Homosexuality, sexual orientation toward people of the same sex. Homosexuality contrasts with heterosexuality, sexual orientation toward people of the opposite sex. People with a sexual orientation toward members of both sexes are called bisexuals (see Bisexuality). Female homosexuals are frequently called lesbians. In recent years, the term gay has been applied to both homosexual men and women.
Homosexuality appears in virtually all social contexts--within different community settings, socioeconomic levels, and ethnic and religious groups. The number of homosexuals in the population is difficult to determine, and reliable data do not exist. However, current estimates suggest that the term homosexual may apply to 2 to 4 percent of men. Estimates for lesbians are lower. Not all people who engage in homosexual activity necessarily identify themselves as homosexual.
II HISTORICAL AND CROSS-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES
Attitudes toward homosexual behavior have varied with time and place. In ancient Greece, homosexual relations were acceptable and, in some cases, expected activity in certain segments of society.
Later attitudes toward homosexuality in the Western world were determined largely by prevailing Judeo-Christian moral codes, which treat homosexuality as immoral or sinful. But like many other sins, homosexual relations were seen as expressions of the weakness inherent in all human beings, and not as a mental disorder or as the behavior of a specific type of person. This latter view, which regarded homosexuality as a pathology, developed in the late 19th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, psychoanalysts viewed homosexuals as the victims of faulty development. Austrian physician Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, considered homosexuality a deviant condition. More recently, scientists have searched for a biological explanation of sexual orientation. A study published in 1993 sought to identify a genetic marker for sexual orientation. The research, which did not include a cross section of the...