Same-sex attraction can be changed

Enigmatic attraction

For a long time, human sexual behavior seemed as clear as it was one-dimensional: a man needs a woman, both have children and that's it. Heterosexuality was considered the sexual norm well into the 20th century - anything else was considered unnatural or ill. It was not until the 1970s that homosexuality was officially removed from the catalog of mental illnesses and disorders known as the DSM. The World Health Organization (WHO) only removed homosexuality from its catalog in 1990.

Our sexual orientation determines whether we are more attracted to men or women. © Marija Radovic / iStock

Complex interaction

Today it is clear that our sexual orientation is not that simple black and white - and that homosexuality and bisexuality belong to the natural range of human behavior. What sexual orientation a person has is determined by a complex interplay of factors. They influence whether we are more likely to feel sexually attracted and aroused by a man or a woman, which gender appears in our fantasies and also with whom we have sex.

This complex interplay of feelings, involuntary reactions and actions does not necessarily make it easier to define sexual orientation - and to explore it. The difficulties begin with the classification: in the end only he can determine whether someone is heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Researchers are therefore largely dependent on the participants' self-assessment.

How high is the proportion?

This also applies to studies on the proportion of homosexual women and men in the population. The famous sex researcher Alfred Kinsey assumed in the 1940s that at least ten percent were homosexual men and women. Today, however, this is viewed as being too high. Modern surveys are more likely to find proportions of less than 1.5 percent of lesbian women and up to 3.5 percent of gay men. Usually only around one percent of the participants describe themselves as bisexual.

Proportions of different variations of sexual orientation in the UK in 2012. Data reflect respondents' self-assessment. © Office for National Statistics / OGL

Conversely, this means: around 95 percent of people are heterosexual, around five percent are not. Similar proportions can be found in almost all cultures - whether indigenous people or city dwellers. "To date, there is no convincing evidence that the rate of same-sex attraction has changed significantly over time or geographic location," said Michael Bailey of Northwestern University.

Opposites or Continuum?

Is our sexual orientation an either / or or are the transitions fluid? At first glance, this question appears to be of little relevance, but when looking for the causes of homo- and heterosexuality it can provide valuable clues: "A bimodal distribution would imply that sexual orientation is fixed at an early age," explain the British Psychobiologists Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman. If, on the other hand, intermediate forms are frequent, this could indicate that social influences, learning experiences or lifestyle are decisive.

In fact, studies show that sexual orientation is more like a one-sided raised U-curve than a bell-shaped curve. Specifically, this means that both extremes - heterosexuality and homosexuality - occur more frequently than bisexual intermediate forms. That speaks against the fact that the sexual orientation of humans forms a continuum with flowing transitions. However, there are differences between men and women: In women, bisexuality and a change in sexual orientation in the course of life occur somewhat more frequently than in men.

The theory still advocated by Kinsey and his colleagues that almost everyone is “a little bit bi” is therefore probably not correct. Although there are people who experience and define themselves as bisexual, they are a small minority - not the rule.

Nadja Podbregar
Status: June 29, 2018

June 29, 2018