Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Sexual orientation

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Sexual orientation:
What motivates sexual orientation?

It's not a choice

Overview[edit | edit source]

The purpose of this page is to provide an understanding into the motivations behind sexual orientation. This page will aim to provide an understanding of both historical theories and current research in this area to enable individuals of all orientations to grasp a better understanding of this topic. This book chapter will aim to provide answers to the following questions:

  1. What is sexual motivation?
  2. What types of sexual orientations exist?
  3. What does current research suggest as the motivations behind sexual orientation?
  4. What does historic research and theories suggest and are these perspectives still valid?

Define[edit | edit source]

Sexual orientation can be described as an individual’s sense of identity regarding sexual preferences towards men, women, or both sexes (American Psychological Association, 2008). It is an enduring characteristic that determines what gender an individual is attracted to in a romantic or sexual manner. It is generally accepted that sexual orientation is an innate characteristic that is not the result of choice. Sexual orientation is said to develop and be relatively stable from middle childhood into adolescence (American Psychological Association, 2008).

What are the different types of sexual orientation?[edit | edit source]

Heterosexuality[edit | edit source]

Heterosexuality is the romantic and sexual attraction between individuals of the opposite sex. Heterosexuality is arguably the most common sexual orientation and the most widely accepted both culturally and religiously (American Psychological Association, 2008).

Homosexuality[edit | edit source]

Homosexuality is the romantic and sexual attraction between individuals or the same sex. It is one of the most common types of sexual orientations (American Psychological Association, 2008).

Bisexuality[edit | edit source]

Bisexuality is the romantic and sexual attraction to members of both genders. Bisexual individuals may be attracted to any gender identity. It is often argued that bisexual individuals may have a sexual preference towards one gender which is referred to as a ‘sexual preference’ (American Psychological Association, 2008.

Asexuality[edit | edit source]

Asexuality is arguably the most debated sexual orientation and disregarded by some researchers. It is the lack of sexual attraction to other individuals regardless of gender(American Psychological Association, 2008).

Why is this area of study important?[edit | edit source]

Studying the motivation behind sexual orientation is an important area of study. In the past any form of sexual orientation other than heterosexuality has been taboo and often punished severely (Bailey et al, 2000). Even in today’s social individuals of minority sexual orientations are often faced with discrimination in their everyday lives. The motivations behind sexual orientation have ignited much interest in the scientific community and encouraged much empirical and theoretical study (Bailey et al, 2000). Sexual orientation is a fundamental aspect of human sexuality, which generally provides the guarantee that the human race will continue to expand through the heterosexual attraction between males and females (Bailey et al, 2000). Sexual orientation is closely related to gender roles, childhood play behaviour, occupational and recreational interests, and various other social aspects (Bailey et al, 2000).

A recent study by Joslyn (2008) found that the perceived causes of homosexuality influenced the level of discrimination and support by heterosexual individuals. Joslyn (2008) found that if individuals perceived homosexuality to be a choice or something that is controllable they were less likely to support political policies reducing discrimination and hold a more negative view of homosexuals. Alternatively, if individuals perceived homosexuality to be uncontrollable and determined by things such as genetics or evolutions, they showed positive feeling towards homosexuals and same sex marriage (Joslyn, 2008). Joslyn (2008) argued that the attribution of homosexuality was the most important factor in determining the treatment of homosexual individuals by heterosexual individuals. Research by Huebner, Rebchook and Kegeles (2004) found that in a group of 1248 homosexual men over a 6 month period 37% experienced verbal abuse, 11% had experiences discrimination and 4.8% had been physically abused as a result of their sexual orientation. This makes the study into the motivations behind sexual orientation of high importance.

Current research and theories[edit | edit source]

Auditory system[edit | edit source]

Research by McFadden & Pasanen (1998) has suggested that there may be a relationship between homosexuality and auditory systems in females. Their research looked at click-evoked otoacoustic emissions (echo-like waveforms) emitted by cochlea the in the ear in response to brief sound. The results of this study found that bisexual and homosexual female’s click-evoked otoacoustic emission differed from those of heterosexual males and females. As an individual’s auditory system can be biological this research supports the notion that homosexual orientation is a predisposition. Further research by McFadden (2011) found that these differences can be detected in new born females and are persistent throughout the life span of an individual. McFadden (2011) suggested that these differences in homosexual/bisexual compared to heterosexual females may be the result of strong exposure to androgens in early development. Typically it is males that have weaker click-evoked otoacoustic emissions.

Birth order[edit | edit source]

It has been argued by some researchers that there is a link between homosexuality in men and the order in which they were born in comparison to their male siblings. Blanchard (2001) argued that homosexuality in men was dependent on the number of older brothers that individual had. For each older brother he argued that the likelihood of homosexuality increased by 33%. To determine this Blanchard and colleagues (2001) examined past research conducted on groups of people from England, Canada, United States and The Netherlands. The birth order data from each study was converted to fit into Slater’s Index. Slaters index is calculated using the following formula: older siblings/older siblings + younger siblings (Blanchard, 2001). The meta analysis of this data conclude that there was only a 1 in 10,000 chance that the number of older siblings did not impact upon the likelihood of individuals being homosexual. This support the theory that birth order plays a role in determining a new born son’s sexual orientation (Blanchard, 2001).

Environmental[edit | edit source]

Some findings in recent times have suggested that childhood experiences may play a role in the formation of an individual’s sexual identity. Corliss, Cochran and Mays (2002) examined the influence of childhood parental maltreatment during childhood on sexual identity. They collated data from the US National Survey Midlife Development data base in regards to parental emotional and physical abuse and sexual identity. Corliss, Cochran and Mays (2002) found that homosexual and bisexual men reported higher levels of emotional/physical abuse by their mothers or physical abuse by their fathers in comparison to heterosexual men. Similarly, women who identified as either homosexual or bisexual reported high levels of abuse by their mother or father figures (Corliss, Cochran and Mays, 2002). Interestingly the relationship between abuse and likelihood of homosexuality or bisexuality increased with the severity of the abuse (Corliss, Cochran and Mays, 2002). This can be supported by research conducted by Lenderking, Wold and Mayer et al (2002) who found that there was a strong correlation between childhood abuse in men and homosexual activities. This suggests that there may be a relationship between sexual identity and childhood experiences. The influence of homosexual or bisexual parents on their children has been of interest to researchers. Bailey et al (1995) looked at determining if growing up in an environment containing homosexual parents impacted upon their children. In their study 82 people who had been raised by a homosexual or bisexual couple were rated on their sexual tendencies. It was found that 90% of the participants were heterosexual despite being reared in an environment with two gay parents. Furthermore, it was found that the length of time spent with parents bared little to no influence on the results (Bailey et al, 1995). This suggests that only some aspects of the environment may influences sexual orientation.

Childhood gender nonconformity[edit | edit source]

Research has found that homosexual adults, both male and female, tend to be less confirming to gender roles and expectations (Bailey, Gygax & Linsenmier, 2008). Retrospective analysis on previous studies has found that adult homosexuals often display gender nonconformity during childhood. Examples of this may include wearing the clothes of the opposite gender or being perceived as more masculine or feminine. Research by Bailey, Gygax and Linsenmier (2008) found that on inspection of home videos from homosexual and heterosexual individuals, homosexual individuals displayed much higher levels of gender nonconformity. This research can be supports the general widespread perception that homosexual males are more feminine and homosexual females are more masculine. It is worth noting however, that this is not applicable to all homosexual individuals (Bailey, Gygax & Linsenmier, 2008).

Evolutionary[edit | edit source]

Evolutionary biologists have been interested in explaining why homosexuality is only present in minority of individuals. Some have suggested that this is due to homosexual males and females having significantly lower reproduction rates (Gavrilets & Rice, 2006). There is a variety of research that suggests that sexuality is influenced by polymorphic genes. This support for genetic caused has stemmed from twin studies that look at environmental and genetic influences and gene studies that have linked polymorphic x-linked genes to male homosexuality (Gavrilets & Rice, 2006). Recent research by Gavrilets and Rice (2006) was aimed at making predictions about the genetic characteristics of the genes that influenced homosexuality. These characteristics included chromosomal location, dominance in segregating alleles and finally the effect sizes of the different polymorphism models. Gavrilets and Rice (2006) found that through genomic screening for influencing genes on homosexuality that the information suggested that natural selection had influenced the maintenance of the responsible polymorphism.

Other research by Camperio-Ciana, Corna and Capiluppi (2004) suggests that from an evolutionary perspective homosexuality may be motivated by genetics. They found that homosexual males had higher maternal instincts and that female relative of homosexual males have a higher number of offspring. This suggests that homosexual males may have assisted female relative support more offspring. These results were drawn from a sample of 4600 individuals (Camperio-Ciana, Corna & Capiluppi, 2004). Genetics: Continuing from evolutionary motivations behind sexual orientation is the closely related research regarding the genetic predisposition to a certain sexual orientation. Research conducted by Kirk et al (2000) looked at 4901 different twins to determine the role of genes. In this study twins between the ages of 18 and 52 answered an anonymous survey regarding sexual behaviour and attitudes. The results of this research indicated that genetics appear to play a significant role in sexual orientation. Female heritability of homosexual ranged between 50 and 60% while male heritability was around 30% (Kirk et al, 2000).

Baily, Dunne and Martin (2000) aimed at testing the biological relationship between genes and sexual orientation is a study sampling Australian twins. The sample was randomly selected from the Australian National Health and Medical Council Twin Register. Selected twin sets were sent a letter asking if they wished to participate and willing participants were sent a questionnaire via post. Baily, Dunne and Martin (2000) studied four main areas; distributions of sexual orientation between genders, the role of genes and environment, and finally the genetic structure of their covariation. The results of their study found that there were gene factors that increased the likelihood of homosexuality. It was found however, that this was higher males than females suggesting that there are differences in sexual orientation development between genders (Bailey et al, 2000). It was found that there was a degree of environmental influences however, Baily, Dunne and Martin (2000) argued that this was not strong enough to argue more than a general impact. One of the main weakness of this research was limited access to homosexual twins. Of the study the majority were heterosexual which greatly limited the statistical power of the data collected. Many of the twins that were approached to participate were hesitant to provide sexual information about themselves which may have impacted upon the data they provided (Bailey et al, 2000). It can however, be concluded that there is overwhelming support for evolutionary causes as a motivation behind sexual orientation.

Historical/past theories[edit | edit source]

Psychoanalytic perspective[edit | edit source]

Earlier theories into the motivations behind sexual orientation come from a much more environmentalist perspective (Ellis & Ames, 1987). Freud (1905) argued that homosexuality was a reflection of a premature fixation of an individual’s psychosexual development. Freud believed that a fixated psychosexual development was the result of a strong dominating mother figure or the absence of a strong father figure (Ellis & Ames, 1987). For example, if a child had a strong dominating mother they were more likely to become homosexual as a reflection of this interfearance in their psychosexual development. Freud almost focused solely on male homosexuality which was the main flaw in his theory of homosexuality. Other psychoanalytic explanations following on from Freud, have argued other factors such as romantic tried of a domineering mother, weak father and the mothers favourite son lead to homosexuality (Ellis & Ames, 1987). It has also been argued by some such as Cameron (1963) that there is a link between homosexuality and seduction by a same sex sibling or playmate in early childhood (Ellis & Ames, 1987).

Absence of women[edit | edit source]

Westermarck (1922) proposed a different theory arguing that because there appeared to be more homosexual men than women, homosexuality could be a result of the absence of eligible female partners or excessive expectations to maintain chastity (Ellis & Ames, 1987). There may still be support for this theory in new research into the increase of homosexuality in prisons. This has seen the creation of the term 'situational homosexuality' (Eigenberg, 2013). This follows on from a socialist constructionist perspective which argues that homosexuality may be 'caused'(EigenBerg, 2013). According to Clemmer and Skyes (1958) prison inmates create their own societies which have their own norms and rules. There are two main theories surround these created societies; Importation Model and Deprivation Model (Eigenberg, 2013). The importation model argues that inmates in prisons carry their values into the prison environment and continue to condone homosexuality. The deprivation model however argues, that inmates who are forcefully entered into institutions that limits their liberties that will try to develop their own structure and values to alleviate this depravation (Eigenberg, 2013). Homosexual behaviour increases as a method of reclaiming self-worth and the result of the environments unnatural circumstances. There is very limited research in this area however to confirm deprivation theory (Eigenberg, 2013).If this theory is confirmed by future research it may have negative consequences for homosexual or bisexual individuals as it suggests a level of control or choice in sexual orientation. As previously discussed, perceived choice in sexuality can lead to discrimination.

Family environmental explanations[edit | edit source]

Theorists in the 1940 to 1960 reverted back to Freud’s original assumptions upon family life impacting upon sexual orientation (Ellis & Ames, 1987). Family Environmental explanations began to emerge pointing towards broken or abusive homes, poor parental and same sex role models, weak father and dominating mothers. East (1946) put forward a different perspective arguing that the roots for homosexuality can be traced to confusion during the learning of sex roles (Ellis & Ames, 1987). East (1946) believed that if a child displays mannerisms or physical characteristics of the opposite gender they may provoke incorrect or confusing social reinforcement for his or her incorrect sex role behaviour (Ellis & Ames, 1987). This reinforcement can make a child a perfect candidate for permanent homosexuality. Others such as Kardiner (1963) argued that young males who feel inadequately masculine in comparison to social demands seek refuge in traditionally female roles and once again this leads towards homosexuality (Ellis & Ames, 1987).

Learned behaviour[edit | edit source]

Other theorists believe that homosexuality was a learned behaviour and could be explained by principles of learning such as reinforcement (Ellis & Ames, 1987). Theorists such as James (1967) suggested homosexuality most commonly resulted from the reinforced same-sex sexual experiences that occurred prior to opposite-sex sexual encounters (Ellis & Ames, 1987). Similarly, Gagnon and Simon (1973) argued that sexual orientation was a learned experience through various reinforcement and punishment present during childhood and adolescence. If homosexual experiences were more pleasurable they were likely to lead to homosexual orientation in adulthood (Ellis & Ames, 1987). Recent research by Kirk et al (2000) however suggests that homosexuality is not a learned behaviour but rather a genetically acquired disposition. This is further supported by Baily, Dunne and Martin (2000)who also found links between genetic and homosexuality. It can be concluded that homosexual as a learned behaviour is no longer a contended for explaining variances from heterosexuality.

Homosexual-heterosexual labelling theory[edit | edit source]

Progressing from these theories saw the development of the Homosexual-Heterosexual Labelling Theory (Ellis & Ames, 1987). This theory presented the view that if an individual had a sexual experience with a member of the same sex they are likely to label themselves as homosexual. Once an individual labels themselves as homosexual it begins to form part if their identity and eventually their permanent sexual identity (Ellis & Ames, 1987). This may be supported by social identity theory which argues that an individual's sense of identity is derived from memberships in certain social groups (Trepe, 2006). However, neither homosexual-heterosexual labelling theory or social identity theory explain why an individual partakes in homosexual behaviour to begin with.

Homosexual identity formation theory[edit | edit source]

Homosexual Identity Formation Theory was put forward by Cass (1979) which suggested that the formation of a homosexual identity was the result of six stages experiences by individuals. These stages are as follows:

  1. Identity Confusion: thoughts that an individual’s own behaviour may be homosexual.
  2. Identity Comparison: first commitment to homosexual self.
  3. Identity Tolerance: gradual acceptance of homosexual orientation.
  4. Identity Acceptance: increased contact with other homosexuals and increased acceptance as part of self.
  5. Identity Pride: Acquires belief that homosexuality is acceptable and disagrees with societal norms.
  6. Identity Synthesis: Separates self from disapproving heterosexuals and strengthens bonds with supporting heterosexuals.Homosexuality becomes one aspect of self.

This theory suggests that the acquisition of a homosexual identity is a complex process and dependent on a individuals interpersonal environment. It is particularly useful in helping parents or friends of homosexual adolescents understand what they are currently experiencing.

Current issues[edit | edit source]

Reparative therapy[edit | edit source]

Therapy is not an option

Reparative Therapy is a form of psychological therapy that assumes that any form of sexuality other than heterosexuality is an illness that can be cured (Hick, 1999). Reparative Therapy attempts to change homosexuals into heterosexuals. It is a potentially harmful therapy that initiates feelings of failure, guilt and anxiety and is condoned by both the American Psycholanalytic Association and American Psychiatric Association (Hick, 1999). Individuals who have experienced Reparative Therapy have indicated that unethical methods such as electrical shock therapy, chemical aversion therapy, hormone therapy, and surgery have been used. These techniques are likely to cause otherwise healthy individuals to have mental break downs and fall into depression (Hick, 1999).

There have also been reported cases of homosexual individuals being kid-napped and forcefully checked into centres to undergo reparative therapy (Hick, 1999). Kidnapping resulted in victim’s experiences extreme trauma and post-traumatic stress. Other forms of emotion abuse have been used by anti-gay discrimination groups such as Exodus have attempted to trick homosexual individual’s into participating in activities aimed at curing their homosexuality (Hick, 1999). Currently all Australia states categories such activities on youth as child abuse or crimes of neglect however, instances of reparative therapy still make it into the public’s eye indicating it has not yet been eradicated (Hick, 1999). Example:Trinity Christian School used reparative therapy on some of its female students.

Suicide rates[edit | edit source]

Research into human sexuality has uncovered high rates of suicidality among homosexual individuals. The relationship between sexual identity and suicidal tendencies has not yet been fully understood however, there is an unusual prevalence (Remafedi, Farrow, & Deisher, 1991). Jay and Young (1979) found in their research that 40% of homosexual men and women had either attempted or seriously contemplated committing suicide (Remafedi, Farrow, & Deisher, 1991). This is supported by research conducted by Remafedi, Farrow, and Deisher (1991) who found that of the 137 homosexual participants interviewed 41 had attempted suicide with 21% resulting in a hospital admission. These statistics are cause for great concern and will no doubt be a topic for continued research.

Test your knowledge[edit | edit source]

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 What is Asexuality?

Sexual feeling towards yourself
Lack of sexual attraction to other individuals regardless of gender
Romantic and sexual attraction between individuals of the opposite sex
Attraction to both males and females

2 Are suicide rates higher in homosexual individuals?


3 Which is not a current area of research in sexual orientation?

Auditory System
Birth order
Participating in too much sport

4 Is childhood gender nonconformity linked to homosexuality?


5 Do evolution theorists argue that homosexual males benefit female relative i.e. increase reproduction?


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

It has been demonstrated by the research and theory provided on this page that understanding the motivations behind sexual orientation is a complex task in which there is some level of disagreement. Current theories such as evolutionary theory differ greatly from previous theories that were based on the understanding that there was only one correct orientation and any that differed were some form of abnormality. Despite current theories pointing toward non-controllable motivations such as genetics as motivations behind sexual orientation, homosexual, bisexual and asexual individuals experience great levels of discrimination and display higher suicide rates. These two reasons provide support for further research into this area.

See also[edit | edit source]

Internal links[edit | edit source]

Motivation and Relationships
How to get more sex

External support organisations[edit | edit source]

Kids Help Line:
Beyond Blue:
American Psychological Association:
Life Line:

References[edit | edit source]

American Psychological Association (2008). Answers to your questions: for a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality. Retrieved from:

Bailey, J. M., Dunne, M. P., & Martin, N. G. (2000). Genetic and environmental influences on sexual orientation and its correlates in an Australian twin sample.Journal of personality and social psychology, 78(3), 524.Retrieved from:,2000.pdf

Blanchard, R. (2001). Fraternal birth order and the maternal immune hypothesis of male homosexuality. Hormones and Behavior, 40(2), 105-114. Retrieved from:

Buhrich, N., Bailey, J. M., & Martin, N. G. (1995). Sexual orientation, sexual identity, and sex-dimorphic behaviors in male twins. Behavior Genetics, 21(1), 75-96. Retrieved from:

Cass, V. C. (1979). Homosexuality identity formation: A theoretical model,.Journal of homosexuality, 4(3), 219-235. Retrieved from:

Corliss, H. L., Cochran, S. D., & Mays, V. M. (2002). Reports of parental maltreatment during childhood in a United States population-based survey of homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual adults. Child abuse & neglect, 26(11), 1165-1178. Retrieved from:

Eigenberg, H. M. (1992). Homosexuality in male prisons: Demonstrating the need for a social constructionist approach. Criminal Justice Review, 17(2), 219-234.Retrieved from:

Ellis, L., & Ames, M. A. (1987). Neurohormonal functioning and sexual orientation: A theory of homosexuality–heterosexuality. Psychological bulletin,101(2), 233. Retrieved from:

Gavrilets, S., & Rice, W. R. (2006). Genetic models of homosexuality: generating testable predictions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 273(1605), 3031-3038. Retrieved from:

Haider-Markel, D. P., & Joslyn, M. R. (2008). Beliefs About the Origins of Homosexuality and Support For Gay Rights An Empirical Test of Attribution Theory. Public Opinion Quarterly, 72(2), 291-310.Retrieved from:

Hicks, K. A. (1999). Reparative therapy: Whether parental attempts to change a child's sexual orientation can legally constitute child abuse. Am. UL Rev., 49, 505. Retrieved from:

Huebner, D. M., Rebchook, G. M., & Kegeles, S. M. (2004). Experiences of harassment, discrimination, and physical violence among young gay and bisexual men. American Journal of Public Health, 94(7), 1200-1203. Retrieved from:

Kirk, K. M., Bailey, J. M., Dunne, M. P., & Martin, N. G. (2000). Measurement models for sexual orientation in a community twin sample. Behavior Genetics,30(4), 345-356. Retrieved from:

Lenderking, W. R., Wold, C., Mayer, K. H., Goldstein, R., Losina, E., & Seage, G. R. (1997). Childhood sexual abuse among homosexual men. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 12(4), 250-253.Retrieved from:

McFadden, D., & Pasanen, E. G. (1998). Comparison of the auditory systems of heterosexuals and homosexuals: Click-evoked otoacoustic emissions.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 95(5), 2709-2713. Retrieved from:

McFadden, D. (2011). Sexual orientation and the auditory system. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology, 32(2), 201-213. Retrieved From:

Remafedi, G., Farrow, J. A., & Deisher, R. W. (1991). Risk factors for attempted suicide in gay and bisexual youth. Pediatrics, 87(6), 869-875. Retrieved from:

Rieger, G., Linsenmeier, J. A., Gygax, L., & Bailey, J. M. (2008). Sexual orientation and childhood gender nonconformity: evidence from home videos.Developmental Psychology, 44(1), 46. Retrieved from:

Ross, M. (2013, September) Kevin Rudd makes a passionate defence of his support for gay marriage in Q&A appearance, ABC News Online. Retrieved:

Trepte, S. (2006). Social identity theory. Psychology of entertainment, 255-271. Retrieved from: