Press "Enter" to skip to content

Sexual Orientation; an Endless Controversy

Sexual behavior and romantic relationships are strongly influenced by a person’s sexual orientation. One may ask, what is sexual orientation? The Oxford Dictionary of Psychology defines sexual orientation as “the predominant predilection or inclination that defines a person as a heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual”.

In Gender Psychology, the concept sexual orientation however, refers to a person’s degree of emotional and erotic attraction to members of the same sex, opposite sex, or both sexes. Heterosexual people are romantically and erotically attracted to members of the opposite sex. Those who are homosexual are attracted to people whose sex matches with their own. A person who is bisexual is also attracted to both men and women.

In many cultures, heterosexuality has long been regarded as a norm and homosexuality has been seen as a disease, a mental disorder, or even a crime (Hooker, 1993). Attempts to alter the sexual orientation of homosexuals in the past using diverse means including psychotherapy, brain surgery or electric shock etc were and are still seen as exercise in futility. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association dropped homosexuality from their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, thus ending its official status as a form of psychopathology. 
Today, it is conspicuously clear that homosexuals exist in every nook and cranny of our society but the unabated debate is about whether they have the natural right to practice. While proponents insist on the promotion of the fundamental human rights of homosexuals, those who hold “moralistic” and conservative opinion maintained that the practice violates “the natural law of reproduction”, adding that a similar action in the days of old was believed to have provoked the anger of God leading to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The story in Ghana is not different! The controversy that greeted the appointment of human right lawyer, Nana Oye Lithur as minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection vindicated how hostile the Ghanaian society is towards gays and lesbians. It will be recalled that a similar angry reaction was generated among the general public when Mr. David Cameron, the British prime minister sought to impose homosexuality on the poor African continent using foreign aid as a bait. In his angry response to the above, this was what the late President Prof. John Atta Mills said “No one can deny Mr. David Cameron his right to make policies, take initiatives or make statements that reflect his societal norms and ideals, but he does not have the right to direct other sovereign nations as to what they should do especially where their societal norms and ideals are different from those which exist in the prime minister’s society”.

What determines a person’s sexual orientation? Although there are a number of theories, none has proved completely satisfactory. Some empirical evidence gathered over the years suggests that sexual orientation is at least partly hereditary, even though biological, social, cultural and psychological influences are also implicated (Garnets, 2006). According to Mustanki, chivers and Bailey (2006), sexual orientation is from 30 to 70 percent genetic.

How could genes affect sexual orientation? Possibly, heredity shapes areas of the brain that orchestrate sexual behavior. Support for this idea comes from the work of neuroscientists who have shown that various brain structures and brain chemicals differ in heterosexuals and homosexuals (Kinnunen et al., 2004; Levay, 1993). For instance the structure of the interior hypothalamus, an area in the brain which governs sexual behavior differs in male homosexuals and heterosexuals. Compared with men or women, gay men have larger anterior commissure, a bundle of neurons connecting the right and left hemisphere of the brain (Levay, 1993).

Further evidence for the genetic origin of sexual orientation comes from studies of identical twins which have found that when one twin identified himself or herself as homosexual, the occurrence of homosexuality in the other was higher than it was in the general population. Such results occur even for twins who have been separated early in life and who are not necessarily raised in similar social environment.

Hormones have also been implicated in determining sexual orientation. For example, women exposed to DES or diethylstilbestrol, before birth in order to prevent their mothers from miscarriage were more likely to be homosexuals or bisexual (Meyer-Bahlburg, 1997). According to Banks and Gartrell (1995), homosexuality is not caused by hormone imbalances. Parenting, according to researchers, does not make children homosexual. Research done by Peterson (2002) shows that there is no difference in the development of children with gay or lesbian parents and those who have heterosexual parents. “It appears that nature strongly prepares people to be either homosexual or heterosexual”, experts said. Rathus et al (2005), were of the view that discriminating against homosexuals is much like rejecting a person for being blue-eyed or left-handed. Homosexual people, according to Garnets (2002), are found in all walks of life, at all social and economic levels and in all cultural groups.

Furthermore, although some learning theorists such as Master and Johnson (1979) argued that sexual orientation may be learned through rewards and punishment, several difficulties rule it out as a definitive explanation. Research has shown that children growing up with a gay or lesbian parent are statistically unlikely to become homosexual, thus contradicting the notion that homosexual behavior may be learned from others (Victor & Fish, 1995).

In conclusion, though the possibility is real that some inherited or biological factor exist that predisposes people toward homosexuality if certain environmental conditions are met, no single factor orients a person towards homosexuality or heterosexuality. Instead, it seems reasonable to assume that a combination of biological and environmental factors is involved.

BY;        David Banaaleh (King-Dave)    BSC (PSYCHOLOGY)
Founder/CEO (Network of Budding Psychologists)    Mobile; 02477113859