Areas of Advice

  • No categories

The Advice Archive


Since its coinage, the word homosexuality has acquired multiple meanings. In the original sense, it describes a sexual orientation characterised by lasting aesthetic attraction, romantic love, or sexual desire exclusively for others of the same sex or gender.

Homosexuality is usually contrasted with heterosexuality and bisexuality. Homosexual men and women are called gay. Lesbian is a gender-specific term for homosexual women. The adjective homosexual is also used for same-sex sexual relations between persons of the same sex who are not gay or lesbian.

Three major forms of homosexual relationships are proposed by anthropologists: egalitarian, gender-structured, and age-structured. Of these, one is usually dominant in a given society at a given time. (See Forms, below.) As there are different biological, historical and psychosocial components to sex and gender, no single label or description will fit all individuals.

Religion often addresses same-sex relations, and the issue continues to be widely debated in modern religious politics. The scriptures of the Abrahamic Religions are traditionally interpreted to condemn some of its aspects, though many denominations and groups within these religions now and in the past have taken a different view.

The world’s first recorded laws concerning same-sex relations were religious in nature: In ancient Greece, Greek religion consecrated pedagogic erotic love, symbolized by the love between Zeus and Ganymede and other such myths. Ancient Judaism (the first Abrahamic faith) had the first rule banning intercourse between men as part of the moral code given in the Torah. Until the spread of Christianity and Islam, most religions made no distinction between homosexual and heterosexual relations.

Etymology and usage

The word homosexual translates literally as “same-sex,” being a hybrid of the Greek prefix homo- meaning “same” and the Latin root sex- meaning “sex.” The first known appearance of the term homosexual in print is found in an anonymously published 1869 German pamphlet written by the Austrian-born novelist Karl-Maria Kertbeny.

The term homosexual can be used as a noun or adjective to describe persons as well as their sexual orientation, sexual history, or self-identification. Since homosexual places emphasis on sexuality, it should be avoided in reference to non-sexual contexts. Some people also feel the term is too clinical and somewhat dehumanising. Much of that sentiment arose while homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

As a result of this sentiment the terms gay and lesbian are generally preferred when discussing a person with this sexual orientation. The first letters are frequently combined to create the acronym “LGBT” (B = bisexual, T = transgender). Some same-sex oriented persons actually prefer the term homosexual to gay, as they may perceive the former as describing a sexual orientation and the latter as describing a cultural or socio-political group with which they do not identify.

Although some early writers used the adjective homosexual to refer to any single-gender context (such as an all-girls’ school), today the term implies a sexual aspect. The term homosocial is now used to describe single-sex contexts that are not specifically sexual. The more generic term homophilia (“same-love”) is also preferred by some.

Derogatory terms include fag or faggot, which generally refer to gay men; poofter is used mostly in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth; queer is generally used against anyone who is not exclusively heterosexual, but also reclaimed as an affirming term by many gays and academics; gay, homo, and “queer“, which are common abusive terms among adolescents; and dyke, which refers to lesbians.

Given how confusing and overloaded various terms can be, when specificity is important new terms are starting to be pressed into service. For example, men who have sex with men, or MSM for short, is sometimes used in the medical community when specifically discussing sexual behaviour (regardless of sexual orientation or self-identification).

Same-sex attraction focuses on spontaneous feeling, but de-emphasises identification with a demographic or cultural group, and also leaves open the possibility for co-existing opposite-sex attraction. Homoerotic is a synonym for same-sex attraction, that is used to refer both to personal feelings and works of art.

Non-straight is another attempt at neutrality that is gaining currency. Some other humorous terms are now gaining weight, including heteroflexible to refer to a person who identifies as heterosexual, but occasionally engages in same-sex sexual activities, or metrosexual to denote a straight man with stereotypically gay tastes in food, fashion and design.

Academic study

The manifestation of sexual orientation is subject to a considerable variability. Thus it is common for homosexual individuals in heteronormative societies to love, marry, and have children with individuals of the opposite sex, a practice that may be done primarily for social reasons in societies which reject same-sex relations, as a cover for one’s orientation (such relationships are known as “beards”).

These adaptations are forms of situational sexual behavior. A further, and extremely common, manifestation of situational sexual behaviour involving homosexual acts is seen in prisons where individuals only encounter caged members of their own sex for long periods of time.



Numerous researchers studying the social construction of same-sex relationships have suggested that the concept of homosexuality would best be rendered as “homosexualities.” They document that same-sex relations have been and continue to be organised in distinctly categorical ways by different societies in different eras.

These variations are grouped by cultural anthropologist Stephen O. Murray into three separate modes of association:

  • Egalitarian, features two partners with no relevance to age. Additionally, both play the same socially-accepted sex role as heterosexuals of their own sex. This is exemplified by relationships currently prevalent in western society between partners of similar age and gender.
  • Gender structured features each partner playing a different gender role. This is exemplified by traditional relations between men in the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and Central and South Asia, as well as two-spirit or shamanic gender-changing practices seen in native societies. Albania also has a similar practice where a woman may choose to be an “Albanian Virgin” and be given all the rights and entitlements of a man. In North America, this is best represented by the butch/femme practice. See Two-Spirit, and Hijra.
  • Age structured features partners of different ages, usually one adolescent and the other adult. This is exemplified by pederasty among the Classical Greeks or those engaged in by novice samurai with more experienced warriors; southern Chinese boy-marriage rites; and ongoing Central Asian and Middle Eastern practices.

Both gender-structured and age-structured homosexuality frequently involve one partner adopting a “passive” and the other an “active” role. Among men, being the passive partner often means receiving semen, i.e. performing fellatio or being the receptive partner during anal sex. This is sometimes interpreted as an emphasis on the sexual pleasure of the active partner, although this is not true in all cases.

For example, in gender-structured female homosexuality in Thailand, active partners (toms) emphasise the sexual pleasure of the passive partner (dee), and often refuse to allow their dee to pleasure them.

Some anthropologists have argued for the existence of a fourth type of homosexuality, class-structured homosexuality, but many scholars believe that this has no independent existence from the other three types.

Usually in any society one form of homosexuality predominates, though others are likely to co-exist. As historian Rictor Norton points out in his Intergenerational and Egalitarian Models, in Ancient Greece egalitarian relationships co-existed (albeit less privileged) with the institution of pederasty, and fascination with adolescents can also be found in modern sexuality, both heterosexual and homosexual.

Egalitarian homosexuality is becoming the principal form practised in the Western world, while age- and gender-structured homosexuality are becoming less common. As a byproduct of Western cultural dominance, this egalitarian homosexuality is spreading from western culture to non-Western societies, although there are still defined differences between the various cultures.


Estimates of the modern prevalence of homosexuality vary considerably. They are complicated by differing or even ambiguous definitions of homosexuality, and by fluctuations over time and according to location.

General estimates on the number of those surveyed who identify themselves as lesbian or gay range from 1% to 10% of the population. The Kinsey Reports of 1948 assessed that between 90 to 95 percent of the population were “to a certain degree bisexual.”

In the United States during the 2004 elections, exit polls indicated 4% of all voters self-identified as gay or lesbian. However, due to societal pressures, many who are homosexual may not be willing to identify as such, as evident in the recent forced “outings” of New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey and Spokane, Washington, Mayor Jim West.

In North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, where gender- and age-structured relationships are the rule, male homosexual practices are reported to be widespread, engaged in by many individuals who do not regard themselves as homosexual.

Historically, in areas where same-sex relationships were embedded in the culture, such as Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, parts of Melanesia, Renaissance Italy, and pre-modern Japan, homosexual relationships were engaged in by a majority of the male population.

Prenatal hormonal theory

One recent hypothesis on the formation of sexual orientation is the prenatal hormonal theory. It holds that as prenatal exposure to particular levels of circulating sex hormones determines whether a fetus will acquire male or female traits, so similar exposure determines sexual orientation. However this begins with genetic susceptibility.

Twin studies provide strong support for this theory, with a high concordance rate in identical twins, who share 100% of their genetic material. Fraternal twins, as with siblings born at different times, share only 50% of their genetic material on average and are much less likely to both be homosexual. In a fetus that carries the genetic susceptibility for homosexuality, sex hormones from the mother and sex hormones from the gonads of the fetus (to a lesser extent) trigger the expression of those genes.

Although identical twins have identical genes and almost always share a placenta, they do have their individual umbilical cords, providing subtle differences in the chemical environment for the developing brain. There are differences in identical twins, such as fingerprints, which are unique in each individual. Fingerprints are formed during the second trimester of pregnancy; lesbians often share a unique fingerprint swirl, adding to the mounting evidence that homosexuality is caused by genetic susceptibility triggered by the prenatal hormonal environment.

Physiological differences in homosexual persons

Several recent studies, including pioneering work by Simon LeVay, demonstrate that there are notable differences between the physiology of a heterosexual male and a homosexual male. These differences are primarily noted in the brain, inner ear and olfactory sense. LeVay discovered in his double-blind experiment that approximately 10% of human male brains were physiologically different than their heterosexual counterparts.

Studies in women have not produced similar findings to date.

Homosexual behaviour in animals

Homosexual behaviour is common in the animal kingdom, especially in species closer to humans on the evolutionary scale, such as the great apes. Georgetown University professor Janet Mann has specifically theorised that homosexuality, at least in dolphins, is an evolutionary advantage that minimises intraspecies aggression, especially among males.

  • Male penguin couples have been documented to mate for life, build nests together, and to use a stone as a surrogate egg in nesting and brooding. In 2004, the Central Park Zoo in the United States replaced one male couple’s stone with a fertile egg, which the couple then raised as their own offspring. German and Japanese zoos have also reported homosexuality among their penguins. This phenomenon has also been reported at Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Courtship, mounting, and full anal penetration between bulls is common among American bison. The Mandan nation Okipa festival concludes with a ceremonial enactment of this behaviour, to “ensure the return of the buffalo in the coming season.” Also, mounting of one female by another is common among cattle. (See also, Freemartin. Freemartins occur because of clearly causal hormonal factors at work during gestation.)
  • Homosexuality in male sheep (found in 6-10% of rams) is associated with variations in cerebral mass distribution and chemical activity. A study reported in Endocrinology concluded that biological and physiological factors are in effect. These findings are similar to human findings studied by Simon LeVay.


Behavioural Studies

At the beginning of the 20th century, early theoretical discussions in the field of psychoanalysis posited original bisexuality in human psychological development. Quantitative studies by Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and Dr. Fritz Klein’s sexual orientation grid in the 1980s find distributions similar to those postulated by their predecessors.

Many modern studies, most notably Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female by Alfred Kinsey, have found that the majority of humans have had homosexual experiences or sensations and are bisexual. Contemporary scientific research suggests that the majority of the human population is bisexual, adhering to a fluid sexual scale rather than a category, as Western society typically views sexual nature. The Kinsey Reports found that approximately four percent of adult Americans were exclusively homosexual for their entire lives, and approximately 10 percent were homosexual in their behaviour for some portion of their lives. Conversely, an even smaller minority of people appear to have had equal sexual experiences with both genders indicating an attraction scale or continuum. However, social pressures influence people to adhere to categories or labels rather than behave in a manner that more closely resembles their nature as suggested by this research.

Kinsey himself, along with current queer activist groups, focus on the historicity and fluidity of sexual orientation. Kinsey’s studies consistently found sexual orientation to be something that evolves in many directions over a person’s lifetime; rarely, but not necessarily, including forming attractions to a new gender. Rarely do individuals radically reorient their sexualities rapidly — and still less do they do so volitionally — but often sexualities expand, shift, and absorb new elements over decades. For example, socially normative “age-appropriate” sexuality requires a shifting object of attraction (especially in the passage through adolescence). Contemporary queer theory, incorporating many ideas from social constructionism, tends to look at sexuality as something that has meaning only within a given historical framework. Sexuality, then, is seen as a participation in a larger social discourse, and, though in some sense fluid, not as something strictly determinable by the individual.

Most sexual orientation specialists follow the general conclusion of Alfred Kinsey regarding the sexual continuum, according to which a minority of humans are exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, and that the majority are bisexual. The consensus of psychologists is that sexual orientation, in most individuals, is shaped at an early age; and is not voluntarily changeable.

Other studies have disputed Kinsey’s methodology and have suggested that these reports overstated the occurrence of bisexuality and homosexuality in human populations. “His figures were undermined when it was revealed that he had disproportionately interviewed homosexuals and prisoners (many sex offenders).”

However, Kinsey’s idea of a sexuality continuum still enjoys acceptance today and is supported by findings in the human and animal kingdoms including biological studies of structural brain differences between those belonging to different sexual orientations.

More modern and precise research Sex in America: A definitive survey (1995) is now available from NORC and the University of Chicago by Edward O. Laumann, University of Chicago. “Results reported from the study, and included in The Social organisation of sexuality, include those related to sexual practices and sexual relationships, number of partners, the rate of homosexuality in the population (which the study reported to be 1.3% for women within the past year, and 4.1% since 18 years; for men, 2.7% within the past year, and 4.9% since 18 years.

Sexologists have attributed discrepancies in some findings to negative societal attitudes towards homosexuality. For example, people may state different sexual orientations depending on whether their immediate social environment is public or private. Reluctance to disclose one’s actual sexual orientation is often referred to as “being in the closet”. Individuals capable of enjoyable sexual relations with both sexes may feel inclined to restrict themselves to heterosexual relations in societies that stigmatise same-sex relations.

Although the concept of three basic sexual orientations is widely recognised, a small minority maintain that there are other legitimate sexual orientations besides homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality. These may include significant or exclusive orientation towards a particular type of transsexual or transgender individual (e.g. female-to-male transsexual men), intersex individuals, or those who identify as non-gendered or other-gendered.

Behaviour modification

Some groups attempt to “cure” homosexuality, claiming to be able to help homosexuals to overcome their homosexual tendencies. These groups are often Abrahamic congregations which interpret their sacred texts as holding homosexuality to be unnatural or sinful, and which consider homosexuality to be an undesired orientation

Reparative therapy is a highly discredited (and in some countries, illegal) psychotherapy aimed at the elimination of homosexual attractions and is employed by people who claim that homosexuality is a disorder or a sin.

There is no credible, scientific evidence supporting successful “treatment” of sexual orientation, and some persons have reported that great harm was inflicted on them by such “treatments”. [1] “Ex-gay” supporters point to others [2] who they say have experienced what they consider success; however, mainstream medical and psychological organisations reject such claims and consider attempts to change sexual orientation to be potentially harmful.

Nature versus nurture

Considerable debate exists over whether biological and/or psychological factors produce sexual orientation in humans. Candidates include genes and the exposure of foetuses to certain hormones (or levels thereof).

Historically, Freud and many others psychologists, particularly in psychoanalytic or developmental traditions, speculated that formative childhood experiences help produced sexual orientation; as an example Freud believed that all human teenagers are predominantly homosexual and transition to heterosexuality in adulthood; those who remain homosexual as adults he believed had experienced some traumatic event that arrested their sexual development; however, he did believe all adults, even those who had healthy sexual development still retained latent homosexuality to varying degrees.

The modern scientific and medical consensus is that biological factors — whether genetic or acquired in utero — produce characteristically homosexual childhood experiences (such as atypical gender behaviour experiences), or at the least significantly contribute to them.

Homosexuality and society

Societal attitudes towards same-sex relationships, reflected in the attitude of the general population, the state and the church, have varied over the centuries, and from place to place, from expecting and requiring all males to engage in relationships, to casual integration, through acceptance, to seeing the practice as a minor sin, repressing it through law enforcement and judicial mechanisms, to proscribing it under penalty of death.

Most nations do not impede consensual sex between unrelated individuals above the local age of consent. Some jurisdictions further recognise identical rights, protections, and privileges for the family structures of same-sex couples, including marriage. Some nations mandate that all individuals restrict themselves to heterosexual relationships. In some jurisdictions homosexuality is illegal. Offenders face up to the death penalty in some fundamentalist Muslim areas such as Iran and parts of Nigeria. There are often significant differences between official policy and real-world enforcement. See Violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered.

Coming out

Many people who feel attracted to members of their own sex have a so-called coming out at some point in their lives. Generally, coming out is described in two phases. The first phase is the phase of “knowing oneself,” and the realisation or decision emerges that one is open to same-sex love. This is often described as an internal coming out. The second phase involves one’s decision to come out to others, e.g. family, friends, and/or colleagues. This occurs with many people as early as age 11, but others do not clarify their sexual orientation until age 40 or older.

Most have their coming out during school age, so sometime during the time of puberty. At this age, they may not trust or ask for help from others, especially when their orientation is not accepted in society. Sometimes their own parents are not even informed. Coming out can sometimes lead to a life crisis, which can elevate to suicidal thoughts or even committing suicide.

Crisis centres in larger cities and information sites on the Internet can help these people to accept their homosexuality. In fact, the suicide rate is notably higher with pubescent homosexuals than their heterosexual peers.

Modern law

In most developed countries, same-sex relationships are accepted, and are accorded legal protection. Many governments have established formal structures for confirming legal relationships (either as marriage or partnership) between people of the same sex.

In some cultures influenced by religious teachings against homosexuality, it is still considered unnatural, a perversion and has been outlawed (see sodomy law, victimless crime). In some Muslim nations (such as Iran) it remains a capital crime.

For example, the Canadian government and media are pushing same-sex tolerance on the basis of human rights. The media’s argument for social acceptance of same-sex relationships is that homosexuals were born homosexual. However, the fact that homosexuality has never been proven to be linked to genetics makes it difficult for some people to change their moral stance on homosexuality. The push for same-sex tolerance has created intolerance for religious and social groups who are opposed to same-sex. Religious groups also fear that same-sex tolerance is a step toward tolerance of other currently unaccepted sexual preferences such as polygamy and incest. Many people in religious groups recognise other people’s rights to choose a same-sex relationship, but also believe a choice for an active homosexual life is a choice against their religion.

Understudied phenomena

Despite the emollience of attitudes towards homosexuality and acceptance of it in some societies, in psychology it is considered an ‘understudied relationship’. In his book, Understudied Relationships, social psychologist S.W. Duck found that most mainstream research is predisposed towards studying only heterosexuality, in terms of relationships in contemporary Western cultures, implicating that same-sex relationships are neglected and ignored by the majority of psychologists. More research since the 1990s has focused on homosexual relationships, rather than just heterosexual relationships.

Political aspects


Homosexuality has at times been used as a scapegoat by governments facing problems. Some examples would be Nazi Germany’s treatment of homosexuality based on the understanding that it was a threat to masculinity as well as contaminating the “Aryan Race”. Another is the burning of 6,000 books of homoerotic poetry of 8th c. Persian-Arab poet Abu Nuwas by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture in January 2001, to placate Islamic fundamentalists. During the early 14th century, accusations of homosexual behaviour were instrumental in disbanding the Knights Templar by the French court under King Philip the Fair (see Heresy and Pardon of Knights Templar). As recently as the 1950s, Democrats in the United States Senate tried to discredit Senator McCarthy and his attacks on Communist sympathizers by accusing one of his aides of being a homosexual.

Business and attitudes towards homosexuality

In countries where business structures have a significant degree of autonomy from a government, the companies have often been at the forefront in treating gay men and women equally. In the United States, the level of equal parity is much more common in business structures than governments. As of 2005 approximately 45% of companies within the Fortune 500 offered domestic partner benefits and nine of the top ten companies include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies.


Homosexuality since ancient times has been documented to be more common in militaries with their generally strict sex segregation. Official attitudes towards this form of sexuality have varied, usually reflecting their culture’s views. Ancient Greece among others, as well as pre-modern Japan’s military traditions openly encouraged pederastic sexual relationships among males to foster male bonding and education

Many modern countries (such as the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and Israel) welcome homosexuals in the armed services and officially support soldiers’ participation in pride parades. Others, such as the United States, purge them from the force in the belief that they are a threat. This negative attitude was common in the European Middle Ages when the Knights Templar, a prominent Christian brotherhood of knights during the Crusades was destroyed on accusations of homosexuality.

Militaries have been known to use sexuality in abusive manners such as rape, frequently based on a sexist view of gender roles. Ancient Romans viewed masculinity as being associated with a penetrative sexual role, regardless of the sex of the receptive partner, and used it as a form of dominance. T. E. Lawrence, during World War I, claimed to have been raped by his male Ottoman captors.

Youth groups

Scouting, a worldwide group of youth organisations, often emulate the attitude of their home country’s military. Thus the Scout Association in the UK welcomes gay members both as members and as leaders, while the Boy Scouts of America expel them. However, the Scout Association of Malta, embraces gay members as members and leaders, even though the military does not have an official policy. (It should be noted that The Scout Association UK claims that it welcomes gay members on the basis of diversity, as it no longer emulates the military.)


Religion has played a significant role in forming a culture’s views towards homosexuality.

Historically the negative views of homosexuality have been limited to the Abrahamic religions. Groups not influenced by the Abrahamic religions have commonly regarded homosexuality as sacred or neutral. In the wake of colonialism and imperialism undertaken by countries of the Abrahamic faiths some non-Abrahamic religious groups have adopted new attitudes antagonistic towards homosexuality. For example, when India became part of the British Empire, sodomy laws were introduced; while there was no basis for them in Hindu faith, this led to persecution of their society and religion. India still retains portions of these laws due to this past foreign influence as of 2006. This experience was also repeated by other Abrahamic religious nations upon their acquisitions throughout Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

The Roman Catholic Church requires homosexuals to practice chastity in the understanding that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”, and “contrary to the natural law”. It insists that all are expected to only have heterosexual relations and only in the context of a marriage, describing homosexual tendencies as “a trial”, and stressing that people with such tendencies “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Distinguishing between “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and those that are “only the expression of a transitory problem”, the Vatican requires that any homosexual tendencies “must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.”

In brief, Hinduism has taken various positions, ranging from positive to neutral or antagonistic. Sikhism teaches that Homosexuality is unnatural, and therefore, sinful. Confucianism has allowed homosexual sex with the precondition of procreation. Abrahamic religions have held varied views of homosexuality, depending on place, time and form of same-sex desire. Islam regards homosexual love and desire as natural but sexual relations as a transgression negatory of the natural role and aim of sexual activity. Buddhism is divided, with contemporary Western Buddhists and many Japanese and Chinese schools holding very accepting views, something that is traditionally allowed when the relationship does not impede the birth of a child, while other Eastern Buddhists since colonial times have adopted attitudes that scorn the practice. Christianity has traditionally condemned deliberately non-procreative sex, and while attitudes have in some sectors been liberalised, the majority of denominations still view homosexual relationships as sinful. Judaism, depending on the movement, is either liberal, conservative, or neutral on the subject. The Orthodox tradition generally views homosexual sex as sinful, and homosexual attraction as out of the norm, while Reform and Reconstructionism are fully accepting of gay attraction and sex. Conservative Judaism doesn’t view attraction as sinful. Homosexual acts are just thought of as being equal to breaking any other of the mitzvot. This movement, however, does not admit openly gay Jews as rabbis, nor does it perform commitment ceremonies. It is very open to it, and because of the movement’s belief in an evolving Torah, the issue is very big in the movement today. Native American religions generally grant gender-variant individuals honoured status for their perceived spiritual powers. Greek, Japanese, Melanesian, Roman religion, and Taoism take a positive outlook.


Same-sex love practices have been the subject of a continuing debate dating back at least to Classical Greece. In antiquity, and in countries not under the sway of Abrahamic beliefs, the debates usually took the form of debating which love is best, the love of women or the love of boys, unlike more recent discussions which frame the question in terms of “right” and “wrong.”

Each camp has made use of a relatively circumscribed arsenal of arguments, some of which have not changed greatly over the past two and a half thousand years. Recent advances in sociological studies and other discourse such as queer theory have brought a measure of scientific rigour to what had been mostly a philosophical debate.


  • “Same-sex love is against nature” This charge dates back to Classical Greece, where it was first articulated by Plato in his Laws. Of course, Plato also portrayed many homosexual and homoerotic scenes in his dialogues, most notably in the Lysis, Charmindes, and Symposium.
  • “It is condemned by God.” Expressed by early Christian exegetes (claimed to be the moral of the Sodom and Gomorrah story), and also in the Qur’an.
  • There are scriptures throughout all the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), at least apparently condemning the practice.
  • “It leads to plagues and natural disasters.” Advanced by Christian authorities from late Antiquity through the Renaissance.
  • “It is abuse of the young.” Encountered in “Erotes,” a dialogue of the early Christian era by “Lucian.”
  • “It is a dissipation of one’s reproductive force.” Plato, Laws, 838


  • “It is commonplace in nature.” Based on zoologists’ observations of many different species.
  • “Suppressing it alters the balance of nature.” A Melanesian belief.
  • “It foments close friendships and independent thinking.” Also in Lucian
  • “It [male homosexuality] is a mark of true masculinity.” Claimed by Indian Sufi Akhi Jamshed Rajgiri in self defense before the Sultan of Jaunpur for his love of youths. (In Vanita & Kidwai, 2000, p.139)
  • “Suppression is irrational” Jeremy Bentham, in his 1785 essay on “Paederasty” (first English language text on homosexuality) states: “It is wonderful that nobody has ever yet fancied it to be sinful to scratch where it itches, and that it has never been determined that the only natural way of scratching is with such or such a finger and that it is unnatural to scratch with any other.”
  • “The male form is superior to the female form” (implication for male homosexuality). Medieval Arabic text included in the Arabian Nights (The Debate Between the Wise Woman and the Sage).

Historical and geographical practices

Sexual customs have varied greatly over time and from one region to another. These, as well as the orientation of particular pre-contemporary figures continue to be studied. Modern Western gay culture, largely a product of 19th-century psychology as well as the years of post-Stonewall gay liberation, is a relatively novel manifestation of same-sex love. It is generally not applicable as a standard when investigating same-gender sex and historical opinions and beliefs held by other people.

It is generally accepted that the lives of historical figures such as Socrates, Alexander the Great, Hadrian, Julius Caesar, Michelangelo, Donatello and Christopher Marlowe included or were centred upon love and sexual relationships with people of their own gender. Terms such as gay or bisexual have been applied to them, but many regard this as risking the anachronistic introduction of a modern social construction of sexuality foreign to their times. Variations from modern standards of beauty, social roles, sexual positions, and age disparities are of such magnitude so as to render meaningless any projection of modern roles onto historical personages.

While some premodern societies did not employ categories fully comparable to the modern homosexual or heterosexual dichotomy, this does not demonstrate that the polarity is not applicable to those societies. A common thread of constructionist argument is that no one in antiquity or the Middle Ages experienced homosexuality as an exclusive, permanent, or defining mode of sexuality. John Boswell has criticised this argument by citing ancient Greek writings by Plato, which he says indicate knowledge of exclusive homosexuality.

Michel Foucault and his followers have argued that the homosexual is a modern invention, a mental construct of the last 100 years. While true of homosexuality as a scientific or psychological category, there are examples from earlier ages of those viewing their sexuality as a part of a human identity and not merely a sexual act. One cited example is the 16th-century Italian artist Giovanni Antonio Bazzi who adopted the nickname “Sodoma”, which is viewed by Louis Crompton as something analogous to the modern gay identity.

Conversely, it could be noted that the practice of describing a notably evidenced historical figure as having a heterosexual orientation rarely evokes such controversy. This tendency among Western historians, to view heterosexuality as an acceptable norm while regarding arguments that a particular historical figure may have been gay controversial or requiring more evidence than a claim of opposite-sex attraction might warrant, is often attributed to homophobia on the part of historians and is referred to within queer studies as heteronormativity.


Though frequently denied or ignored by European explorers, homosexual expression in native Africa was also present and took a variety of forms. Representative examples:

Anthropologists Murray and Roscoe report that women in Lesotho have engaged in socially sanctioned “long term, erotic relationships” named motsoalle.

E. E. Evans-Pritchard reported that male Azande warriors (in the northern Congo) routinely married male youths who functioned as temporary wives. The practice had died out in the early 20th century but was recounted to him by the elders.

An academic paper by Stephen O. Murray examines the history of descriptions of “Homosexuality in traditional Sub-Saharan Africa“.


In North American Native society, the most common form of same-sex sexuality seems to centre around the figure of the two-spirit individual. Such persons seem to have been recognised by the majority of tribes, each of which had its particular term for the role. Typically the two-spirit individual was recognised early in life, was given a choice by the parents to follow the path, and if the child accepted the role then it was raised in the appropriate manner, learning the customs of the gender it had chosen. Two-spirit individuals were commonly shamans and were revered as having powers beyond those of ordinary shamans. Their sexual life would be with the ordinary tribe members of the opposite gender. Male two-spirit people were prized as wives because of their greater strength and ability to work. See Two-spirit.

East Asia

In Asia same-sex love has known since the dawn of history. Early Western travellers were taken aback by its widespread acceptance and open display.

Homosexual relations in China, known as the pleasures of the bitten peach, the cut sleeve, or the southern custom, have been recorded since approximately 600 BCE. These euphemistic terms were used to describe behaviours, but not identities. The relationships were marked by differences in age and social position. However, the instances of same-sex affection and sexual interactions described in the Hong Lou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber, or Story of the Stone) seem as familiar to observers in the present as do equivalent stories of romances between heterosexuals during the same period.

Homosexuality in Japan, variously known as shudo or nanshoku, terms influenced by Chinese literature, has been documented for over one thousand years and was an integral part of Buddhist monastic life and the samurai tradition. This same-sex love culture gave rise to strong traditions of painting and literature documenting and celebrating such relationships.

Similarly, in Thailand, Kathoey or ladyboys have been a feature of Thai society for many centuries, and Thai kings had male as well as female lovers. Kathoey are men who dress as women. They are generally accepted by society. The teachings of Buddhism, dominant in Thai society was accepting of a third gender designation.


The earliest western documents (in the form of literary works, art objects, as well as mythographic materials) concerning same-sex relationships are derived from Ancient Greece. They depict a world in which relationships with women and relationships with youths were the essential foundation of a normal man’s love life. Same-sex relationships were a social institution variously constructed over time and from one city to another.

The practice, a system of relationships between an adult male and an adolescent coming of age, was often valued for its pedagogic benefits and as a means of population control, and occasionally blamed for causing disorder. Plato praised its benefits in his early writings, but in his late works proposed its prohibition, laying out a strategy which uncannily predicts the path by which same-sex love was eventually driven underground. (See Philosophy of Greek pederasty)

The Roman emperor Theodosius decreed a law, on August 6th, 390, condemning passive homosexuals to be burned at the stake. Justinian, towards the end of his reign, expanded the proscription to the active partner as well (in 558) warning that such conduct can lead to the destruction of cities through the “wrath of God.” Notwithstanding these regulations, taxes on homosexual boy brothels continued to be collected until the end of the reign of Anastasius I in 518.

During the Renaissance, cities in northern Italy, Florence and Venice in particular, were renowned for their widespread practice of same-sex love, engaged in by a majority of the male population and constructed along the classical pattern of Greece and Rome. But even as the majority of the male population was engaging in same-sex relationships, the authorities, under the aegis of the Officers of the Night court, were prosecuting, fining, and imprisoning a good portion of that population. The eclipse of this period of relative artistic and erotic freedom was precipitated by the rise to power of the moralising monk Girolamo Savonarola. Throughout all of Europe, fierce conflicts, dating back to the early Middle Ages, raged between proponents and opponents of same sex love. In northern Europe the artistic discourse on sodomy was turned against its proponents by artists such as Rembrandt, who in his “Rape of Ganymede” no longer depicted Ganymede as a willing youth, but as a squalling baby attacked by a rapacious bird of prey.

Middle East and Central Asia

Among many Middle-Eastern Muslim cultures, homosexual practices were widespread and public. Persian poets, such as Attar (d. 1220), Rumi (d. 1273), Sa’di (d. 1291), Hafez (d. 1389), and Jami (d. 1492), wrote poems replete with homoerotic allusions. Recent work in queer studies suggests that while the visibility of such relationships has been much reduced, their frequency has not. The two most commonly documented forms were commercial sex with transgender males or males enacting transgender roles exemplified by the koceks and the bacchas, and Sufi spiritual practices in which the practitioner crossed over from the idealised chaste form of the practice to one in which the desire is consummated.

In Persia homosexuality and homoerotic expressions were tolerated in numerous public places, from monasteries and seminaries to taverns, military camps, bathhouses, and coffee houses. In the early Safavid era (1501-1723), male houses of prostitution (amrad khaneh) were legally recognised and paid taxes.

A rich tradition of art and literature sprang up, constructing Middle Eastern homosexuality in ways analogous to the ancient tradition of male love in which Ganymede, cup-bearer to the gods, symbolised the ideal boyfriend. Muslim — often Sufi — poets in medieval Arab lands and in Persia wrote odes to the beautiful Christian wine boys who, they claimed, served them in the taverns and shared their beds at night. In many areas the practice survived into modern times (as documented by Richard Francis Burton, André Gide, and others).

In Central Asia, on the Silk Route, the two traditions of the east and the west met, and gave rise to a strong local culture of same-sex love. In the Turkic-speaking areas, one manifestation of this were the bacchá, adolescent or adolescent-seeming male entertainers and sex workers. In other areas male love continues to surface despite efforts to keep it quiet. After the American invasion of Afghanistan, Central Asian same-sex love customs in which adult men take on adolescent lovers were widely reported.

Other forms are less well documented. It is reported that in the oasis of Siwa boy marriages were the norm until the middle of the twentieth century, a practice which was coupled with a minimum age for heterosexual marriage of forty for the men, a measure presumed to have been taken to avoid overpopulation. Finally, sexual relations between older and younger boys are said to be frequent in the Middle East as well as in the Maghreb.

The prevailing pattern of same-sex relationships in the temperate and sub-tropical zone stretching from Northern India to the Western Sahara is one in which the relationships were — and are — either gender-structured or age-structured or both. In recent years, egalitarian relationships modelled on the western pattern have become more frequent, though they remain rare.

South Pacific

In many societies of Melanesia same-sex relationships are an integral part of the culture. Traditional Melanesian insemination rituals also existed wherein adolescents would fellate older males as part of an initiation rite. In some tribes of Papua New Guinea, for example, it is considered a normal ritual responsibility for a boy to have a relationship as a part of his ascent into manhood. Many Melanesian societies, however, have become hostile towards same-sex relationships since the introduction of Christianity by European missionaries.

Modern Developments

Shortly after World War II the gay community began to make advancements in civil rights in much of the Western World. A turning point was reached in 1973 when, in a vote decided by a plurality of the membership, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, thus negating homosexuality as a clinical mental disorder.

Since the 1960s, in part due to their history of shared oppression, many gays in the West have developed a shared culture. Not all gays choose to participate in it, and many gay men and women specifically decline to do so. To many gay men and women, the gay culture represents heterophobia and is scorned as widening the gulf between gay and straight people. Some people believe that gay culture is exemplified by the gay pride movement. In the past, some gay groups organised campaigns for awareness of the AIDS outbreak.


Many European countries, plus a number of U.S. States, have legalized same-sex marriage. Other countries, including the majority of Europe, have enacted civil unions. Numerous countries in Scandinavia have had domestic partnership laws since the late 1980s.

In Asia, the conflict between homoerotic tradition and a resurgent Islamic fundamentalism continues. Liaquat Ali, a 42 year old Afghan refugee, and Markeen Afridi a 16 year old Pakistani boy, reportedly fell in love and got married in a very public ceremony in October of 2005. There are efforts to refute the original reports which were authored by a reporter from the tribe where the wedding occurred.

Political developments

Publicly gay politicians have attained numerous government posts, even in countries that had sodomy laws or outright mass murder of gays in their recent past.

Religious developments

The overall trend of greater acceptance of gay men and women in the latter part of the 20th Century was not limited to secular institutions; it was also seen in many religious institutions. Reform Judaism, the largest branch of Judaism outside Israel had begun to facilitate religious weddings for gay adherents in their synagogues. The Anglican Communion encountered discord that caused a rift between the European and North American Churches when American and Canadian churches ordained gay clergy and began blessing same-sex unions against the wishes of the Anglican archdiocese. Other Churches such as the Methodist Church had experienced trials of gay clergy who some claimed were a violation of religious principles resulting in mixed verdicts dependent on geography.

These developments have been accompanied by a response from certain conservative religious organisations, especially in the United States. In various instances, this movement has succeeded in overturning some of the aforementioned legislation and has had an influence on academia. In late 2005, Haworth Press withdrew from publication a volume on homosexuality in classical antiquity titled Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West. This was in response to criticism from American conservative groups which objected to the discussion of positive aspects of classical pederasty, as well as to a chapter by the American academic Bruce Rind which was branded by the critics as advocating pedophilia. (see Anti-gay slogan) The publisher, in a letter to the editors, exonerated Rind from the accusation and conceded that his article was sound, but stood by its decision to withdraw it “to avoid negative press” and “economic repercussions”. Article in the Halifax The Chronicle Herald.

Fundamentalist religious organisations are also attempting to weaken the gay rights community by cutting off its sources of income. In spring of 2005, the “American Family Association” threatened a boycott of Ford products to protest Ford’s perceived support of “the homosexual agenda and homosexual marriage.” After meeting with representatives of the group, Ford announced it was curtailing ads in a number of major gay publications (thus depriving them of a major source of income), an action it claimed to be determined not by cultural but by “cost-cutting” factors. That statement was contradicted by the AFA, which claimed it had a “good faith agreement” that Ford would cease such ads. Soon afterwards, as a result of a strong upcry from the gay community, Ford backtracked and announced it would continue ads in gay publications, in response to which the AFA denounced Ford for “violating” the agreement, and renewed threats of a boycott. Anti-Gay Group Renews Ford Boycott Threat.

Art and literature

One of the main ways in which the record of same-sex love has been preserved is through literature and art. Homoerotic sensibilities are at the foundation of art in the west, to the extent that those roots can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Homer’s Iliad is considered to have the love between two men as its central feature, a view held since antiquity. Plato’s Symposium also gives readers commentary on the subject, at one point putting forth the claim that homosexual love is superior to heterosexual love.

The European tradition was continued throughout the ages in the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and William Shakespeare. In Islamic societies it was present in figures such as Abu Nuwas, Omar Khayyam, . The Tale of Genji, called the “world’s first real novel”, fostered this tradition in Japan, as did the Chinese literary tradition in works such as Bian er Zhai and Jin Ping Mei.

Icons such as Madonna and Elton John have followed this tradition in modern times. Presently the Japanese anime subgenre, yaoi, commonly features the theme. Artistic nudes have prominently displayed lesbianism. Playwrights have penned popular works such as Angels In America. These sentiments have been pervaded in many movies. A popular television series exploited these perceptions with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy equating gay men with the ancient Greek Muses. Recently, the film Brokeback Mountain has raised enormous awareness in the global community about homosexual issues. The film stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as two male ranchers who fall in love in the 1960s. The film was directed by Ang Lee, adapted from the short story by Annie Proulx. Homosexuality also presents itself in musicals, such as Rent and Bare, a Pop Opera.

See also

External links


  1. CNN 2004 Exit Polls.
  2. “Central Park Zoo’s gay penguins ignite debate” by Dinitia Smith, San Francisco Chronicle, February 7, 2004
  3. “Penguin Partners”, News from Oscar, August 2004
  4. Left-Handed Bears & Androgynous Cassowaries by Bruce Bagemihl, Whole Earth, Spring 2000
  5. “The Volume of a Sexually Dimorphic Nucleus in the Ovine Medial Preoptic Area/Anterior Hypothalamus Varies with Sexual Partner Preference” by Charles E. Roselli, et al., The Endocrine Society, October 2, 2003
  6. Alfred C. Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1948, ISBN 0721654452 (o.p.), ISBN 0253334128 (reprint).
  7. Alfred C. Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, 1953, ISBN 0721654509 (o.p.), ISBN 0671786156 (o.p. pbk.), ISBN 025333411X (reprint).
  8. Tom Bethell (April 2005). “Kinsey as Pervert”. American Spectator, 38, 42-44. ISSN: 0148-8414.
  9. Julia A. Ericksen (May 1998). “With enough cases, why do you need statistics? Revisiting Kinsey’s methodology”. The Journal of Sex Research 35 (2): 132-40, ISSN: 0022-4499.
  10. The National Health and Social Life Survey (“The Sex Survey”)
  11. “Army marches with Pride parade”, BBC News, August 27, 2004
  12. “Catechism of the Catholic Church”.
  13. Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, Congregation for Catholic Education, November 04, 2005
  14. “Homosexuality in the Light of Islam”, September 20, 2003
  15. Rocke, Michael, (1996), Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and male Culture in Renaissance Florence, ISBN 0-91-512292-5
  16. Ruggiero, Guido, (1985), The Boundaries of Eros, ISBN 0-91-505696-5
  17. Afghan tribesman faces death for wedding to teenage boy, Peter Foster, Sydney Morning Herald, October 7, 2005
  18. Man weds boy in Khyber Agency, Daily Times, October 6, 2005
  19. Gay Marriage Report Fabricated, Kashmir Khan Afridi
  20. Christopher Bagley and Pierre Tremblay, (1998), “On the Prevalence of Homosexuality and Bisexuality, in a Random Community Survey of 750 Men Aged 18 to 27”, Journal of Homosexuality, Volume 36, Number 2, pages 1-18.
  21. Lester G. Brown, Two Spirit People, 1997, Harrington Park Press, ISBN 1-56023-089-4
  22. Kenneth J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality, 1979, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., London, ISBN 0674362616 (o.p. hardcover), ISBN 0674362705 (pbk.).
  23. Bret Hinsch, Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China, The University of California Press, 1990, ISBN 0-520-06720-7.
  24. Norman Roth. The care and feeding of gazelles – Medieval Arabic and Hebrew love poetry. IN: Lazar & Lacy. Poetics of Love in the Middle Ages. George Mason University Press, 1989.
  25. Arno Schmitt & Jehoeda Sofer (eds). Sexuality and Eroticism Among Males in Moslem Societies. Haworth Press, 1992.
  26. LeVay, S., Science, 1991, 253, 1034?1037.
  27. Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe, Boy Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities, 1998, ISBN 031221216X.
  28. Bullough et al. (eds.) (1996). Handbook of Medieval Sexuality. Garland Publishing. ISBN 0815312873.
  29. Foucault, Michel (1990). The History of Sexuality vol. 1: An Introduction, p.43. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.
  30. James Davidson, London Review of Books, 2 June 2005, “Mr and Mr and Mrs and Mrs” – detailed review of The Friend, by Alan Bray, a history of same-sex marriage and other same-sex formal bonds
  31. Scientific Gay
  32. Genetics of homosexuality
  33. Homosexuality and Transgender Surgery
  34. Fingerprints Study
  35. Androgen Link
  36. Doubt cast on ‘gay gene’
  37. Robert T. Michael, John H. Gagnon, Edward O. Laumann, and Gina Kolata. Sex in America: A definitive survey. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995. ISBN 0316075248
  38. Percy, William A., Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece. University of Illinois Press, 1996.
  39. Bullough, Vern L. Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context, Harrington Park Press, 2002.
  40. Johansson, Warren and Percy, William A., Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence, Harrington Park Press, 1994.
  41. Dynes, Wayne R. (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, New York and London, Garland Publishing, 1990