Human sexuality; static or variable?

Kind of related to this thread:OK, once and for all: What defines homo/heterosexuality?, but I didn’t want to hijack that one.

Is a person’s sexuality fixed or can it change; can a heterosexual person turn gay (or would it just be that they were gay all along but never knew it?) or vice versa.

I realise that there is much debate about this and some will point to genetics, others to conditioning, others will simply shrug, but is (for example) the general view that a person’s sexuality is beyond their control justifiable.

As a child, I used to swear that I would never eat peas, but one day I changed my mind for no apparent reason and now I quite like them; I used to drink coffee with milk and two sugars, but now I drink it black and unsweetened; the list is endless. Now somebody will quickly jump in and exclaim that sexuality isn’t like that but it’s the reason that it’s different that I’m after.

Oh, and let’s not stoop to talk of ‘curing’ people eh? - that’s not what I want this thread to turn into.

Sexuality is a continuum, not an either/or proposition. This would make it variable based on the fact that the human race wants people to be either/or. Either this or that, but never some combination of the two.

If a man had exclusively had sex with members of the opposite gender, then switched to his own gender, I would be inclined to call him bisexual. Unless, of course, he had expressed a self-definition of one or ther other.

Of course we can’t say that, because bisexuals don’t exist, right? :rolleyes:

As far as sexuality being beyond the control of the individual - at the point at which we realize that we are sexual creatures (which happens earlier or later depending on who you are; I was definitely a late bloomer) orientation has been determined beyond the individual’s control. Behaviour, OTOH, is always under the individual’s control. Just because I choose to have sex with neither women nor men does not mean that I am not sexually attracted to both.

what I want to know is how can we know that it has been determined beyond the individual’s control; I hear lots of people saying this, but nobody ever explains why; I’m starting to think it’s a piece of dogma.

You might try checking the Ask The Gay Guy threads - I think Esprix has covered this question there.

All I can tell you (because I don’t have the appropriate research - I leave that to my more learned colleagues) is that, were I given my choice in the matter, I would be attracted to one or the other - at least then I wouldn’t be neglected in discussions of this sort :wink: . However, as I can no more not be attracted to, say, Ashley Judd than I can not be attracted to Ed Harris, that this level of attraction (which is tantamount to orientation as far as I can tell) is something fundamental to my being.

How I act, OTOH…

I know for a fact that my orientation was set by the time I was 12, and that I could not change it if I wanted to. Mainly because I did want to, and certainly tried.


Based on my experience and listening to the experience of others, I think that little boys experiment with sexuality in most of its forms, if not all of them, from time to time while growing up.

The grown up little girls will have to speak for themselves.

Why people finally decide what they decide seems to still be a mystery.

Behaviour does not equal orientation.

Whether or not I ever have sex with anyone, I will continue to be bisexual. If I settle down with one man, I will still be bisexual. If I settle down with a woman, I will still be bisexual. Even though I am still a virgin, I have bisexual feelings.

Similarly, we have Captain Amazing over in the other thread saying that he has never had sex with another guy; nonetheless, he is sexually attracted to other men. Presumably, when he thinks about settling down to a “white picket fence” relationship, he pictures another man in that relationship with him. That, therefore, makes him homosexual.

Because, you see, how I behave has no effect on my orientation.

Behaviour does not equal orientation.

In my adolescence, I went from finding women arousing, with mild interest in guys, to later on not really finding women arousing at all, with the opposite effect as far as guys go.

My orientation was not forced on my part, I just gradually shifted from one to the other.

Now, I can’t even get aroused with a naked woman bouncing up and down on me, whereas female pornography was fully capable of illiciting arousal.

Let me first say that I understand Mangetout’s question to be about sexual preferences, not behavior. (If I’m wrong on this, please correct me.)

As such, it does involve a binary question that can be answered one way or the other at any given point in time and is most decidedly not amenable to the popular but misguided notion of a “continuum”. In other words, at any given moment, one’s sexual preference is either towards people of the opposite gender or towards the same gender; it cannot be both. In this way of looking at the question, bisexuality simply isn’t an option.

So it is in that context that I think we should look at the O.P. To paraphrase, I understand Mangetout’s question to ask: “Can a person’s primary sexual gender preference change over time?”

To that question, I will opine that, based my reading, the answer is gender dependant. There are a great many clinical examples in the literature of women whose primary sexual preference changes in the course of their lives. In fact, it is not uncommon in such cases to see “round trips” as it were, with some women shifting from essentially heterosexual to essentially homosexual and back again over the course of years.

But to the best of my knowledge from my reading, there are no generally accepted clinical cases of males undergoing such fundamental changes. Oh, you’ll see allegations of such, but my clear impression is that they are quite controversial.

Unfortunately, as to the reason why this is the case – as asked in the O.P. – I can only repeat speculations of those who are actually highly knowledgeable in the psychological and biological issues involved (I cannot count myself among them).

One interesting hypothesis comes from Daryl Bem of Cornell. He has proposed the “Exotic-Becomes-Erotic” theory of sexual orientation, which posits that what is seen by children as “exotic” (i.e., atypical of themselves) in the behavior or attitudes of one of the two genders produces a kind of physiological excitement or arousal, which evolves into an “erotic” sexual arousal and thus preference in adulthood for members of that gender.

It’s a fun idea to play with, but it seems rather post hoc to me. Also, it fails to take into proper account the undeniably established fact that genetics plays some role – certainly at least in males – in establishing sexual preference, which Bem explicitly rejects (yet another example of the common (and in my view irrational) bias against sociobiological ideas in the social sciences).

Nevertheless, Bem’s hypothesis does seem to provide a potential explanation for the variability over time of sexual preference in females which also serves as an plausible explanation for the apparent fixity of males’ primary sexual preferences. This idea centers on the fact that there is a considerable social “cost” (or strong social bias against) men expressing or even feeling a sexual attraction to other men, while such “costs” are far smaller for women. The primary reason for this, in my opinion, is that ours is a traditionally male-dominated society where it is considered “natural” for women to be the object of sexual fantasies and interests. That’s why you see so many heterosexual men who become aroused (or report arousal) by the prospect of lesbian sexual activity, while male homosexuality remains the object of often fierce derision.

Given this social disparity, Bem argues, some girls (female children) are more inclined to engage in tomboyish behavior and activities and thus (I gather) are less inclined to see boys as being “exotic”. While from what I have read of Bem he is quite vague about why, exactly, female sexual preference is variable while male sexual preference is not (or at least MUCH less so) according to his hypothesis, my guess is that perhaps he believes that even adult women can continue to pass through the “Exotic-Becomes-Erotic” progression, while that avenue is closed off for adult males.

Anyway, I don’t find Bem’s ideas to be very persuasive, but I thought it might be valuable to at least try to offer one potential “answer” to the O.P.'s closing question.

Please do not use the term “preference” to describe sexual orientation. Preference implies that one has made a choice from equally viable options. That is not so.


Well, I can understand your objection, but it seems a bit purist to me. I think we should consider the commonly understood meaning of the entire phrase “sexual preference” rather than being too picayune about the literal components of the phrase.

The phrase “sexual preference” – whatever it may have originally meant – is now usually understood NOT to entail an actual choice. Certainly that is the way I intended it. Perhaps I should also point out that in the case of many lesbians, they do in fact believe they are exercising a choice, whether they actually are or not.

In any case, I will agree to try to comply with your suggestion (no promises, though!)

It’s not being a purist. Terms like “preference” are used by the wretched fundamentalist scum to beat gays upside the head with the “you sodomites just choose to defy God” line of attack.

Anything that implies choice is insulting and misleading.


Well, I thought I’d be polite and friendly.

But as a result, I get a moralistic lecture. That’ll teach me. Lighten up, okay?

Look; as I said above, I don’t believe that males choose their sexual orientation. But what about those lesbians who insist that they are making a choice? Are you going to attack them for being “insulting” and “misleading” in their genuinely held beliefs?

Even the Gay Guy can admit to being attracted to Sophia Loren… :wink:


Bob help me, I have to admit finding a bit of sexual interest in Britney Spears (with the sound off, anyway).

How terrifying! Can that be cured? Is there a “reparative therapy” for that kind of sickness?

I think that Britney addiction CAN be cured. What happens is that you play the naughty school boy and she plays the stern headmisstress and then she tells you what a bad, bad boy you’ve been. RRwaaaar! :wink:

But seriously my experience with alternative sexualities (I went to Rhodes University) is that preference changes all the time. While the kind of anecodtal evidence that I can supply could hardly ‘stand up in court’ I feel that the opinions of the people involved are very important. One bi-sexual friend claimed that she goes through periods of needing to be with either men, or woemn or both. It was mood dependent and highly cyclic.

Also who the heck is stoopid enough to say that Bi-sexual people don’t exist? Are there really people like that out there? :-0 What are they one about? This is one pof the problems that my friend had: the fact that she was/is/will be bi for her entire life and as such she felt herself to be a part of the most marginalised group in the world. Straight people don’t like bisexuals because they see them as gay and and gays don’t like them because they see them as fence-sitters. Everbody just needs to chill in my opinion.

My own personaly belief is this: I don’t know for certain if sexual preference (and I will use the term because I believe, as stated above, that it can, sometimes, change over time, not through choice as such but simply because it is what is right for the person at the time) chages much over time and I don’t really care. :-I

The world would be a much better place if people just stopped feeling as if questions like these were important. People are just people, let them shag and love and be with whoever the hell they want to in whatever manner they wish. Classification of any kind of important human behaviour is both unneccesary and impossible. If you stop worrying about it and just do what you feel then it stops being a problem. SOme people will feel that their orientation is a conscious choice, others will disagree. The cool thing is that they are both totally 100% correct and arguments between them (while fun to watch :slight_smile: ) never go anywhere.

At least that’s what I reckon :slight_smile:
-Andrew V

No one. But that’s sure NOT what I said!

If you define “bisexuality” in the shallow sense of behavior wherein one person has had sex both with people of the same gender and people of the opposite gender, then only a “stoopid” person would claim it doesn’t exist.

But if you define bisexuality more meaningfully as a person whose sexual orientation is EXACTLY equally split between the sexual desire for males and for females, then I very much tend to doubt that kind of bisexuality exists. That’s just too narrow an edge for any real person’s sexual orientation to stand on.

Well, my dear ambushed, congratulations.

You’ve just met someone whose sexuality “dances on that knife edge.”

And, all rumors to the contrary, I do exist. Look me up next time you’re in Thousand Oaks and I’ll buy you a beer. Or your beverage of choice.

Who says there’s any ‘standing’ going on at all; maybe (like a lot of other things such as mood) a person’s ‘orientation’ oscillates about a point (and maybe that point isn’t static either).

I’ve always found human beings to be remarkably flexible creatures. It would come as no surprise to me if, for some of them at least, their sexual orientation varied over time.

However, I feel obliged to point out that saying “human sexual orientation may not be immutable” is a long way from saying “anyone can choose his/her own sexual orientation”

… and a still longer way from saying “and they have a duty to choose a particular one”

… and a very great distance, compared to which the edge of the known universe is just a stroll down to the corner shop, from saying “and if they don’t choose the right one, other people have the right to make the choice for them”.

Just thought I’d say, that’s all…