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Sexual Orientation

Some Factors To Be Considered, Acquiring An Identity, Bibliography

The phrase sexual orientation is used to describe different forms of erotic attraction: toward people of the same gender (homosexual), the opposite gender (heterosexual), or both (bi-sexual). Like any simplistic categorization, such definitions quickly become mired in contradictions and complications. For instance, is the label "heterosexual" to be reserved for people who only have sexual interactions with members of the other sex, so that those who deviate from this pattern are classed as homosexuals regardless of the number of same-sex relationships they have had, even if the opposite-sex relationships far outnumber them? When can an individual be labeled bisexual, homosexual, or heterosexual?

The influential study of Alfred Kinsey on American males in 1948 and his later study of females first pointed out the difficulties of such classification. To overcome it, he developed a 7-point scale with 0 representing individuals who only had heterosexual intercourse, and 6, those who only had same-sex activities. Unsurprisingly, Kinsey found that 37 percent of the males and 13 percent of the females in their sample had at least one homosexual encounter. The scale, however, did not establish numerical ranges for categorizing sexual orientation. Is a man who has sexual relations with females 70 percent of the time and with males 30 percent of the time a homosexual? Is a woman who has sex with males 30 percent of the time and with other women 70 percent a lesbian? Are they both bisexual? The issue is further complicated by the fact that many people do considerable experimentation before confining themselves to one sex. Others might originally have only partners of the opposite sex, but as they age they have increasing numbers of partners of the same sex and settle down with a same-sex partner. This pattern is even more marked in many non-Western societies, where same-sex sexual experimentation may be expected as a premarital phase; a highly institutionalized version of the age-specific structure was documented by Gil Herdt in parts of Melanesia, where before Christian missionizing changed sexual mores, every male was expected to progress through a series of alternating same-sex and heterosexual phases.

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