Sexual orientation concerns the direction of one’s sexual or romantic attraction. The most commonly found sexual orientation in all cultures, including the United Kingdom, is heterosexuality, a sexual or romantic attraction for persons of the opposite sex (hetero comes from the Greek word meaning ‘other’ or ‘different’). Today the term gay is used to refer to male homosexuals, lesbian for female homosexuals, and bi as shorthand for bisexuals, people who experience sexual or romantic attraction for persons of either sex. Sexual orientation is the idea that people are sexually attracted to either men or women or both women and men. This leads to the categories of heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual. Some people identify with this idea very strongly. They may believe that their sexual desires are natural, that evolution or genetics causes them to be attracted to certain people. Others may believe that they choose a sexual orientation, often for political reasons. Still others may not be concerned with the cause of their desires, but identify strongly as straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. Some people identify with this idea less strongly or perhaps not at all. They may feel that the three categories of sexual orientation do not do a good job of describing their sexual desires. They may choose other labels, like queer (Homosexual or arousing homosexual desires), dyke (a lesbian who is noticeably masculine) or pervert (A person whose behavior deviates from what is acceptable especially in sexual behavior).Or they may choose to avoid the use of labels for various reasons.
Understanding sexual orientation is an important part of understanding the society we live in. Attitudes about what it means to be a man or a woman are often based around expectations of heterosexuality. Fear that children might learn to become homosexual, or otherwise sexually ‘deviant’, leads to a great deal of anxiety around sex education. Violence, both physical and emotional, is used against people who do not conform to expectations around gender and sexuality.
Here are a few examples of various sexual orientation identities:
- simply gay OR lesbian OR heterosexual OR straight OR bisexual OR queer
- “I don’t like labels”
- “Mostly straight”
- “I used to call myself bisexual, but now I prefer queer”
- “I used to be straight, but now I am lesbian”
- “I am gay, but butch dykes really turn me on”
- “All of the people I fancy are of the other sex, but I wouldn’t call myself straight or heterosexual”
- “I am bi-curious”
- “I think I am heterosexual, but I am very open to changing”
Most sociologists currently believe that one’s sexual orientation – whether homosexual, heterosexual or something else- results from a complex interplay between biological factors and social learning. Some scholars argue that biological influences are the most important, predisposing certain people to become homosexual from birth. biological explanations for homosexuality have included differences in such things as brain characteristics of homosexuals and the impact on fetal development of the mother’s uterus hormone production during pregnancy.
Differences between gay and straight sexual orientation appear at a very early age. In a study, a group of openly homosexual men were asked when they first became aware of their attraction to men and boys, when they realized that they were gay and when they “came out” to others. The group reported becoming aware of their attraction at a very young age, between 5 years old and puberty. Self-awareness of their sexual orientation took place around puberty, and coming out of the closet took place much later.
Finally, there is some evidence that the brains of homosexuals may be different from those of heterosexual men and women. The differences have been found in the hypothalamus, which controls eating, drinking, temperature regulation and sexual behavior. Studies done in the Netherlands and in Southern California have found such differences in several areas within the hypothalamus. One region, the mid sagittal area of the anterior commissure, is larger in females than in males, but also appears to be larger in homosexual males. Another area, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which controls circadian rhythm, is larger in heterosexual males and females than it is in homosexuals.
But the question whether sexual orientation is inborn or learned still remains in a controversial stage, all that we can say is in the modern contemporary world the notions of gender and sexuality are fast changing, for instance homosexuality is now a more accepted part of everyday society than it used to be before. The modern world has become quite liberal and open, this is evident by the decision of the Delhi High Court which has legalized gay marriages. The fact that, now we can see people freely accepting their sexual orientation in public which 10 years ago would have been considered deviant and would have been looked upon as sin suggests that times are changing and we should all embrace the change.
Even gender roles and traditional beliefs that girls have to be pure and chaste and boys have to be macho and aggressive are fast loosening. The age old gender stereotypes are no longer operating rather a new society which is liberal in accepting different kinds of sexualities is coming up. Gender roles and norms regarding how men and women ought to behave have undergone a paradigm shift. Girls can now be seen in jobs which were earlier deem fit only for boys. All this shows that our society has come far away from the earlier prejudices but there is still a long way to go.