Though there are many people who may believe sexual orientation is a choice, sexual orientation happens. It's not something a person can just wake up one morning and say, “I don't want to be straight.” With the social stigma surrounding homosexuality today, to say it's a choice would insinuate that people are choosing to make their lives harder, and instinct tends to lead us all to the easier path. Though we are unsure of what exactly causes an orientation, we do know little to no choice is made on behalf of the individual. You have no control over who you are going to be attracted to and begin dating, its a natural inclination towards a certain person no matter if they are a man and a woman.

Is homosexuality a mental illness or emotional problem?

Until 1973, homosexuality was thought to be a mental illness in need of a cure. The fact of the matter is that homosexuality is not a mental illness or mental problem, no matter how much some people choose to view it that way. A famous psychologist, Alfred Kinsey, developed the the theory that everyone has homosexual tendencies, and created the Kinsey Test. The Kinsey Test asks questions and has a scale that identifies a person's level of homosexuality, either as homosexual, slightly homosexual, bi-sexual, heterosexual, slightly heterosexual, or asexual.

Behavior associated with both homosexuality and heterosexuality is completely normal and associated with human sexuality in general. There is no mental illness or emotional problem that causes homosexuality.

Why is the "coming out" process difficult for some gays and lesbians?

For many gays and lesbians, “coming out” to parents, co-workers, friends, and other family members can be a difficult process because of the social stigmas surrounding the topic. Sometimes, they fear what others will think of them, how people will act toward them and how being honest with themselves and the others around them will impact their lives.

It is hard for many to accept the way they will be viewed in the public eye, the eye of the government as they lose many rights they would maintain by presenting themselves as heterosexual, and if they have not already established a relationship with a partner, having the courage to present themselves in the community could all impact how difficult “coming out” is for them.

What are some ways to help lesbians and gay men overcome existing discrimination?

The most important thing lesbians and gay men can do to help overcome prejudice and discrimination against them is to be true to themselves and others around them, allowing themselves to be open in society. There are many different support groups in the community and many heterosexual people show support for homosexuals. The more involved lesbians and gays become in fighting against these prejudices and discrimination against them, the more they are doing to stop them.

Can therapy change sexual orientation?

No. Therapy cannot change sexual orientation because sexual orientation is not an illness or ailment that needs a treatment. Therapy should not be used to attempt to alter the sexual orientation of anyone, because sexual orientation is something that comes naturally to a person—and there is nothing wrong with anything a person feels toward another.

Why is it important for society to be better educated about homosexuality?

It is important for society to be better educated about homosexuality because the more people know, the more they can understand. The more people understand, the more receptive society will become to accepting lesbians and gays for who they are, rather than their sexual preferences. As society becomes more educated and open minded, people will be able to “come out” and enjoy their lives with less fear and become closer to one day sharing equal rights.

Resources for More Information on Sexuality

2261 Market Street, PMB #296
San Francisco, CA 94114

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline toll-free phone:
1-888-THE-GLNH (1-888-843-4564)

GLBT National Youth Talkline toll-free phone:
1-800-246-PRIDE (1-800-246-7743)

Administrative phone: 415-355-0003

Fax: 415-552-5498

Email address:

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