Human beings, like all other mammals, may have sexual intercourse not only with partners of the other sex, but also with those of the same sex. In other words, males and females may engage in both heterosexual and homosexual intercourse. (The prefixes hetero- and homo- simply mean "different" and "same" in Greek.)
As mentioned earlier in this book, same-sex behavior is quite common in childhood and is not at all unusual in adolescence. (See "Infancy and Childhood." and "Adolescence.") Indeed, in the years before puberty people in our culture may have more sexual contact with members of their own than with those of the other sex. During this period, they are often actively discouraged from playing heterosexual games while their homosexual activity attracts little or no attention. It is only later that the situation reverses itself. Once they have reached their teens, boys and girls are expected to develop exclusively heterosexual interests, and any homosexual exploration is strongly condemned. Nevertheless, many individuals continue to have homosexual contact well into their old age. For some of them, these contacts represent nothing more than isolated incidents in an otherwise predominantly heterosexual life. For others, they become a frequent, if sporadic, experience, and for still others they are the preferred or even the only form of sexual expression.
In their two monumental studies on human sexual behavior, Alfred C. Kinsey and his associates used a very practical method of clarifying the matter. They devised a seven-point rating scale (with categories ranging from 0 to 6) which measured the balance of heterosexual and homosexual behavior in the population as a whole. At the one end of this scale (in category 0), they placed those whose, experiences are exclusively heterosexual, and at the other end (in category 6) they placed those whose experiences are exclusively homosexual. Between these two extremes are those who have both heterosexual and homosexual experiences in various degrees (categories 1-5). Thus, the exact breakdown is as follows:
0. Exclusively heterosexual behavior.
1. Largely heterosexual, but incidental homosexual behavior.
2. Largely heterosexual, but more than incidental homosexual behavior.
3. Equal amount of heterosexual and homosexual behavior.
4. Largely homosexual, but more than incidental heterosexual behavior.
5. Largely homosexual, but incidental heterosexual behavior.
6. Exclusively homosexual behavior.
(See also chart on page 226.)
There is, of course, nothing new or revolutionary about these categories as such. It has always been known that there are people who engage only in heterosexual intercourse, and that there are others who engage only in homosexual intercourse. It was also well understood that some individuals have intercourse with members of both sexes. Thus, theoretically Kinsey's rating scale could very well have been developed hundreds or even thousands of years ago. In fact, long before Kinsey the basic idea must have occurred to many others. However, at least in our Judeo-Christian culture this idea never found any acceptance because of an unquestioned general assumption: It was simply assumed that the percentage of people with exclusively heterosexual histories was so great and the percentage of all others so small that any scale would have been hopelessly out of balance. In other words, before Kinsey undertook his vast statistical survey, homosexual acts were believed to be so rare as to represent nothing more than "unnatural" and freakish exceptions.
Kinsey showed that this traditional view was quite mistaken. For example, his statistics revealed that, by the time they reach middle age, about 50% of all males (and 20% of all females) have had some sort of overt erotic experience with members of their own sex. This accounts for every second man and every fifth woman in the country. Indeed, 37% of all males (and 13% of all females) have at least one homosexual experience to the point of orgasm between adolescence and old age. This applies to nearly two males out of every five and to more than one female out of every eight. Finally, according to Kinsey's findings, 4% of all males (and about 2% of all females) are exclusively homosexual in their behavior throughout their lives.
When these statistics were first published, they caused a great deal of public consternation. First of all, many people simply refused to accept the great number of reported homosexual acts. Indeed, even now various experts continue to challenge the figures as inflated and unrepresentative. Nevertheless, so far there has been no other research extensive enough to support these challenges. Kinsey's work may contain some errors and it may be dated, but it still provides the best information available. For all we know a new study undertaken today might very well show an even greater incidence of homosexual behavior, especially among females.
By far the greatest shock for the public, however, was the conclusion which Kinsey drew from his discoveries. Before Kinsey, it had been customary to think of "heterosexuals" and "homosexuals" as two distinct groups of people. Indeed, "homosexuals" were sometimes referred to as "contrasexuals", "sexual inverts", "psychosexual hermaphrodites", or even "the third sex". It was believed that they were afflicted with a special condition called "homosexuality", and that this condition clearly set them apart from the rest of mankind. (A person who had sexual intercourse with both men and women was regarded as a "homosexual" who somehow managed to "fake it".) Now all of these stereotypes simply collapsed in face of the evidence. The statistics proved that "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" are not clear-cut, separate, and irreconcilable entities, but rather matters of degree. In Kinsey's own words, it is wrong to distinguish between "two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. , . . Nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex."
Kinsey also spelled out the logical implications of his new approach: "It would encourage clearer thinking on these matters if persons were not characterized as heterosexual or homosexual, but as individuals who have had certain amounts of heterosexual experience and certain amounts of homosexual experience. Instead of using these terms as substantives which stand for persons, or even as adjectives to describe persons, they may better be used to describe the nature of the overt sexual relations, or of the stimuli to which an individual erotically responds."
The point is well taken, because much of the "homosexual problem" is indeed caused by the sloppy thinking and the confused language of those who talk about it. To give only one example, in the armed forces, in prison, and in mental hospitals, people may be labeled homosexual when they are discovered to have had a single homosexual experience. It never occurs to those who apply this label that, by the same logic, every person with a single heterosexual experience would have to be called heterosexual.
Unfortunately, this is not just a matter of semantics. There are real human lives involved. In many states of the United States, a man may go to prison, lose his job or professional license, and be officially registered as a "sexual psychopath" on the basis of one isolated and never repeated homosexual contact. Adolescents who are caught in an act of homosexual experimentation may be called "queer" by their friends and families and thus be pushed into the role of sexual and social misfits. As a result, they may be deprived of any chance to develop their heterosexual potential. A happily married "family man" who, in a moment of alcoholic sentimentality, is found in a compromising situation with another male may be branded as "one of those" by his community, and his marriage may break up.
Apart from being socially destructive, such labeling is also logically indefensible. As already pointed out, it is never applied in the reverse (i.e., a single heterosexual experience is never considered sufficient to qualify anyone as a "heterosexual"). Moreover, this biased usage defeats its own purpose by needlessly raising the number of "homosexuals" and thus revealing "homosexuality" as a very common "condition". (As mentioned above, about half of the male and one-fifth of the female population have at least some sort of overt erotic experience with members of their own sex.) On the other hand, it does not help to restrict the term "homosexual" to those few individuals who respond exclusively to their own sex (category 6 on Kinsey's rating scale). In this case, logic would demand that the term "heterosexual" be applied only to those who respond exclusively to the other sex (category 0 on Kinsey's scale). This would make no allowance for the great number of people who respond to both sexes (categories 1-5 on Kinsey's scale).
HETEROSEXUAL-HOMOSEXUAL RATING SCALE. Scale and figures adapted from Kinsey's data for males (M) and female; published in 1953. The ranges of percentages result from different ratios in various subgroups within the seven categories. These categories themselves are somewhat arbitrary, and the whole scale should therefore be read as a continuum. (Kinsey et al. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, p. 488)
Finally, we have to realize that even in one and the same individual the heterosexual-homosexual balance may shift over a period of time. There are men and women whose behavior is exclusively heterosexual at one time in their lives and exclusively homosexual at another time. Some engage in both types of behavior but with varying degrees of intensity. Others begin with an equal erotic interest in both sexes and only gradually develop a clear preference for one or the other. However, this preference may not always remain permanent. In short, a person's position on Kinsey's rating scale may change several times over the years.
Therefore, if it is wrong to divide the population as a whole into "heterosexuals" and "homosexuals", it is just as wrong to call any particular individual a "heterosexual" or a "homosexual". By the same token, it is impossible to determine how many people are "heterosexual" or "homosexual". It is only possible to determine how many people belong, at any given time, to each of the categories on a heterosexual-homosexual rating scale. Questions like "How many homosexuals are there?" or "Am I a homosexual?" do not have a scientifically meaningful answer.
Nevertheless, it remains a fact of life that our society does not approach the issue in a logical and systematic fashion. The old way of thinking is too deeply ingrained. In actual practice, people are still called heterosexuals or homosexuals, and, so far, few of them seem to object. Indeed, for the sake of communication many professionals also continue to use these terms, although each of them may define them a little differently.
Thus, if we do not want to cut ourselves off from the general discussion, we have to adopt some sort of compromise in the present book. After all, imprecise as it may be, the common usage also has its advantages. For instance, it often helps to simplify certain arguments and to articulate urgent social problems. In other words, as long as its arbitrary character is clearly understood, the traditional terminology can very well serve some useful purposes.
It is in this spirit that we now make the following suggestions:
• The term heterosexual may be used to describe someone who has a clear erotic preference for partners of the other sex (categories 0-2 on Kinsey's rating scale).
• The term homosexual may be used to describe someone who has a clear erotic preference for partners of the same sex (categories 4-6 on Kinsey's rating scale).
• The term ambisexual may be used to describe someone who is erotically attracted to partners of both sexes (categories 1-5 on Kinsey's rating scale).
It will be observed that the third of these definitions partly overlaps with each of the other two. That is to say, the classification "ambisexual" (from Latin ambo: both) includes some "heterosexuals" (those in categories 1 and 2) as well as some "homosexuals" (those in categories 4 and 5). This inconsistency is unavoidable unless one wants to call only those persons ambisexual whose erotic interest is evenly divided between the sexes (category 3). However, such a usage has never been widely accepted. We therefore have to live with the fact that certain persons may be referred to as "heterosexual" (or "homosexual") in one context, and as "ambisexual" in another.
Since we have linked our terms to Kinsey's rating scale, we also have to point out once again that this scale is not based on the amount of sexual activity, but on the balance between heterosexual and homosexual experiences. This means, for example, that individuals who have the same amount of homosexual experience may be assigned to different categories. Thus, a person who has had 10 homosexual experiences and only 5 heterosexual experiences will be considered a homosexual, while another person who also has had 10 homosexual experiences but 50 heterosexual experiences will be considered a heterosexual. (Depending on the context, both of them may, of course, also be called ambisexuals.)
Finally, it has to be understood that the term "experience" as used here refers not only to overt acts, but also to psychological responses that do not lead to any direct physical contact. In other words, a man whose overt sexual activity is entirely heterosexual may nevertheless be called a homosexual if psychologically he responds much more often to men than to women. For the same reason, the term "homosexual" may also be used for someone who does not engage in any overt sexual activity at all. (In older books these latter cases were sometimes described as examples of "latent homosexuality" [from Latin latere: to hide]. Unfortunately, this curious expression always covered much more than just unfulfilled or concealed desires. It was also meant to refer to subconscious, unrecognized, and unrealized homosexual tendencies. However, since such tendencies exist in virtually every human being, the term "latent homosexual" makes no more sense than terms like "latent smoker", "latent gourmet", or "latent insomniac".)
Naturally, all of these explanations and qualifications also have to be kept in mind when one talks about "homosexuality" as a sexual orientation. Indeed, the very fact that they are necessary only confirms what we have pointed out earlier in this book: The sexual orientation of men and women is best understood not in absolute but in relative terms, just as their biological sex and their gender roles. In short, we have already learned from the observation of human sexual development that maleness and femaleness, masculinity and femininity, heterosexuality and homosexuality are matters of degree. (For details, see the introduction to "The Development of Sexual Behavior.")
There is, however, one other important point that now has to be considered: In our particular culture, the word "homosexual" is never just a neutral technical term, and there is always more involved in its use than mere logic. No matter how cautiously it is applied, it evokes a certain image and triggers very definite social responses. In actual practice, people are called homosexuals not for some abstract statistical reason, but because they seem to fit a general concept of what homosexuals look like and how they behave. Most often this concept is quite unrealistic. For instance, there is a widespread belief today that homosexuality is caused by the adoption of an inappropriate gender role. It is simply assumed that male homosexuals tend to act like women and that female homosexuals try to imitate men. The false assumption then leads to the wrong conclusion: Parents who prevent their sons from becoming "sissies" and their daughters from becoming "tomboys" thereby prevent them from becoming homosexuals.
Curiously enough, historical and cross-cultural studies have shown that this particular notion arises only in certain societies and not in certain others. In some of the ancient Greek city states, for example, male homosexuality was associated not with weakness and effeminacy, but with virility, bravery, and heroism. As a matter of fact, the most famous of all Greek military elite troops, the "sacred band" of Thebes, which was finally defeated by Philip of Macedonia, is said to have consisted entirely of male lovers.
This example shows that the social stereotype of the "homosexual" may vary considerably from one time and place to another. It also demonstrates once again that there is no such thing as a "typical" homosexual, and that it makes no sense to speak of a "homosexual personality." The very fact that different cultures can develop different and even contradictory concepts of homosexuality indicates that it is not an objective condition with distinct, unchangeable, and unmistakable "symptoms." Homosexuals are not defined by any intrinsic qualities of their own, but by the image that people have of them.
This is also the reason why Kinsey had no choice but to treat the subject in a nonjudgmental, purely descriptive manner. He was forced to realize that a great number of people can and do engage in homosexual intercourse and that only a fraction of them are ever regarded as homosexuals. Kinsey understood that the decision as to who shall be so regarded can only be arbitrary and that it depends entirely on social conventions. Naturally, these conventions also determine whether homosexuality stands for weakness or strength, sin or righteousness, heresy or orthodoxy, mental illness or mental health. In short, homosexuality as such is neither a moral nor a legal nor a medical condition, but a conferred status. It is a social category or label that is applied to certain persons in certain situations. To be a homosexual means to play the rote of the homosexual as it is understood in a particular society.
It is interesting to note that in some societies there is no role for "homosexuals", although there may be a great deal of homosexual behavior. Indeed, unless such behavior is singled out and classified as special, it may never become an issue for either the individual or society. For example, we know of various "primitive" societies, such as the Siwans in Africa, the Aranda in Australia and the Keraki in New Guinea, where virtually all males engage in both heterosexual and homosexual intercourse. Obviously, in these societies one cannot distinguish between heterosexuals and homosexuals, not even as a matter of terminological compromise. Kinsey's rating scale could, of course, still be applied, but, at least for males, it would show only varying degrees of ambisexual behavior (categories 1-5). There simply would not be anything to record for the heterosexual and homosexual extremes of the scale (categories 0 and 6).
There is some reason to believe that even in our own Western civilization the lines have not always been drawn as sharply as they are today. In ancient Greece, for instance, homosexual behavior was widely accepted as a normal part of a man's sexual activity, and it was never considered an obstacle to marriage or fatherhood. The very word "homosexuality" was unknown. Instead, people spoke of paiderastia (literally, love of boys, from pais: boy, or rather here male adolescent, and eran: to love) which was cultivated as a socially beneficial and laudable custom. However, neither the older lover (called "the inspirer") nor the younger beloved (called "the listener") was ever assumed to be incapable of relationships with women. In short, the modern term "homosexual" would hardly do justice to the ancient Creeks. If a modern classification has to be used at all, "ambisexual" seems to be more accurate than any other.
Even in medieval Europe, where homosexual acts were condemned as sinful, they were not necessarily seen as manifestations of a "homosexual condition". When people were punished for "sodomy" (after the biblical city of Sodom) or "buggery" (after a heretical sect in Bulgaria), it was always assumed that they were very well capable of "proper" heterosexual behavior. We also have to remember that the punishment applied only to a few very specific acts, such as anal and oral intercourse. Other expressions of love and tenderness between men attracted no special attention.
It was only in the Modern Age that persons who engaged in same-sex behavior began to be viewed as fundamentally different from everyone else. By the same token, the average man and woman came to be seen as incapable of erotic responses toward members of their own sex. Such responses could result only from an inborn abnormal condition. Psychiatrists began to concern themselves with this alleged condition, and they referred to it by various exotic names until, toward the end of the 19th century, the new term "homosexuality" was invented. This term (as well as its antonym "heterosexuality") soon found wide acceptance and thus entered all European languages. (The word "homosexuality" was reluctantly introduced into English in 1897 by Havelock Ellis because it had become popular on the continent as Homosexualität [German] and homosexuality [French].)
A modern reader who knows nothing about the origin and the history of these words is likely to misunderstand the phenomena they are meant to describe. Today, we speak all too glibly of homosexuality and heterosexuality, and everyone seems to know immediately what we mean. However, we would do well to realize that, from the very beginning, these mutually exclusive categories oversimplified and prejudged the issue. Indeed, they could originate only in a repressive culture where the full range of human sexual capacities was no longer accepted. Any culture that draws an artificial dividing line between homosexuals and heterosexuals thereby betrays a highly peculiar and very narrow view of human nature. It is a view that has become blind to the gradual character of human differences, to the shades and nuances of human behavior, in short, to the natural variety of life.
In the absence of negative training, psychological pressure, and social sanctions, human beings are capable of sexual responses toward members of both sexes. People whose erotic interest is restricted to one sex can be produced only by cultural conditioning. As a matter of fact,
one might say that men and women who are completely unaware of their homosexual leanings are just as much creatures of their education as those who are totally incapable of responding to heterosexual partners. Obviously, this does not mean that, in an ideal world, everybody would lead an ambisexual life. Strong sexual preferences and, indeed, a certain exclusivity of sexual interests are likely to develop in any case. Furthermore, as we have mentioned elsewhere, in most men and women these interests can be expected to become predominantly heterosexual. (See introduction to "Types of Sexual Activity.") There is no valid reason why this should be deplored. What must be deplored, however, is the fact that many people become oblivious to their own neglected capacities and then set themselves up as models or norms for their fellow human beings. Deplorable are the narrow-mindedness and intolerance with which such "one-sided" individuals treat everyone else who is different.
Yet we know that in our own culture there are many exclusive "heterosexuals" and "homosexuals" who view each other with open hostility. The former are, as a rule, proud of their exclusive sexual orientation. They may even boast of it or, in some cases, insist on it with such desperate determination as to invite the ridicule of their opponents. These, the exclusive homosexuals, on the other hand, are usually expected to be downcast and apologetic. After all, as sinful, criminal, or sick "deviants", they are routinely treated as second-class citizens. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that, in the past, they have often had a low opinion of themselves. It is only recently that many of them have developed a positive self-image. Calling themselves "gay and proud", they now challenge the official value system and claim their long denied civil rights. This latter development is, of course, in many respects healthy and good. Still, necessary as it may be, it also has a disturbing side because it tends to accentuate the existing unfortunate division of people into two camps: "gay" and "straight". An increasingly militant "gay" (i.e., homosexual) world may eventually win concessions from the "straight" (i.e., heterosexual) world, and thus both worlds may arrive at a state of "peaceful coexistence", but, by the same token, they may also learn to forget that the divisions between them are, and have always been, artificial. In actual fact, both "gays" and "straights" are part of only one world, and without this realization they will continue to misunderstand themselves and each other.
In the past, it was mainly the socially dominant heterosexual population which created its homosexuals by so labeling certain persons who did not conform to its narrow sexual standards. Needless to say, this kind of labeling continues as before. However, under the influence of the homosexual civil rights movement, many men and women now also take the initiative and label themselves as "gay". They develop a "gay identity" and then "come out (of the straight closet)" into the open as confirmed "homosexuals". They do so because they are "tired of leading a double life" and because they feel they must "clear the air". They also believe that they must "stand up and be counted" in the struggle for legal equality. In short, in our present social situation people experience a great deal of psychological pressure from both the "straight" and "gay" worlds to "choose sides" and to be "either one or the other."
Nevertheless, in the case of "homosexuals" such self-identification may corne about very slowly. While someone who has been officially branded as homosexual (perhaps after the discovery of some minor homosexual episode) may have no choice but to accept the label quickly, the "hidden" individual with homosexual interests may take many years before he can see himself as "gay". At first, he may not attach much significance to his inclinations and may be reluctant to consider himself different from his "straight" friends. Indeed, as we have seen, this reluctance is well justified. It does not spring from his lack of insight, but rather from his natural revulsion against being pigeonholed or stereotyped. This revulsion may even turn into outrage if he is shown certain "typical" homosexuals with whom, as he knows, he has nothing in common. The process of "coming out" may therefore be rather complex and involved, with many psychological detours, dead ends, false starts, and reversals. Actually, as we have noted earlier, most people with homosexual inclinations never "come out" at all. Some simply renounce all sexual contact, some cultivate such modest heterosexual interests as they may have, others carry on both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, but define themselves as basically straight, and still others engage exclusively in homosexual intercourse while telling themselves that they do so only for nonsexual, "legitimate" reasons (such as earning some money as male prostitutes).
In present day America, many of those who end up defined as homosexuals (either by themselves or by others) adopt a "gay life-style", i.e., they become part of a gay subculture which offers them various ready-made role models, ideologies, tastes, fashions, and patterns of social interaction. This life-style, in turn, becomes synonymous with "homosexuality" for the society at large. However, in view of everything we have said before, it should have become clear by now that the issue cannot really be understood on these superficial terms. Instead, if we want to discover the truth about the "homosexuals" in our midst, we have to look at ourselves and our culture in its totality.
Finally, it remains to be stated that, at least in the United States, the aforementioned social, legal, and psychological problems are quite different for male and female homosexuals. It is for this reason that many female homosexuals in America prefer the name "lesbians" (after the island of Lesbos, home of the homosexual ancient Greek poetess Sappho). Words like "lesbian" and "lesbianism" are meant to show that homosexual females do not necessarily identify with every concern of homosexual males and that, in many respects, their situation is unique. This question (and the relative merits of a separate label) are discussed in more detail elsewhere (see "The Sexually Oppressed—Homosex uals").
The following pages briefly summarize the various forms of homosexual intercourse. The term "sexual intercourse" is, of course, used here in the same sense as in the preceding section. (For details, see the introduction to "Heterosexual Intercourse.") After all, as will soon become obvious, the sexual techniques of homosexuals and heterosexuals are essentially the same. People who ask, "But what do homosexuals do?" only reveal by that question that their own heterosexual relationships suffer from a lack of imagination. This kind of restrictedness demonstrates once again how people can become totally alienated from the erotic potential of their own bodies. It is another indication of the sexual barbarism that oppresses both "heterosexuals" and "homosexuals" in our society.
The social attitudes toward homosexual behavior are discussed more fully in the third part of this book, "Sex and Society." (See especially "Conformity and Deviance.").