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Homosexuality is the sexual attraction or romantic behavior between members of the same gender. Belonging to either of the known categories of sexual orientation, can be referred to as an individual's sense of personal and social identity, based on same-sex attractions and membership to a group of others with the same orientation. The most common terms for homosexuals are lesbians and gays for women and men respectively. However, gay is also used to refer to homosexual men and women in general. The numbers of people who identify as gay or lesbian, and the proportion of people who have same-sex sexual experiences, are difficult for researchers to estimate reliably. Homosexuality has been admired, reproved, and criticized, all through the recorded history, in different parts of the world. This paper discusses the term and the history of homosexuality. Both chronological and modern accounts of homosexuality are reviewed. This paper notes that, homosexual practices are present in every part of the world, and in many societies, law prohibits it, as far as both men and women are concerned. The discussion covers homosexuality of both males and females.


Homosexuality is the sexual attraction or romantic behavior between members of the same gender . Belonging to either of the known categories of sexual orientation, can be referred to as an individual's sense of personal and social identity, based on same-sex attractions and membership to a group of others with the same orientation. The most common terms for homosexuals are lesbians and gays for women and men respectively. However, gay is also used to refer to homosexual men and women in general. The numbers of people who identify as gay or lesbian, and the proportion of people who have same-sex sexual experiences, are difficult for researchers to estimate reliably. Homosexuality has been admired, reproved, and criticized, all through the recorded history, in different parts of the world.

Currently in the 21st Century, there are many movements, towards increased recognition and legal rights for homosexual people including rights to marriage, adoption, and recognition. Methodical understanding is that, sexual orientation is not a choice, but rather a complex interaction of biology and surroundings. Although some religious sects and many others hold the view that homosexual activity is an immoral or dysfunctional conduct, researchers argue that, homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a normal disparity of human sexual orientation. Societal attitudes towards same-sex relationships have varied over time and place, from seeing the practice as a minor sin, repressing it through law enforcement and judicial mechanisms, to proscribing it under penalty of death.

Currently, there is no scientific agreement about the exact factors that cause an individual to become heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. However, the available evidence indicates that, heterosexual parents raise many of homosexual individuals during their childhood, and many of the children raised by homosexual parents grow up to be heterosexual. In spite of many years of scientific research, there is no empirical evidence to support the proposition that, an individual’s upbringing plays any role in the formation of a person's sexual orientation. Perhaps, individual’s sexual identity is biologically determined: by a composite interaction of genes in the uterus. Different homosexuals have different reasons for their sexual orientations although, commonly, individual’s sexual orientation is determined during one’s childhood: before the age of 15. Nevertheless, the history of homosexuality dates since time immemorial and it can be traced in many parts of the world.

Homosexuality in the East

Historical evidence indicates that, homosexuality started in the East during the ancient times. In the East, ancient artifacts, such as paintings indicate that, homosexuality was common among men during the ancient times. Information on same-sex romantic relationships among women in the East during the ancient times is rare. Perhaps, because women were not given the same rights as men, such that, men were allowed to have sexual relationships before, and outside marriage, while women were prohibited to do this. In China, mannish love was greatly practiced, particularly, in Fujian: southern part of China. Older men would publicly marry younger men in colorful ceremonies. In fact, gay marriages in China lasted for many years. As the elder spouse grew older, he would assist the younger spouse to find a younger woman to marry, in order to raise a family.

In Japan, homosexuality was commonly known as shudo or nanshoku. Historical evidence indicates that, homosexuality in Japan has been in existence for than one thousand years. The Buddhists and the samurai custom have been associated with this practice. There are numerous Japanese artifacts, which are said to have been aspired by the practice of homosexuality. Similarly, in Thailand, their kings have been known to have both male and female lovers, known as Kathoey or "lady boys." Kathoey/lady boys are generally accepted in Thailand culture. In fact, they are viewed as a third gender: after male and female. There is no legally recognized law that prohibits homosexuality in Thailand.

Homosexuality in Africa

It has been argued that, homosexuality is un-African, and there has never been evidence linking ancient African societies with homosexuality. Contemporary Africans argue that, Western nations are the ones to blame for the past and current efforts to enforce endorsement of homosexuality in African countries, a custom that many Africans believe to belong to the West. However, historical evidence differs with the assumptions held by many Africans concerning homosexuality. For instance, during the transition of the Khoisans from hunting-based economy in South Africa, to cattle-based economy that brought more male dominance over women, rebel sexualities such as hungochani (homosexuality) began to appear. The Shonas of Zimbabwe, are said to acknowledge existence of odd sexualities, and there were accepted in the society as long as they observed sexual norms of the society. The Ndebele and Ngoni warriors of East Africa communities are said to have introduced a ritual male-to-male sexuality as part of war arrangements during the colonial period. Moreover, in Congo, men from Azande tribe were allowed to marry young boys, for whom they would pay a bride price to their fathers.

Homosexuality in Rome and Europe

Ancient Greece provides evidence about existence of homosexuality in Rome and Europe. In ancient Greece, relationships between men were a common norm. The age of at which young boys transited to adulthood was compared to the age at which, young girls qualified for marriage (the mid-teens). When young boys attained this age, older men would approach them for sexual relationships, but the fathers had to approve the relationship first. Just like in cases of daughters’ marriages, relationship between an older man and a younger man was dependent on the suitor's social status. Relationships between men were said to consist of erotic elements. However, such relationships did not replace marriage between man and woman, but occurred earlier and alongside it. A good illustration of existence of homosexuality in ancient Rome is the said marriage of Emperor Nero to two other men in different wedding ceremonies. Homosexuality is seen to exist in Rome despite the strong association of Christianity, which strongly opposes homosexuality, in Ancient Rome.

Homosexuality in America

In America, communities associated with origin of homosexuality are those of New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. According to Richard, people from these communities were greatly affected by the economic dislocations, and farm crises of the 20th century. They were forced to move to towns and cities in search for alternative livelihoods. Once there, they were forced to live outside customary family structures, which were characterized by same-sex settings such as military and industrial quarters, for longer periods. Such settings gave opportunities to those who had homosexual inclinations to find partners. However, for women, this was a new occurrence.

Another reason for wide spread of homosexuality among the communities living along the American coastal region is that, After WWII, the US military discharged those who were said to be homosexuals, and were mainly dumped in port cities. Since they could not go home because of shame, they made these cities their permanent residences, and they continued with their sexual activities.

Homosexuality in South Pacific

According to Richard same-sex practices were part of the customs of many Melanesia societies until the mid-20th century. For instance, the Etoros and Marind-anims were said to have celebrated homosexuality. In many traditional Melanesian cultures, pre pubertal boys were said to be paired with older adolescent boys, who would become their mentors. These mentors were said to ‘inseminate’ the pre-puberty boys both orally and anally, or topically, until they reached adolescence. However, many Melanesian societies are said to have changed from this culture since the beginning of Christianity.

DSM Perspective of Homosexuality

            In 1968, the American Psychiatric Association recognized homosexuality as a mental disorder. This led to its classification in the second publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II). The psychiatrists and psychologists started becoming interested in study of homosexuality late in the 19th century. Contrary to the religious and legal perception of homosexuality as a sin and a crime, psychiatrists and psychologists were of the opinion that, homosexuality was a disease associated with human brain. Richard von Krafft-Ebing viewed homosexuality as a degenerative sickness. By degenerative, Richard meant that, homosexuality was a sickness, which originated from the neuron system, and resulted into serious destruction of the neuron system to an extent that an individual would loss his/her ability to function.     

In 1901, Sigmund and Ellis countered this perception when they argued that; homosexuality was not a degenerative disease, but an inborn condition. They argued that, since homosexuality was an inborn condition, it was not immoral, and individuals suffering with this condition were just as normal as other members of the society were, since they made significant contributions to social and economic development. Initially, Sigmund theory of human sexuality stated that all human beings were naturally bisexual, and one’s experiences with parents and other members of the society, were what determined whether one would become a homosexual or a heterosexual in adulthood. However, his theory and that of Ellis become similar when they both agreed that; homosexuality was not a form of pathology, but an inborn condition. In 1935, Sigmund wrote the famous Letter to an American Mother, where he stated that,

“Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and a cruelty too...”.   

However, psychoanalyst Sandor Rado rejected Sigmund and Ellis’s perceptions of homosexuality in the 1940s. To Sandor, homosexuality was not a natural occurrence originating from bisexuality. Instead, heterosexuality was the only form of sexual orientation, which was a natural occurrence. Therefore, homosexuality was “a mere attempt to achieve sexual pleasure when the normal heterosexual outlets prove too threatening” (Herek, 1997). In spite of the numerous perceptions of psychologists and psychiatrists about homosexuality, many of their theories were not empirically supported. Most of their findings were based on homosexual patients who were seeking treatment from them. Since patients cannot be considered a fair representation of the population, many of psychiatrists and psychologists’ perspectives of homosexuality were overthrown.

Alfred Kinsey provided a more empirically supported perception of homosexuality. His findings were based on a research study conducted among the American adults (Tamley, 2010). In his study, many respondents reported to have engaged in homosexual behaviors before they attained the age of 16. In a different research, Kinsey and his colleagues reported that 10 percent and 6 percent, for male and female respectively, depicted significant homosexual behaviors between the ages of 16 and 55. Kinsey’s findings revealed that, more Americans engaged in homosexual behaviors. However, his findings were contradicted based on lack of enough representation of the population (he used non-probability sample in his study).

After Kinsey’s findings, other researchers endeavored into conducting empirical studies concerning homosexuality. These included researchers such as Beach, Ford, and Hooker. Similarly, the society started changing its perception concerning homosexuality. Different political movements comprised of gays started to emerge in America during the 1970s and 1980s. These activities led to removal of homosexuality from DSM listing. This was because of direct confrontations of empirically supported findings concerning homosexuality, which opposed the psychiatrists and psychologists’ view that, homosexuality was a mental illness.

Removal of homosexuality from DSM-II was strongly opposed by a group of psychiatrists, an action that led to ratification of the 1973 decision of APA’s Board of Directors concerning remove homosexuality from DSM. In the end, homosexuality was re-listed in DSM-III in 1980, but under a new diagnosis, named ego-dystonic homosexuality. DSM-III recognized features of ego-dystonic homosexuality to include, “persistence lack of heterosexual arousal, which the patient experienced as interfering with initiation or maintenance of wanted heterosexual relationships, and persistent distress from a sustained pattern of unwanted homosexual arousal”. Nevertheless, this categorization of homosexuality was also criticized on the basis that, it was politically instigated to please the psychiatrists and psychologists who still viewed homosexuality as a disease. Eventually, ego-dystonic homosexuality was removed from DSM in 1986. 


Many findings from genetic studies of homosexuality in humans have been puzzling, and conflicting with no clear evidence for a genetic source of homosexuality. In contrast, many psychologists and psychiatrists explore the roles of individual choice, decision-making, individual development, societal hierarchies, and compliance in the orientation of homosexuality. Among the various theories explaining the origin of homosexuality, none has managed to clearly account for the origin of homosexuality, and consequently gain the favor of the scientific community.

As genetic science improves and social policy decisions are made, the public and the scientists need to become aware of how genetic justifications for human sexual characteristics can be used to both help, and harm individuals and societies. While genetic science can better humanity understanding of homosexuality, the histories of genetics-based discriminations against homosexuals cannot be ignored. Therefore, it is important to make the public aware of the potential psychosocial implications of discovering possible genetic source for homosexuality. Many scientists have reached a conclusion that, the origin of sexual orientation is that, it is a human sexual characteristic is formed early in life, and is permanent.

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