Re: Homosexuality: male & female

Agner Fog (
Sat, 21 Sep 1996 18:58:28 +0100

Julia E Smith wrote:
>Just a general observation. It seems to me that there are two separate
>issues which many people are confusing. The first is "how do people
>identify themselves?" The second is "what do people do?" The problem is
>that the terms homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual are used for both

It is more complicated than that. There is a biological dimension and a
cultural dimension to both behavior and feelings. Regarding the biological
dimension, there have been numerous attempts to find genes, hormones, brain
development patterns, etc. which correllate with homosexuality. Most of these
studies have been ambiguous, inconclusive, or statistically confounded.
Nevertheless, it is very probable that there are some biological factors
which influence sexual orientation.

Studies of the cultural dimension have been much more successful. It has been
found that homosexual behavior is interpreted very differently in different
cultures, and often associated with certain roles, identities or rituals.

Whether you study the biological or the cultural dimension, or both, you
certainly end up with more than three categories:

1. Persons who prefer partners of the same sex throughout their life and who
are adopting a special role or identity. These are the persons who in our
culture are called gays and lesbians. This role or identity may have far-
reaching consequences for the non-sexual aspects of that person's life,
such as subculture-affiliation, voice pitch, gait, vocational choice,
leisure activities, artistic taste, etc. These non-sexual aspects of the
gay/lesbian identity may be emphasized or suppressed, depending on
changing ideolologies. This is actually two categories, but in our culture
gays and lesbians are lumped together.

2. Persons who have homosexual feelings or experiences in a limited period of
their life - usually late childhood, puberty, or adolescence. These persons
seldom take on a special identity.

3. Some cultures have acknowledged, or even institutionalized, pedagogical
relationships involving a homosexual contact between teacher and apprentice.
This does not neccessarily involve a special identity, nor does it exclude
the possibility that both persons also have heterosexual contacts.

4. Some cultures have special rituals which involve homosexual acts, although
homosexual behavior is rare outside the ritual context.

5. As discussed earlier in this thread, there are cultures which assign a
deviant identity only to the insertee (receiver) in a male/male anal
intercourse. The inserter is considered a normal male, as he is assuming
the male role, and he is likely to also have sex with women.
Mutual masturbation is not considered a homosexual act here.
Fellatio is hardly talked about, and therefore does not have a cultural
meaning at all.

6. In our culture, there are men who like to have sex with transvestites, but
not with masculine men. These men are unlikely to identify as gay, and they
usually have sex with women as well.

7. There are men who engage in homosexual acts for money. These hustlers may
be able to get erection and achieve orgasm in a homosexual contact, but
seldom identify as gay.

8. Some cultures acknowledge special identities and roles which involve sexual
contact with members of their own biological sex, but which are not the same
as our notions of gay or lesbian. These identities have special names for
each culture, too numerous to mention here.

9. Transvestism, transsexuality, and transgender identities often involve
sexual contact with members of the same biological sex. These should be
considered separate identities.

10. There are even people who combine the transsexual and homosexual
identities. These are biological males who want to be lesbian women, and
biological females, who want to be gay men.

11. Many cultures have more possible roles or identity choices describing
homosexuality for males than for females. Often female homosexual behavior
is ignored and has no cultural meaning, when it occurs.

12. People may occasionally engage in homosexual acts or have homosexual
desires without attributing any special meaning to it.

13. Some kinds of touching between members of the same sex may be seen as
sexual by outsiders, but not by the persons involved.

14. Forgive me for all the categories I have forgotten :)

The problem with all statistics published until now is, that they lump together
very different categories. As long as we don't understand all the categories
well, and some categories are culturally suppressed, we cannot make meaningful
statistics at all.

Since we hardly know the relative importance of biological versus cultural
factors in creating each of the various categories, we don't know whether
cross-cultural comparisons are possible or not.

Another problem is that there are persons who do not know which category to
put themselves into, because their culture does not acknowledge any category
suitable for them. The same person placed in another culture might have no
problems finding a suitable identity or role.

PS. My electronic book 'cultural selection' includes theories on the cultural
control of sexual behavior. You can find it at the URL below.

Agner Fog, Ph.D. See my electronic book: 'Cultural Selection' at: