Science is bound to find new laws, but scientists are generally skeptical about new finding and theories, if only because it’s much easier to think up something new than to actually discover or conclude a useful or realistic novelty. Therefore, an innovative thought is typically devoid of any practicality or reality.
On top of that, it takes time and effort to teach and learn why a new finding would not be bogus and what it is really about, if at all valuable. So changes, come slow, if at all.
As hard as it is in Natural Science to find scientists follow a new idea, it could even be more difficult to see the same in “Soft Sciences.” When many can have their own ideas, it becomes outright nearly-impossible to have paradigm-shifting insights gain some hold.
Nevertheless, I have a suggestion for a real change the way psychology looks at sexual orientation, and I’m going to swim against the tide of inertness introducing it.
First I will parade the old concepts about sexual orientation, each of them valuable in its own right. After that, I will suggest my new idea.
I will restrict the discussion to sexual orientation for cisgender men. That will avoid continual s/he and her/his, repetitions for the other sex and separating sex and gender. It also acknowledges that definitions in sexuality for women and transgenders might be less rigid. Besides, they are not a subsection of cis-men and deserve their own treatment.
A very popular idea about sexual orientation is that it defines that you can’t even think of being sexual with someone of one sex. A guy who says that about women would then be homosexual. That is how many boys find out to be gay: an inability.
Some boys discover it when they actually try sex with a girl. Although many things can disrupt intimacy stages, from romance to erection, a failure “to perform” in heterosexual sex means for many: must be gay – which may embarrass them, whether the conclusion is true or faulty. And still, some gay guys do find out that way.
And yet, there are very timid heterosexual boys who could say the same. Or demisexual guys – who hardly ever have sexual feelings – maybe only for someone they know for a long time and are very close to already.
Reversely, fortunately or unfortunately, many people can learn to be sexual with someone of their not-preferred sex. Part of “cure the gays” therapies focus on that. Heterophobia can be cured for many. Also some straight people can get over their homophobia and choose a same-sex partner – for their sex or despite their sex. (Don’t try this lightly as it can be dangerous for your mental health, sex life and desire to live.)
There are people who say that all people are basically bisexual, because we could theoretically all have sex with both sexes. That would make heterosexuals and homosexuals psychologically blocked bisexuals. However, that would make homosexual boys/men nothing special compared to heterosexuals, and that’s not how it’s experienced.
We will see below that an ability of straight/gay sexual performance also not inevitably means straight/gay sexual orientation. So much for “can.”
A mighty popular theory among therapists seem to be: you are what you do. Homosexual sex then makes you per their definition homosexual. Sex with both sexes makes you bisexual. No sex at all makes you asexual.
This descriptive definition can help end denial by people who have difficulty admitting their homosexual orientation. It can also help us think about homosexual men who do not want to identify like that, by creating the term MSM: (whatever-kind-of) men having sex with men.
Not only what you can, also what you do, can so be used to define someone as gay, straight, bi, demi or asexual.
Oppressive state laws often exclusively deal with what people do, not what they can, feel, want, seem, love or need. Also permissive laws, to recognize and legalize same-sex partnership, marriage and the like, focus on what we do, recognizing what our relationship. It stays unimportant what they actually can, feel, want, seem, love or need. This way, a liberal heterosexual man and a tolerant queer man can get married in countries that permit “gay marriage.” No one will ask them if they are really gay, as that is irrelevant for the law.
Many guys find out to be gay because they feel romantically and/or sexually attracted to boys or/and men. Believe your feelings, say many. And indeed, in Western culture, with its disdain for feelings compared to thoughts, many therapists are trained to support feelings against them too easily being discarded. Feelings might convey something very deep. Don’t trash them. However, there are heterosexual men who feel sexually drawn to men. So don’t routinely dispose of feeling but also don’t automatically believe them.
Heterosexual men can be sexually drawn to men for many reasons: They (queer, pansexual) or their culture could be not picky about the sex of the one they have sex with. It could be that circumstance makes it the best (or only) option (at that moment, and they don’t want to wait). It could have become a habit already (or addiction). It could be the by-product of a psychological need (as different from a sexual need) to be close with men. And it could be just because sex is pleasant – hopefully.
And a lack of romantic and/or sexual feelings towards one sex may be telling too but no proof either.
So we see that feeling like having sex with another man or not fancying sex with a woman does not define homosexual orientation. Though it could be a valuable hint.
Some men first find out that they have a homosexual orientation because they find themselves fantasizing of having sex with a man, while awake or in dreams or during sex with a woman even, or they started using mass produced porno featuring men.
They might never have had sex with a man or even touched one sexually, and still see themselves as gay because of these wants.
Yet, all this is open too to many heterosexual men. After we take such homosexual fantasies seriously, but set aside those in denial about their homosexual orientation, we may still find others, heterosexuals, who also can be fascinated only by sex with men.
I will address below that men with a heterosexual orientation will even easier get addicted to sex with men than homosexual men.
Religious law often distinguishes between want and deed, the first being OK, the latter possibly not. Below we will see that need should top deed.
Gay has been stereotyped as effeminate. In Western culture, boys who are less macho than the others around are stereotyped as “effeminate” and get oppressed by homophobia and sexism, even if they’re not gay at all. This can give a boy or man a homosexual image and /or identity.
Even a man who is “blatantly” “effeminate” doesn’t need to have a homosexual orientation. That will not make his being oppressed any less vile and dangerous. He might struggle with accepting his gayness, while he’s not gay at all. But his life story can make him gay – in identity.
But in fact, many misunderstandings could give impressionable people the impression of being gay. If a gay boy/man fancies a male, should that not mean that he must be gay too, without knowing it? No, of course.
Laws against bullying and gay oppression must deal with aggression against any target, and the actual sexual orientation of the victim is irrelevant. Just like an anti-Semitic attack against someone perceived as Jewish is a hate crime – even if the victim turns out to be a Gentile.
A macho gay man may have a heterosexual profile among the people around him and even a heterosexual identity. Below I will describe how he can still be gay.
Some gay individuals find out that they are gay when they fall in love with someone of their sex. Yet, in fact, heterosexuals can also fall in love with someone of not their preferred sex. Just like some homosexual men fall in love with a woman. If they would become sexual, the sex could be pleasant for both. This doesn’t prove heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual or queer orientation. Gay and straight men falling for a man are not the same. Naming that difference may define orientation – as we’ll see now.
To sum up the above: none of those ideas really give a watertight definition of sexual orientation. Is there an alternative?
Are you ready? The problem with all the above definitions is that they are all open to spontaneous or therapy-induced change. That is nice for our autonomy: we choose with whom we can, do, feel, want, seem or love to be sexual. However, it makes sexual orientation also something flaky. Something that changes over time. What’s the problem with that?
True, a Jew can change what s/he can, does, feels, wants, seems, loves in life, but most Jews don’t. Therefore laws against anti-Semitism are more important than laws against people sometimes dressing in green.
Likewise, some people change their sex, but generally females stay girls/women and males stay boys/men, and therefore we need education and laws against Sexism.
Similarly, there is a large group of gays who cannot be defined by something potentially as transitional as their (in)ability, (in)actions, (lack of) feeling, (lack of) desire, (lack of) identity or love life. Is there then nothing stable? There are two things, and I promise that it’s not going to make most people jubilant.
Sexual orientation means:
1. (a minor aspect): The inability to have very strong sexual feelings with someone of the not-preferred sex.
The sex may be lovely, the relationship be important to him, he may be in love, consider her beautiful (typically more esthetically beautiful than sexually), he may be loyal to her and monogamous and they can be best friends for life. But his sexual feelings will be dimmed, there will be no fireworks for him. His wife/girlfriend doing striptease will not tease him.
2. (a major aspect): The inability to bond sexually with someone of the not-preferred sex. And this sexual bonding may be the best way by far to become one, unite sexually, to end all one’s existential loneliness.
That could explain why a homosexual man faithfully and peacefully heterosexually married for one or decades, may still leave her for a man. Not because anything in their marriage isn’t good or since he’s addicted to sex with men. Rather, sex with her he can’t end his deep loneliness. For him, they’re best friends with sex. To unite, best friends isn’t enough.
Platonic friendships and camaraderie also help against aloneness. People who love you (parents, friends) or whom you love (kids, friends) may help against solitude too, but not like sexual union with a friend for life.
Human beings can end their loneliness through strong sexual feelings in a relationship that is committed with the partners being good friends. And it seems that this only happens through strong sexual feelings and the feeling of becoming one with someone of their preferred sex.
The concept of sexual orientation is basically made important by a need for sexual union with someone of one-and-not-the-other sex. The issue is not that they may, have, prefer, want, have, fancy, or seem the type for same-sex sex or fell in love with a fellow man. Rather, they need sex with another man.
That does not mean that people of the not-preferred sex are not important. Some people even must have a boyfriend and a girlfriend. But sexual union is only with one, for almost all people, at seems. That is what is called sexual orientation. Therefore there is no bisexual orientation. But there are bisexual identity, lifestyle and oppression.
And that’s why dating with sex can hurt. Sex unites. When the other leaves, one’s heart should break. People whose heart doesn’t break from that might not necessarily be fitter emotionally. If they are callous, they may have two problems: a broken heart and an inability to feel it.
And for if one wants to say: But what does that matter, if one doesn’t experience some behavior as problematic? One could not have a psychological problem that is not a problem. Well, there is an immediate problem in casual sex without a heartbreak: such sex leads to addiction.
Having sex without becoming one feeds sex addiction. That’s why it’s so tricky to have sex with someone not of one’s preference: one gets addicted easily – addicted to having sex with one’s not-preferred sex.
Anyway – sexual orientation, I want to suggest here, is a biological need for union with a sexual partner of one sex and not the other, to bond, against loneliness. More than anything else, sexual orientation speaks of a need more than ability, action, feelings, desires, identity or love.
It could be that such a deep connection for some time might be enough for some people. But it seems that a lack of this forever, is unbearable for most people. That is why married gays, even in splendid heterosexual relationships, apparently, in the end almost always will start looking for a man to bond with. It’s a need that hardly anyone can be without.
This idea about sexual orientation might not be so welcomed – but what if it’s realistic – and the only real cast-iron definition?
The problem is autonomy. We all like to decide our course in life. No one is going to be pleased with falling in love with someone of one sex but psychologists telling them that they really biologically need sexual union with someone of the other sex and that there is no substitute for that. Or that they need sexual union with someone of the one sex but are being condemned for it and having no alternative, against one’s wishes.
Could it be beneficial to define sexual orientation as a deep biological need? A need that almost all people can only fulfill with one sex. Not a need for sex but for sexual union. What do you think?
Next time I’ll write about one example of how a clear definition of sexual orientation could help — not to pin us down on an option not of our own choice, but rather — as a stepping stone to permit (gay sex).