Homosexuality (rarely homophilia) is a sexual orientation or orientations characterized by romantic or sexual desire for, or sexual attraction toward, members of the same sex. The term usually implies an exclusive or predominant sexual orientation toward persons of the same sex, and is distinguished from bisexuality as well as heterosexuality. In addition to referring to a sexual orientation, the term homosexuality is also used for sexual behavior between people of the same sex.

Table of contents
1 Terminology
2 Homosexuality in population
3 Homosexual behavior in non-human animals
4 Theories
5 Society, Religion, and the Law
6 History
7 Related topics
8 External links and references
9 Footnote


In women, romantic or sexual desire for other women is also called lesbianism (lesbian, noun and adjective). The term gay is used to refer to homosexual persons of either gender, although it is mostly used to refer to males (hence the expression gays and lesbians or gay men and lesbians). Persons with the sexual orientation of homosexuality are sometimes called homosexual (noun and adjective). Many people regard the term homosexual as derogatory or clinical because of its cold, antiseptic connotation, particularly when applied to a person, and most people who regard themselves as having a homosexual orientation prefer the term gay, lesbian, or, less frequently, queer (sometimes capitalized as Queer) or same-gender loving.

The term homosexuality was coined in 1869 by Karl Maria Kertbeny in an anonymous pamphlet advocating the repeal of Prussia's sodomy laws. It was listed in 1886 in Richard von Krafft-Ebing's detailed study on deviant sexual practices, Psychopathia Sexualis. The word homosexual translates literally as "of the same sex," being a hybrid of the Greek prefix meaning "same" and the Latin root meaning "sex." Although some early writers used the adjective homosexual to refer to any single-sex context (such as the Roman Catholic clergy or an all-girls' school), today the term refers exclusively to same-sex sexuality. The term homosocial is occasionally used for single-sex contexts that are not specifically sexual.

The use of homosexuality to describe sexual behavior between people of the same sex sometimes causes confusion and controversy. This is due to the fact that some people who engage in same-sex behavior do not use the terms homosexual or gay (as is often-used in public discourse) to describe themselves. For instance, among some sectors of African-American gay sub-culture (called men on the DL or "down-low", same-sex sexual behavior is sometimes viewed as solely for physical pleasure. Men on the "down-low" may engage in regular (though often covert) sex acts with other men while continuing sexual and romantic relationships with unsuspecting women. These men often shun the more commonly-known "gay" as a term applying to stereotypically flamboyant and effeminate men of European ancestry; a group from which some may wish to distance themselves. On the other hand, some experts have suggested that this mostly African-American subculture may have come about because of stronger stigmas against same-sex behavior in African-American communities, and, due to more widespread poverty, greater dependence on possibly homophobic family networks for support.

Some people find the use of the word homosexual to describe individuals to be offensive or at least inaccurate. For instance the Safe Schools Coalition of Washington's Glossary for school employees advises: "Gay: Preferred synonym for homosexual." "Homosexual: Avoid this term; it is clinical, distancing and archaic. Sometimes appropriate in referring to behavior (although same-sex is the preferred adj.). 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 prefered synonym.

Homosexuality in population

People whose sexual desire and activities are mainly channelled toward members of their own sex are a minority of the population. Due to the political nature of this topic it is difficult to find studies where the meaning of the results has not been challenged; therefore, putting a percentage to the number of homosexuals is impossible. At one extreme, the Kinsey report reported that 37% of men in the U.S. have achieved orgasm of some type and duration through contact with another male. At another extreme, the National Opinion Research Center has reported that approximately 0.7% of men in the U.S. consider themselves to be exclusively homosexual. (See note 1.) Most random surveys carried out in the U.S. and Western Europe tend to place the number of people who have ever had same-sex experiences at around 8%, and the number who prefer exclusively same-sex experiences at between 1% and 2% for males and below 1% for females.

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 would 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 (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) by Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, note 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. (See Kinsey report.) Most people have some attraction to either sex, although usually one sex is preferred. Kinsey and his followers therefore consider only a minority (5-10%) to be fully 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 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 homosexual situational sexual behavior despite being heterosexual outside these environments. In addition, some people engage in homosexual sexual behaviors for reasons other than desire. One example is hustlers, who are usually young men who make money through prostitution with men. Some hustlers are probably homosexual themselves, but a significant number are not.

Homosexual behavior in non-human animals

The presence of homosexual behavior appears to be widespread amongst birds, mammals and the apes, and some believe it to have its origin in male social organization and social dominance, similar to the dominance traits shown in prison sexuality.

The bonobo, which has a matriarchal society (unusual amongst apes), is a fully bisexual species -- both males and females engage in heterosexual and homosexual behavior, being noted for lesbianism in particular.

Homosexual black swans of Australia will form sexually active male-male mated pairs and steal nests or form temporary threesomes with females to obtain eggs (the female is driven away after she lays the eggs), more of their cygnets survive to adulthood than those of heterosexual pairs possibly due to their superior ability to defend large portions of land.

Whip-tailed lizard females have the ability to reproduce through parthenogenesis and as such males are rare and generally disdained (from a Darwinian standpoint the females are passing their full genetic code to all of their offspring and do not want it compromised by sexual reproduction), the females engage in sexual behavior to stimulate ovulation.


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 egalitarian). 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.

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.

Society, Religion, and the Law

Societal attitudes towards homosexuality have varied over the centuries, from homophobia to social acceptance.

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

In many cultures, especially those influenced by anti-gay religions, homosexuality is considered a perversion and has been outlawed (see sodomy law, consensual crime), sometimes considered a capital crime.

Persecution of homosexuals ("gay bashing") in such cultures is common; the experience of homosexuals in Nazi Germany is an egregious example.

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.


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, that is, they were characterized by a marked age difference and the fixed assignment of sexual roles. Passive anal sex was thought of as unmanly, and adult men who enjoyed being penetrated were ridiculed. Another paradigm would be the two-spirits of America or the arivanna of the Indian sub-continent in which partners of the same biological sex but different social genders would be common.

The earliest documents concerning homosexual, pederastic relationships come from Ancient Greece. However, Kenneth J. Dover has claimed that such relationships did not replace marriage between man and woman, but occurred before and beside it. 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 liked to acknowledge.

The sexual orientation of pre-modern figures is a topic of controversy. It may be accepted, for example, that the sex lives of historical figures such as Alexander the Great, Plato, Hadrian, Virgil, or 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 social construction of sexuality that was foreign to their time. For example, their society might have focussed upon the sexual role one took in these encounters, namely active, passive, both or neither, as a key social marker.

It could be noted, on the other hand, that when the evidence is that a particular historical figure's sex life focussed exclusively on people of an opposite gender, describing them as heterosexual rarely evokes such controversy.

See List of famous gay, lesbian, or bisexual people.

During the last 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.)

Related topics

See also: sexual behavior, anthropological classification of homosexuality, queer, famous gay lesbian or bisexual people, Wikipedians/Queer, religion and homosexuality, homosexuality and morality, homophobia, homosexuality and psychology, reparative therapy, homosexuality and medical science, gay rights, list of gay-related topics, history of homosexuality, List of actors who have played homosexuals, Homosexuality in China.

External links and references


[1]: Survey responses are often conditioned by the desire not to express opinions or supply information which the respondent suspects society and perhaps the questioner may not approve of. Revealing one's sexual orientation may well fall into this category, so affecting the accuracy of some surveys and under-estimating the actual scale of homosexuality. A similar phenomenon affects survey data on minority religions, on personal views on controversial matters such as abortion, and on degrees of political support for a political party. (Classic examples of this are not 'admitting' support in surveys in the late 1990s for the British Conservative Party, or controversial parties like the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, etc. with such parties getting a higher vote in the privacy of a ballot box than reported in surveys.) Regarding the NORC data, one must accept the limitations. Researchers, in the original data in the early 1990s, reported that approximately 40% of adult males indicated that they had never masturbated. This research has been criticised because the original design sampling techniques were not followed, and depended upon direct self report regarding masturbation and same sex behaviors.

zh-cn:同性恋 zh-tw:同性戀