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Sexual orientation refers to the direction an individual's sexuality takes, usually classified in relation to the sex or gender the individual is sexually attracted to. This is divided into four main categories of heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality/autosexuality.
Medical science has not proven what factors influence sexual orientation, however most agree that it is a complex combination ranging from a person's genetic code, the fetal environment, and the environment and experiences the child faces in the first 5-10 years of life.
Most experts agree that sexual orientation is fixed, and there is a general consensus that it is fixed in most people by the time they are 6.
Is it possible to alter one's sexual orientation?
As of 2017, the answer seems to be "no". A growing body of research shows that homosexuality is likely to have a biological origin. Therefore attempts to "cure" it with psychotherapy, reparative therapy, primal therapy or other psychology-oriented approaches are usually unsuccessful, and such methods are mostly quackery.
However, according to the modern paradigm of neuroscience, all human behavior is potentially reducible to brain states, so it may be theoretically possible to influence the functions that govern one's sexual orientation. Should the epigenetic hypothesis have merit, it is possible that, somewhere in the future, maybe epigenetic therapy might be able to alter orientation.[note 1]
As numerous evangelicals will tell you, sexual orientation is a choice and anyone who chooses to be gay will roast on Satan's Special Sodomite Spit.
Reparative therapies that are designed to 'change' the icky types of sexual orientation have never been shown to actually work on changing the actual orientation, though they can so amass a person with guilt or shame that he or she "chooses" to live as a so-called straight person.
Identity and behavior
Sexual orientation is not "sexual identity" - which is how one portrays oneself to the world. A person may be biologically bisexual, but may be in a heterosexual relationship. Someone who has undergone "reparative therapy" may claim to be straight, even if bathroom stall appearances might suggest otherwise.
Sexual orientation is also not "sexual behavior" which includes such concepts as sadomasochism, pedophilia, or zoophilia -- regardless of what the Religious Right claims regarding those whose sexual orientation is not the "approved" one.
Sexual orientation has nothing to do with men liking Broadway, or women disliking make-up. In fact, again despite claims generally coming from the agenda driven "Right", you cannot tell another person's sexual orientation by their personality, their job choice, their creativity - as none of the stereotypes of what makes someone straight or gay have any rational backing. Even actions are not a true way to identify a person's sexual orientation, as a person may be closeted (gay, straight or bi).
Want to read this in another language?
- Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality, American Psychological Association
- Edward Stein. Précis of "The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory and Ethics of Sexual Orientation." Law and Philosophy, Vol. 21, pp. 305-316, 2002.
- Note extensive use of qualifiers. This kind of treatment is only in early studies for things like diabetic retinopathy and is not even broadly proven for treatment of any medical condition. Along with the still-speculative nature of the epigenetic cause of homosexuality, there's a lot of science to do between now and this hypothetical treatment.
- "Submission to the Church of England's Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality"
- Långström, N.; Rahman, Q.; Carlström, E.; Lichtenstein, P. (2008). "Genetic and Environmental Effects on Same-sex Sexual Behavior: A Population Study of Twins in Sweden". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 39 (1): 75–80. doi:10.1007/s10508-008-9386-1
- What if you could change being gay?