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Homosexuality (rarely homophilia) is a sexual orientation characterized by romantic or sexual desire for members of the same sex. Persons with this sexual orientation are called homosexual (noun and adjective). In women, romantic or sexual desire for other women is also called lesbianism (lesbian, noun and adjective). The term gay is used to refer to homosexuals of either gender, although it is mostly used to refer to males (hence the expression "gays and lesbians" or "gay men and lesbians"). The term homosexuality is also used for sexual behavior, rather than attraction, between people of the same sex.
Homosexuality appears to be common in all the apes, and it appears to have its origin in male social organization and social dominence. The bonobo, which has a matriarchal society, practises lesbianism.
The term 'homosexuality' was first coined in 1869 by Karl Maria Kertbeny in an anonymous pamphlet adovcating the repeal of Prussia's sodomy laws. It was listed in 1886 in Richard von Krafft-Ebig[?]'s detailed study on deviant sexual practices, 'Psycopathia Sexualis[?]'.
People whose sexual desire and activities are strongly channelled toward members of their own sex are a minority of the population. The size of this population has been variously estimated to be anywhere from 1% to 37%, however due to the political nature of this topic it is difficult to find studies where the meaning of the results has not been challenged. At one extreme, the Kinsey report reported that 37% of men in the U.S. have achieved orgasm of some type and duration through contact with another male. At another extreme, the National Opinion Research Center has reported that approximately 0.7% of men in the U.S. consider themselves to be exclusively homosexual. [See Note 1 below] Most random surveys carried out in the U.S. and Western Europe tend to place the number of people who have ever had same-sex experiences at around 8%, and the number who prefer exclusively same-sex experiences at around 2%.
Some people who are in general heterosexual may have mild or occasional interest in members of their own sex. Conversely, many people who identify themselves as homosexual, or who might prefer homosexual activities or relationships, have engaged in heterosexual activities or even have long-term heterosexual relationships. Such heterosexual behavior by people who would otherwise show homosexual behaviour has often been part of being "in the closet", or concealing one's homosexual orientation, and may be becoming less common as acceptance of homosexuality increases.
Sexual activity with a person of the same sex, in and of itself, is not necessarily considered homosexuality, but is considered homosexual behavior. Not all who are attracted or have sexual relationships with members of the same sex identify themselves as homosexual or even bisexual. Some people frequently have sex with members of the same sex yet still see themselves as heterosexual. It is important therefore to distinguish between homosexual behaviour, homosexual attraction and homosexual identity, which need not coincide. For example, people in prison, the military, or other sex-segregated environments may engage in homosexual situational sexual behaviour despite being heterosexual outside these environments.
There are several classes of people who have homosexual sexual behaviors for reasons other than desire. One example is hustlers, who are usually young heterosexual men who make money through prostitution with men. Some hustlers are probably homosexual themselves, but a significant number are not.
Some studies, notably Sexual Behavior in the Human Male[?] (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female[?] (1953) by Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, note that when asked to rate themselves on a continuum from completely heterosexual to completely homosexual, and when the individuals' behavior as well as their identify is analyzed, the majority of people appear to be at least somewhat bisexual. Most people have some attraction to either sex, although usually one sex is preferred. Kinsey and his followers thus consider only a minority (5-10%) fully heterosexual or homosexual. Conversely, only an even smaller minority can be considered fully bisexual. Later studies have suggested that Kinsey's studies exaggerate the occurrence of bisexuality in the population at large, but his idea of a sexuality continuum still enjoys wide acceptance.
Some scholars in Queer studies, and most famously the French philosopher Michel Foucault (though some have argued that his opinions on this issue have been distorted by later scholars), attack the notion that sexual identities such as 'homosexuality', 'heterosexuality' or 'bisexuality' have any objective existence, viewing them instead as social constructions; this theoretical viewpoint is called Queer theory. A frequent argument used is that homosexuality prior to the modern period differed from modern homosexuality (age-, gender- or class-structured rather than egalitarian). Critics argue that, although homosexuality in different periods has had different features, the underlying phenomenon has always existed and is not a recent invention of our society.
Many moralists and religious groups view homosexuality to be a sin. See the article on Religion and homosexuality for a discussion of how homosexuality is viewed in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and in neo-pagan religions.
The Wolfenden report in the UK was a turning point in the legalization of homosexuality in Western countries. Many Western cultures have now legalized or decriminalised homosexuality and homosexual acts, although several states in the United States remain an obvious exception to this trend. A number of states in Europe, (for example, the Netherlands, Germany, etc), have changed the law either to allow same-sex marriages or the recognition in law of longterm gay relationships. A number of states allow now all gay couples to adopt children. An increasing number of politicians have openly admitted either to being homosexual, bisexual or to have had in the past homosexual experiences. These include a former British Defence Secretary under John Major, Michael Portillo. An openly gay politician, David Norris sits in the Irish Senate, while the current and previous Presidents of Ireland, Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson were founders for the Irish Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform, which led to decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Republic of Ireland.
This trend among western nations has not been followed in all other regions of the world, where sodomy may remain a serious crime (see sodomy law). At the extreme, homosexuality remains punishable by death in Afghanistan, Mauritania, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Lesser penalties of life in prison are found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Guyana, India, Maldives, Nepal, Singapore, Uganda, and the United States (state of Idaho).
Homosexuals were among the groups who were killed during the Nazi Holocaust, though there was no concerted effort to exterminate all homosexual as there was with Jews and Gypsies, and homosexuals who maintained the party line usually avoided arrest. Nonetheless, Nazi Germany passed many laws criminalizing homosexual relations, and people caught in the act were often sent to their deaths in concentration camps. Homosexuals in the concentration camps were often singled out for special abuse, torment, torture, and murder, by guards and sometimes by other prisoners. In the concentration camps, homosexuals were forced to wear pink triangles. This symbol has since been adopted as a symbol of gay pride and identity. For more information, see the article Homosexuals in Nazi Germany.
Along with alleged communists, homosexuals were investigated by the notorious senator Joseph McCarthy in the USA, who produced a report entitled "Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government".
Some religious movements believe that they can heal or cure homosexuals' sexual orientation through "reparative therapy". However, this has been rejected by all major American health and mental health professional organizations as ineffective, unnecessary, and potentially harmful. In 1973 it was decided that the USA would no longer consider homosexuality to be a mental disorder. However, in some other parts of the world it is still considered to be a mental disorder and illness, although there is no consensus on what causes it or whether it is inborn. Research in this area in the US is no longer sponsored because of pressure from gay and lesbian groups, but views of the scientific community and people around the globe are far from unanimous. Many oppose the gay and lesbian movement because they view it as an attempt to impose Western liberal values on other cultures, and thus as an instrument of oppression of the New World Order rather than a bid for the rights of the oppressed.
It has been commonly believed that homosexual relationships were frequent in Ancient Greece. However, K.J. Dover points out that such relationships did not replace marriage between man and woman, but occurred before and beside it. A mature man would never have a mature male mate, but he would be the erastes (lover) to a young eromenos (loved one). In this relationship it was considered improper for the eromenos to feel desire, as that would not be masculine. Driven by desire and admiration, the erastes would devote himself unselfishly to providing all the education his eromenos required to thrive in society.
In part due to their history of shared oppression, homosexuals in the West have access to a shared culture, although not all homosexuals participate in it, and many homosexual men and women specifically decline to do so (see Gay pride).
: Survey responses are often conditioned by the desire not to express opinions or supply information which the respondent suspects society and perhaps the questioner may not approve of. Revealing one's sexual orientation may well fall into this category, so affecting the accuracy of some surveys and under-estimating the actual scale of homosexuality. A similar phenomenon affects survey data on minority religions, on personal views on controversial matters such as abortion, and on degrees of political support for a political party. (Classic examples of this are not 'admitting' support in surveys in the late 1990s for the British Conservative Party, or controversial parties like the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, etc. with such parties getting a higher vote in the privacy of a ballot box than reported in surveys.)