Homosexuality & Bisexuality Articles & Resources
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What Are Homosexuality & Bisexuality?
Homosexuality and bisexuality are two types of sexual orientation. Most experts refer to four main types of sexual orientation:
- Heterosexuality: Attraction to the opposite sex or gender
- Homosexuality: Attraction to the same sex or gender
- Bisexuality: Attraction to more than one sex or gender
- Asexuality: Not experiencing sexual attraction
There are many other labels that people use to describe their sexual orientation, as well as umbrella terms such as queer. Individuals who aren’t heterosexual are part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex (LGBTQI) community, often shortened to LGBT.
Despite the increasing respect for different orientations, many people struggle with their sexuality and gender. This can have negative impacts on mental health. A May 2022 mental health survey found that 50% of LGBT people experienced symptoms of anxiety compared to 24% of non-LGBT. (1) The same survey reported that 41% of LGBT individuals had symptoms of depression, compared to 19% of non-LGBT. (1) Almost half of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in 2022, and studies have found that 39% of LGBT individuals have used illicit drugs compared to 17% of the non-LGBT population. (2,3)
Mental illness isn’t an innate part of being gay or bisexual. Instead, it’s sometimes caused by the continued stigma of being part of a sexual minority. Studies have found that LGBT people who live in a more accepting community have better mental health than those who live in less accepting areas. (4)
What Is Sexual Orientation?
Sexual orientation is who a person is attracted to sexually, emotionally, and romantically. It’s a component of an individual’s identity, just as gender is. This and gender identity are two distinct parts of a person’s identity. Gender identity is who an individual is, while sexual orientation defines who an individual wants to be with. (5)
The most common orientation is heterosexuality, and 83.6% of U.S. adults consider themselves straight. (6) However, the number of people who identify as LGBT continues to grow. In 2012, 3.5% of Americans identified as LGBT, and that number doubled to 7% in 2021. (6) This may be due to the wider community's greater acceptance of LGBT identities. For example, in 1996 only 27% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, compared to 71% in 2022. (7) This growth in respect and acceptance may be tied to the fact that 1 in 5 Gen Z adults openly identify as LGBT, compared to 2.6% of Baby Boomers. (6)
Most people begin to develop their orientation as they mature and notice who they are attracted to. It’s possible to have same-sex sexual fantasies without identifying as gay or bisexual, and it's possible for people to experience changes in who they’re attracted to over the course of their life.
Sexual orientation isn't a choice. Although it’s estimated that more than 700,000 LGBT adults have received conversion therapy that attempts to make them straight, all leading professional medical and mental health associations condemn the practice. (8) People who undergo conversion therapy have increased rates of depression, substance abuse, attempted suicide, and severe psychological distress. (9)
What Is Homosexuality & What Causes It?
Homosexuality refers to people who are attracted exclusively to people of the same gender. The term comes from the Greek word “homos," which means same. Men who are attracted to the same gender are commonly referred to as gay, while women with that attraction are known as lesbians.
It’s difficult to accurately measure how many gay and lesbian people there are in the United States, but 2021 figures estimate that 2.5% of men and 1.9% of women identify as queer. (6) Homosexuality was illegal in the past and still is in many countries throughout the world. (10) However, in 2003, the Lawrence v. Texas case ruled that laws criminalizing homosexuality are unconstitutional in the United States. (11)
Researchers believe that a person’s sexual orientation is due to a combination of environmental, emotional, hormonal, and biological factors. There is no single cause, and the cause may be different for different people.
It’s important to understand that homosexuality isn’t pathological. This means it isn’t abnormal, and physical or mental illness don't cause it. The variety of orientations found in humans—and other mammals—is part of the natural diversity of the species. A person’s upbringing or something that happened in childhood is also not a cause.
Although homosexuality is far more accepted in U.S. society than it was even 10 years ago, many gay and lesbian individuals face prejudice and stigma, which has an impact on mental health. Seeking support from professionals and the LGBT community can lead to better mental health for gay and lesbian people.
What Is Bisexuality & What Causes It?
The term bisexual comes from “bi” meaning two and originally referred to someone attracted to “both” genders. However, it’s more accurate to say that bisexual people are attracted to more than one gender and don’t have an exclusive preference for a specific gender. Studies have consistently shown that the majority of LGBT people identify as bisexual. (12) 2021 figures suggest 6% of women and 2% of men are bisexual. (6)
Bisexual, often shortened to bi, is the most common term used; however, people in the bisexual community can also refer to themselves as pansexual, polysexual, homoflexible, heteroflexible, and omnisexual. People coined terms like pansexual to reject the concept that there are only two genders. It’s up to every individual to choose the label that best fits their identity or to reject labels altogether.
As with homosexuality, scientists believe that there are a range of factors that cause bisexuality. Again, it isn’t a sign of mental illness. On average, bi people are more likely to have symptoms of depression or anxiety than lesbian and gay individuals and are far less likely to be out to important people in their lives. (13) Society can stereotype bi people as confused about their sexuality, greedy, or promiscuous. (14) This is often isolating and leads to poorer mental health outcomes. (15)
Finding support among other people in the LGBT community can help improve mental health. There are many organizations that help bisexual people, and more that help all queer individuals. Seeking assistance from a professional can also help bisexual and gay people who struggle with mental health.