Sexual orientation

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Sexual orientation (also sexual orientation or gender partner orientation ) captures the lasting interests of a person regarding the gender of a potential partner on the basis of reproductive interest, emotion , romantic love , sexuality and affection . It differs from sexual behavior in terms of feelings and self-concept . Sexual behavior based on this can take place, but does not have to be. There is an infinite variety between two extremes. Sexual orientation is mostly viewed as one of several parts of sexual identity and is in part a result of sexual imprinting .

The terms “gender tendency ”, “sexual predisposition”, “sexual orientation”, “ sexual preference ”, “sexual inclination” and “sexual identity” have been and are used for the same subject area, but they usually contain much more far-reaching or different definitions.

Categories and delimitation

The following categories are generally recognized as independent sexual orientations:

  • Heterosexuality - only or predominantly people of the opposite sex are of interest
  • Homosexuality - only or predominantly people of the same sex are of interest
  • Bisexuality (Ambisexuality) - People of both sexes are of interest

other possible categories are:

  • Asexuality - people are of little or no interest in sexual terms, regardless of their gender. In contrast to the other sexual orientations, the term asexuality does not make any statement about the emotional orientation or the romantic orientation .
  • Polysexuality - people of multiple but not all social or physical genders may be of interest; respectively
  • Pansexuality - People of any social or physical gender can be of interest

The predominant and temporal interests are important for a classification.

The categories alone can have the following different meanings in common parlance:

  1. a behavior (e.g. situation-related homosexuality in prison, youthful experiences)
  2. a state (“being homosexual”), a personality trait , a nature
  3. a social role (different ways in which people live in society, e.g. as "bisexuals")

So a homosexual, bisexual, or straight person is either someone who shows a certain behavior or someone who is in a certain state or someone who plays a certain social role. Today in most western countries there is a tendency to combine all three meanings. Behavior, state and social role are therefore different aspects of the same phenomenon, sexual orientation.

The following classification is rarely used:

This can be particularly advantageous when describing transgender , transsexual , intersexual people or third genders from other cultures, where the other terms can sometimes cause confusion.


Asexuality is often added to sexual orientations, even if the term only refers to the active sexuality itself, not to the romantic attraction (which is the same for other sexualities). The Split Attraction Model is often used here to explain that the sexual attraction does not necessarily correspond to the orientation of the emotional or romantic attraction or the behavior with regard to the exchange of tenderness. In addition to its seven-point scale, Kinsey also used a category X for those who are sexually aroused or attracted neither by men nor by women. Currently (as of 2016) research on asexuality is taking place internationally and in German-speaking countries.

Pedophilia / pedosexuality

In the professional world, for various reasons, there is more discussion about whether real pedophilia  - in which the primary sexual interest applies to people who have not yet reached puberty - in the narrower sense (not power interests, sadism or substitute acts) as sexual orientation, orientation, preference or inclination.

As a solution, Ahlers, Schaefer and Beier 2005 divided human sexuality into the following three components. This division is already being discussed, but has not yet been implemented.

  • Sexual orientation: It relates to gender, i.e. male or female, and there is heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality.
  • Sexual orientation: It relates to the age of the preferred sexual partner and a distinction is made according to interest in the child, adolescent and adult body.
  • Sexual inclination : It relates to sexual practices, i.e. the way in which someone lives out or wants to live out his sexuality. The range of sexual inclinations is wide and can include, for example, sadism , masochism , voyeurism , exhibitionism or fetishism .

The discussion also has a social and political dimension. On the one hand, pedophile-friendly people and those affected like to use the term "sexual orientation" for various reasons. This is one of several completely different reasons for using the term “pedosexuality” because it fits in better with the scheme of terms used here. Among other things, they want to express that it is unchangeable, extends to different levels of feeling and does not necessarily involve a sexual act. In addition, some want to use the achievements of the lesbian and gay movement for themselves. On the other hand, critics of homosexual equality (bisexuality is included here) and of anti-discrimination regulations like to fall back on this formulation and view it under the same aspect. Some also generally doubt the existence of a sexual orientation. Often ephebophilia ( pederasty ) or parthenophilia - where young people are of interest - are included because of the very vague use of the terms . Gerontophilia - where the elderly are of interest - is mostly not mentioned by conservatives.

Ultimately, however, in the foreseeable future this will have no direct influence on a direct exemption from punishment or a possible attempt to obtain this through a lawsuit under an anti-discrimination law . (→  Legal aspects )

Other terms

The following terms are not to be confused with sexual orientation :

  • Intersex - not clearly female or male sex characteristics
  • Transgender - opposite-sex or gender-neutral gender identity or role behavior
  • Transsexuality - Gender identity of the opposite sex
  • Transvestism - wearing the clothing of the opposite sex

These come from the area of sexual identity (see also gender identity , gender )

The demarcation between the categories

Different researchers have used different definitions. The following table shows examples based on the levels of the Kinsey scale .

Kinsey level 0 1 2 3 4th 5 6th
Kinsey (1948, 1953) heterosexual bisexual homosexual
Weinberg & Williams (1974, 1975)
Bell & Weinberg (1978)
Green (1987)
heterosexual bisexual homosexual
Haeberle (1978) heterosexual
Sandfort & van Zessen (1991) bisexual

Any demarcation is artificial and arbitrary and must be understood that way. Alfred Charles Kinsey saw the scale named after him as a representation of a continuum, which should also be made clear by the oblique line between the end points. He was also the first to carry out statistical surveys on a larger scale and classify them according to psychological and physical experiences. Others use self-identification as a criterion (whereby the possibility of uncertainty should also be considered), and still others only use the number of sexual acts within a certain period of time.

The following quote is from the Kinsey Report on Male Sexual Behavior from 1948 and is a criticism of overly strict categorization:

“You cannot divide the world into sheep and goats. Not all things are black or white. It is a tenet of taxonomy that nature rarely has separate categories. Only the human mind introduces categories and tries to divide the facts into separate subjects. The living world is a continuum in all its aspects. The sooner we become aware of this in relation to human sexual behavior, the sooner we will come to a real understanding of the realities. "

- Alfred C. Kinsey : 1948

In the course of HIV and AIDS research in particular , problems became apparent through the use of the terms. On the one hand, with the questionnaires, because not everyone who had same- sex sex also identified themselves as bisexual or homosexual , and on the other hand, the heterosexual , homosexual and bisexual thought patterns led to incorrect conclusions regarding the risk of infection. In order to avoid these problems and since sexual identity is only of secondary importance for epidemiology , some of the questionnaires were reformulated by replacing the terms that are often judgmental and ideological with neutral questions about behavior, and the terms men who have sex were used with men (MSM) and women who have sex with women (FSF, WSW).


Depending on the categorization method and its use, there are different criteria for being classified in this category. The multidimensional approach has also changed the perception of bisexuality, but it is still very different. In the past, it was seen by laypeople as well as in the scientific literature as a transition phase or as a denial of one's own homosexuality. Today it is considered one's own sexual orientation. Looking at bisexual men and women, the direction of sexual sensations in younger years is less predictive of later sexual orientation, in contrast to exclusively hetero- or homosexual men and women.

Fritz Klein defined different types of bisexuality and focused primarily on experience:

  • transitional (as a transition phase to homo- or heterosexuality)
  • historical (as past sexual orientation)
  • sequential (phases with exclusively heterosexual relationships give way to phases with exclusively homosexual relationships)
  • simultaneous (homosexual and heterosexual relationships are conducted in parallel)

MW Ross introduced further categorizations of bisexuality and thus also included behavior more:

  • defensive (to weaken or conceal homosexuality)
  • married (when everyone in a society has to get married)
  • ritual (when homosexual and heterosexual relationships are cultural norms)
  • equal (if the sexual orientation is meaningless because the gender does not play a role in sexuality, related to pansexuality)
  • latino (if the sexual division of roles during anal intercourse is strict)
  • experimental (only a few homosexual contacts)
  • secondary (when there are no heterosexual opportunities, e.g. in prison)
  • technical (e.g. when lesbian women prostitute themselves to men)

These categories make it clear how difficult it is to find a uniform definition.

In everyday use of the term and in self-identification it moves between anyone who could voluntarily have sex with both sexes and those who want to live full relationships with both sexes. The latter call themselves bisexual more often and more consistently. In English there is the term bi-curious , also written bicurious , for people who do not identify themselves as bisexual but feel or show a certain interest in a relationship or sexual activity . Although the term implies that one has little or no sexual experience, it is often used later in the self-description if one does not feel adequately described by the other terms.

In studies, more than random bisexuals are often assigned to the group of homosexuals, primarily because of the mostly small sample size. And despite Kinsey’s 1948 note and the changed view, Sell 1997 also criticized the dominant research perspective of classifying people as 100% heterosexual or 100% homosexual. This is also reflected in the mainstream opinion of Western culture.

In principle, this can also be found in the view of antihomosexual people who only perceive straight people and straight people with a homosexual problem. In a current study, the sociologist Kim Ritter dealt with the specific experiences of discrimination of bisexual people. These are not simply covered by homophobia , but carry additional elements of discrimination.

Fluidity of Sexual Orientation in Adolescence

Several studies have shown that teenagers and young adults in particular report a certain sexual fluidity. This means that they do not want to or cannot decide which gender they find attractive, which sexuality they identify with or which gender they want to engage in sexual activities with.

Fluidity of sexual acts

Studies show that low-intensity sexual acts (e.g. kissing) take place relatively frequently in adolescents of both sexes. There are conflicting findings about the gender differences in sexual fluidity. Many (especially) older studies found that girls were more likely to report fluid attractions than boys. However, these findings could not always be found.

Stability of a non-heterosexual identity

There are some studies that investigate the extent to which people who initially claimed to be non-heterosexual changed their sexual orientation over time. These studies related to adolescents and young adults. It was found that about half of all non-heterosexual people changed their information after a few years. However, it should be noted that people rarely changed from a non-heterosexual identity to a heterosexual identity. Rather, it can be observed that there is a switch from bisexuality or indecision to homosexuality.

Possible reasons for the sexual reorientation

  • In longitudinal studies or older studies in general, there can be an effect due to the change in the social acceptance of homosexuality
  • For some people, bisexuality was a transition to homosexuality
  • There is a phase of sexual questioning, experimentation, before people become aware of their sexual identity
  • Conflicts with the social environment or social role must be resolved

Categorization models - basic dimensions

Often only criteria deviating from the crowd (bisexual, homosexual) are defined. If one wants to record a frequency of sexual orientations or ascribe properties to certain categories, many other factors such as the type of question and demographic aspects also play a decisive role in addition to the models.

Self identification

Asking the subjects' self-identification is the simplest method of obtaining information about sexual orientation. For many purposes, such as everyday marketing, it is sufficient, but not for more detailed sociological and psychological research. In addition to the terms heterosexual / bisexual / homosexual, the combination hetero- / bisexual / gay / lesbian is also suitable, since these terms are mostly used as self-identification, although some older age groups do not see themselves as gay or lesbian. Sometimes other terms are also included. In addition, it is often said, especially with young people - but not only - that they are not sure. Sometimes it is argued that people prefer to hide their sexual orientation or generally reject such categorizations. Combinations of the terms can also occur in interviews based on self-designation.

Possible terms:

  • homosexual; humid; lesbian; gay; homo; enchants; warm
  • bisexual; bi; ambisexual; pansexual
  • queer
  • heterosexual
  • unsure; is currently not clear to me
  • asexual
  • I reject such definitions
  • I don't want to say

Questions about self-identification have the lowest percentages compared to questions about sexual behavior and sexual experience. This is particularly true of adolescents, as self-identification as homosexual or bisexual, almost like a law, only takes place a few years after same-sex sexual behavior and same-sex attraction. In an American study (Remafedi 1992), only 5% of the young people who are mainly sexually attracted to the same sex described themselves as homosexual. In some cultures there are no or different terms for sexual orientation, so that self-categorization as homosexual or heterosexual is not possible.

Sometimes five- or seven-point Likert scales , based on the Kinsey scale, are used to rank between 1 (“exclusive sexual interest in the opposite sex”) and 5 (“exclusive sexual interest in the same sex”). If three groups are required, groups 1 and 2 are combined into heterosexuals and groups 4 and 5 are combined into homosexuals. In one of the first surveys in 1904, Magnus Hirschfeld stated “M”, “W” and “M + W” on a card. For some respondents, the division into three was not differentiated enough. In the “bisexual” option, they “emphasized the W. or M. with two or more dashes without being asked.” In the next survey he used a five-fold system.

1 2 3 4th 5
exclusive sexual interest in the opposite sex exclusive sexual interest in the same sex

Asexuals are almost never addressed in such questions.

This dimension is often referred to as “sexual identity,” which is seen as a simplistic summary, but can be confusing. Sexual orientation is just one of several dimensions of specific sexual identity . Internationally, there is also confusion with sexual identity ; more specifically, this dimension can be described as sexual orientation identity .

Sexual behavior

Questions about sexual behavior in a certain period of time are used, whereby the following time limits are common:

  • throughout life (The only question that is unclear is whether prepubertal experiences are also included. Many such experiences are later forgotten or the respondent often does not include them.)
  • prepubescent (is seldom asked as it is usually not relevant)
  • since puberty ; since the beginning of puberty; since the age of 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 years
  • between puberty and adulthood
  • as an adult; in adulthood; since the age of 18; since the age of 21 (times of majority )
  • within the past five years
  • within the last year; within the last 12 months

Gebhard defines homosexual behavior as physical "contact between two people of the same sex, whose sexual nature is recognized by both and which normally ends in sexual arousal." Since the sexual nature of the contact must be recognized, this too is not just behavioral, but also an experience dimension. Kinsey and others specifically asked about individual sexual practices and the number of orgasms. Today the question is often asked: “Did you have sexual contacts with a.) A woman b.) With a man in the last year?” What counts as sexual contact is usually left to the person interviewed. The type of sexual practice is also culturally determined and varies over time (e.g. telephone sex , chat rooms ). Some may be classified as a sexual practice in one culture but not in another. Some things are more clearly classified as sexual contact (e.g. vaginal intercourse, oral intercourse), others depend on the social construction of the term sexuality (e.g. kissing, caressing, holding hands). It can be assumed that there is a certain correspondence between what sex researchers mean in the specific case and what the interviewed people understand by it, but this has not been empirically proven.

The exclusive use of the behavioral dimension also has many disadvantages when distinguishing between the categories. Everyone who has had same-sex sexual contact is classified as homosexual or bisexual, even if on closer inspection they would intuitively be classified as heterosexual. This is particularly common in adolescence, although a stable heterosexual identity and experience is developed later. There are also situation-related same-sex sexual contacts, for example in a prison. Sexual violence in male prisons also calls into question the validity of the behavioral dimension, since the perpetrators tend to have a need for power and control rather than (homo) sexual needs. Conversely, someone would be classified as heterosexual who happened to have had opposite-sex sexual contact, but otherwise felt to be homosexual. People who had no sexual contact at all during the period surveyed are not recorded at all, even if they have clear feelings and are perhaps looking for a partner. Young people in particular are often already aware of their sexual orientation without ever having had same-sex sexual contacts. Sometimes even those without sexual contact are assigned to heterosexuals and not specifically identified.

Since the 1990s, people have been described more precisely in this dimension as men who have sex with men or women who have sex with women .

Internationally, this dimension is known as “sexual behavior”.

Experience / attraction

In psychological examinations, in addition to the behavioral aspect , cognitive and / or emotional aspects are also taken into account. These are, for example, fantasies , romantic feelings / thoughts, feelings of sexual attraction or feelings of love . You get different percentages of the occurrence of these different constructs and within these again differences depending on gender and age. According to Gebhard, homosexual feeling could “be defined as the desire for such physical contact and / or conscious sexual arousal when thinking of or seeing people of the same sex.” Plöderl suggests the following definition: “A person x has a homosexual experience if the Person x mentally represents at least one person of the same sex , and if this representation is either associated with or leads to sexual arousal or feelings of romance or infatuation. ”As with sexual behavior, the question can also be specified more precisely by restricting time periods.

The inclusion or exclusive use of the experience dimension has the following aspects:

  • On average, homosexual thoughts and feelings are present in all studies before sexual behavior and several years before self-identification.
  • The experience dimension is more stable over time than the behavior or identity dimension.
  • One can avoid time- and culture-dependent concepts of self-identification.
  • Experimental aspects of homosexuality are more likely to be indicated in studies than self-identification.
  • Adolescents are the least likely to refuse questions about sexual behavior, but many adolescents state that they have not yet had sexual contact.
  • It transports the intercultural essence of the phenomenon of homosexuality.
  • It leaves open whether homosexuality is intrinsic or not.
  • negative: cultural and biological influences are given less attention.

Internationally one speaks of “sexual attraction”.

Categorization models - multidimensional

One-dimensional vs. multidimensional categorization

Sell ​​criticized one-dimensional categorizations in 1996 and suggested that all three dimensions should be recorded separately because they were independent of one another. For this purpose, she developed her own instrument that records all characteristics in all dimensions. It can also be translated into the frequently used Kinsey scale.

For some applications, the use of separate dimensions is also essential, especially if the dependent variables examined are related. For example, a 1991 study by Remafedi on the suicide attempt rate among adolescents showed that those who call themselves homosexual had a higher rate than those who did but do not call themselves homosexual. However, the level of knowledge on this is contradictory.

For adults, the correlation between the experience, behavior and identification dimensions is relatively high. In Plöderl's view, the choice of dimension is particularly crucial when classifying contentious cases and investigating young people. The high correlation is usually more than half, but there are differences of up to 20% in different studies.

Kinsey scale

Kinsey scale

The Kinsey scale was introduced in 1948 and is the most famous graduation. It sees itself as a bipolar tool to sort people between the extremes of homosexuality and heterosexuality. Both sexual acts and psychological experiences are decisive for this. Some scholars today leave aside the inclusion of both aspects. Kinsey himself asked many very specific questions, including sexual behavior and individual sexual practices and whether one experienced an orgasm.

Shively & DeCecco Scale

Shively & DeCecco
step physical
5 very
3 fairly straight. somewhat homos. fairly straight. somewhat homos.
1 not
straight at all .
homos at all .
straight at all .
homos at all .

Michael. G. Shively and John P. DeCecco introduced two five-part double scales for the description of sexual orientation and behavior in their description of sexual identity in 1977. ( Shively and DeCecco Scale (SDS) , two-dimensional, unipolar) They divided sexual identity into a.) Biological gender; b.) gender identity; c.) gender expression; d.) sexual orientation; e.) Sexual behavior. They measured physical ( physical preference, sexual attraction ) and emotional ( affectional preference, emotional attraction ) separately. In addition, they used separate five-point scales for heterosexuality and homosexuality for both preferences. Whoever has the lowest value everywhere is asexual, whoever has the highest value everywhere is bisexual. It is particularly interesting to assess changes in orientation, since a decrease in homosexual attraction does not cause a simultaneous increase in heterosexual attraction. Some scientists combine physical and emotional attraction.

Small Sexual Orientation Grid

Small Sexual Orientation Grid
variables past present Ideal
A. Sexual attraction
B. Sexual behavior
C. Sexual fantasies
D. Emotional preference
E. Social preference
F. Lifestyle (hetero / homo)
G Self identification

The American therapist Fritz Klein wrote mainly on the subject of bisexuality. He took up various suggestions from Kinsey and constructed a "grid of sexual orientation" ( Klein Sexual Orientation Grid , KSOG), which was published in 1985. In this, seven bipolar variables are broken down into three dimensions. A distinction is made between what was over a year ago as the past, how it was last year and the ideal of how one would wish it to be. A number from 1 to 7 based on the Kinsey scale is entered in each of these 21 fields (corresponds to 0–6 for Kinsey). The completely filled out grid gives a very individual picture, which is hardly ever exactly repeated even in larger groups (for example lecture participants). And yet it is at best a simple expedient to grasp the complexity of what is understood by sexual orientation today. Asexuality is not discussed here.

  • The following values ​​are provided for the variables A – E: 1/7 - only the opposite / own gender; 2/6 - mostly the opposite / own sex; 3/5 - somewhat the opposite / own sex; 4 - both sexes the same.
  • The following values ​​are provided for the variables F and G: 1/7 - only heterosexual / homosexual; 2/6 - mostly heterosexual / homosexual; 3/5 - more heterosexual / homosexual; 4 - hetero / homosexual equal.

Emotional preference means who you fall in love with. Social preference describes who you like to be with. For Klein, lifestyle describes the social environment in which one moves, the sexual identity of friends and acquaintances.

Multidimensional Scale of Sexuality

Berkey, Perelman-Hall and Kurdek developed the Multidimensional Scale of Sexuality (MSS) with 45 questions in 1990 . Each of the questions is answered as to whether it is true or false for you. Five aspects of sexual orientation are considered:

  1. Sexual behavior ( sexual behavior )
  2. Sexual attraction ( attraction sexual )
  3. Arousal in erotic material ( arousal to erotic material )
  4. Emotional factors ( emotional factors )
  5. Sexual dreams and fantasies ( sexual dreams and fantasies )

Nine questions were developed for each of these five aspects, each of which should cover the following categories:

  1. heterosexual
  2. heterosexual with some homosexuality
  3. simultaneously bisexual ( concurrent bisexual )
  4. sequential bisexual ( sequential bisexual )
  5. homosexual with some heterosexuality
  6. formerly heterosexual now homosexual
  7. homosexual
  8. formerly gay now heterosexual
  9. asexual

Question 1.6 reads, for example: “In the past I had sexual contact with members of the opposite sex, but today I only have sexual contact with members of my own sex.” ( “In the past I have engaged in sexual activity with members of the opposite sex, but currently I engage in sexual activity only with members of my same sex " ) Two subscores are formed from the answers to the five questions per category, one for the behavioral aspect (one question each) and one for the perceptual / emotional aspect ( cognitive / affective score , the remaining four questions). In addition, each test person can assign himself to one of nine categories, which are provided with a description. The MSS thus provides a profile of 19 values, which takes both a time aspect into account and more differentiated into bisexuality and asexuality than many other tests.

“The extent to which their way of scoring makes sense, however, would have to be discussed, especially in light of the fact that Klein et al. (1985) has proven to be sensible not to summarize the cognitive / affective scores , and in addition the nine categories could prove to be distinct , at least on the face of it, and thus a reduction in information in a completely different place would be possible and useful. "

- Tilman Eckloff : 2003

Historical aspects

The idea of ​​sexual orientation did not exist before the 19th century ; heterosexual vaginal intercourse was considered commonplace. Same-sex relationships were definitely to be viewed as asexual and not too romantic. Among other things, this also led to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs or Magnus Hirschfeld developing concepts of “sexual intermediate stages” between men and women, since love for the same sex was an impossibility. Other forms of sexual intercourse were also seen as a common vice , not something that only affected certain groups of people. Thus the term "sexual orientation ", which is much more broadly defined, was used, and is sometimes still used today .

From the 19th century until well into the 20th century, the term “sexual predisposition ” was used more frequently . This was criticized from various quarters that it was implicitly asserted heredity and immutability, for which there is no evidence. In 2008 a British / Swedish twin study refuted that sexual orientation is completely predetermined by genes. Since the human genome by no means seems to be fixed, but rather changes again and again, an interpretation of the study is not possible without difficulties.

The term “sexual orientation ” takes into account the fact that there can be changes in sexual orientation in the course of life.

In many non-Western cultures, the idea of ​​sexual orientation has only spread in the last few decades. However, in some cultures same-sex relationships and same-sex sexuality were viewed as not necessarily objectionable, same-sex love not as impossible, or there was a social role of a third sex , certain functions such as medicine men and the like that one could possibly fit into. In some cases such cultures still exist. In other cultures, such views were suppressed by colonization and Christianization or later also by Islamization , sometimes violently fought and often the laws against homosexuality of the colonial powers - some of which still apply today - were introduced.

Sexual orientation is the subject of United Nations declarations and resolutions on sexual orientation and gender identity .

Legal Aspects

The term has now also found its way into legal language. Article 2 paragraph 3 of the state constitution of Thuringia prohibits the preferential treatment and disadvantage of people because of their sexual orientation. This represents one aspect of the increasing recognition of the right to sexual self-determination .

The state constitutions of Berlin , Brandenburg and Bremen prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual identity . In contrast to “sexual orientation”, however, “sexual identity” should also include transsexuals and transgender people; but this is controversial because transgender people are not primarily or necessarily a question of sexuality or partnership.

European Community law uses the term "sexual orientation" in some places, which should be identical with "sexual orientation", e.g. B. in the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Art. 21 Paragraph 1; Prohibition of Discrimination) and in the Council Directive 2000/78 / EC establishing a general framework for the implementation of equal treatment in employment and occupation, which, in addition to other forms of discrimination, is based on " sexual orientation ”.

Pedophilia is listed as a mental disorder both in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems ( ICD , F65.4) and in the influential American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual ( DSM-IV , 302.2). The resulting acts are mostly viewed as dissexual and are therefore punishable by law. Therefore, pedophilia is always excluded from all anti-discrimination provisions regarding sexual orientation (or synonyms used) and sexual identity, regardless of whether it is used as a personal orientation or as a sexual orientation according to Ahlers et al. or viewed as a sexual preference.

Psychological aspects

It has not yet been conclusively clarified when and how a person's sexual orientation is determined. According to the prevailing opinion, however, it is certain that the sexual orientation, once it has formed, is largely unchangeable, even if a different minority opinion is occasionally represented in the environment of religious minorities (see also ex-gay movement ).

It is also assumed that sexual orientation develops very early in life. There is strong evidence that suggests genetic components of sexual orientation (see also main article homosexuality ). The hypotheses that the hormone supply during pregnancy could play a role have not yet been proven.

So far, no evidence has been found to support the claim that sexual orientation is influenced by upbringing or seduction experiences in childhood or puberty.

Daryl Bem provided an integrative approach to the scientific clarification of the origin of sexual orientation with the " Exotic-Becomes-Erotic " theory.

Causes of the emergence of non-heterosexual behavior

As yet, no definitive and precise causes for the development of non-heterosexual behavior have been identified. Even so, there is some evidence of influences that play a role in its development. In general, it is currently assumed that there is a complex interplay of biological and environmental / social factors. The biological factors are assigned a greater role than the social ones.

Biological influencing factors

There are many findings that emphasize the importance of biological factors influencing the development of sexual orientation. There are three main factors influencing the development of sexual orientation, namely:

  • Genes / heredity
  • Brain development
  • (prenatal) hormones and chemical substances

There is probably not one factor that determines a person's sexual orientation, but rather it develops through a complex interplay of these biological influences together with environmental factors.

However, there is more evidence to support a biological cause hypothesis than there is for social causes.


Twin and family studies have shown that there are clusters of homosexuality in some families. This begs the question of whether sexual orientation is hereditary.

In this context, reference can be made to a study from 2019 in which a genome-wide association study (is a certain gene associated with a certain trait?) Was carried out, examining the DNA and sexual behavior of around 500,000 people.

The researchers found five genetic markers associated with same-sex sexual behavior. However, one cannot say that a single gene is responsible for sexual orientation, rather there are thousands of different ones.

Structural and functional differences in the brain

Various researchers have found that differences in the brain have an impact on people's sexual orientation. These differences develop in the second half of pregnancy.

Levay and colleagues found, for example, gender-specific structures in the medial preoptic region (in the anterior hypothalamus) in the INAH3. This region is about three times as large for men as for women. It turned out that this core was also much smaller in homosexual men than in heterosexual men, or was completely absent.

Homosexual and heterosexual people can also differ with regard to the activity of the brain. The thalamus and prefrontal cortex are more activated in heterosexual men and homosexual women when they see a female face. In homosexual men and heterosexual women, these regions are more activated when they see a male face.

Hormones & Chemical Substances

Hormones and chemical substances play an important role in the development of sexual orientation, even in the womb. Above all, pheromones and testosterone influence the development.

Pheromones generally affect sexual behavior. Studies have found that male pheromones stimulate hypothalamic activity in both heterosexual women and homosexual men. However, these male pheromones do not elicit a response in heterosexual men. It should be said that the hypothalamus is associated with instinctive behavior and sexual functions.

Another finding is that girls who have high testosterone levels in the womb (e.g. due to the adrenal disease CAH) are more likely to become bisexual or homosexual.

Influence of sexual orientation of parents

There are some studies that examine the influence of parents on the development of children's sexual orientation.

A study by Carone N. et al. investigates whether there is a difference in development between children of homosexual fathers, homosexual mothers and heterosexual parents. 120 children were examined and they were between the ages of 3 and 9 years. In this study, researchers visit individual families. The researchers collected data from the parents through a questionnaire. The questionnaire was mainly about who does what in the household. They also asked questions about what the children mainly play with and how they dress. The children participated in a 5-minute free play session in which the researchers observed the children. A rucksack was provided for each child. This backpack contained various toys. There were 15 pieces in total. Five of these were boys-typical toys (e.g. building sets and trucks), girls-typical toys (e.g. plush horses and tea sets) and gender-neutral toys (e.g. telephone and books). The researchers recorded the number of seconds a child was occupied with a toy. In the end, the study found that children of heterosexual parents and homosexual fathers are seen in their behavior and play as more masculine or more feminine than children of homosexual mothers.

Other studies looked at the sexual orientation of adults who grew up with homosexual mothers. The results suggest that the sexual orientation of adults is not dependent on the sexual orientation of the parents.

Influence of how parents deal with their children's sexuality

Another important factor is parental support and rejection. Parental responses influence children's identity development. When teenagers and young adults experience parental rejection, they often have lower self-esteem. In contrast, when teenagers and young adults experience parental support, they have high self-esteem. Parental rejection of adolescent sexuality is considered one of the most important problems facing homosexual adolescents. This can lead to depression or thoughts of suicide.

Signs in childhood

The only symptom in childhood that has been proven in many studies that speaks in favor of a later non-heterosexual orientation is gender-atypical behavior in childhood. This has been demonstrated both in twin studies, in which one twin was later heterosexual and the other was not, as well as in longitudinal studies, in which the children were observed three times at kindergarten and preschool and later the same children at the age of 15 followed theirs sexual orientation were surveyed.

Children who later develop in a non-heterosexual direction are often more interested in typical activities, toys & playmates of the opposite sex than in those of the same sex. This means that boys who later do not orientate themselves heterosexually often prefer to play dolls or "father, mother, child" or something similar with girls. While girls who do not later develop heterosexually prefer to play with toy cars with boys their own age. Gender-atypical behaviors & interests at the age of 3–5 years are mostly consistent predictions for sexual orientation at the age of 15 years. In boys, pre-school age is also a phase that can be used to predict sexual orientation in adolescence.

The gender atypical behavior occurs more intensely in later homosexual than in later bisexual children.

In this context, it should be emphasized once again that not all children who experience gender-atypical behavior during their childhood later show non-heterosexual development and also that parents, if the children display gender-atypical behavior, cannot stop the process of sexual orientation by For example, they forbid their children to play with the toys and playmates they would like to play with.

Comparison of biological and social influences

Overall, it can be stated that biological causes for a later non-heterosexuality are considered more likely than social causes. This is supported by the fact that the signs in childhood (gender atypical behavior, see “Interests of non-heterosexual children”) appear so early that on the one hand the children cannot be socially influenced and on the other hand the development of sexual interests is still very far away. Furthermore, the influence of the number of older brothers in later non-heterosexual men is also not a social influence (see “Number of older brothers”) and is considered a proven aspect of influencing sexual orientation. However, as yet there is no evidence for social causes of sexual orientation, which is why the biological cause hypothesis is to be regarded as more likely, at least according to the current state of research.

It is widely recognized that supporters of the biological cause hypothesis of non-heterosexuality are significantly more tolerant of their own sexual orientation than supporters of the social cause hypothesis.

Psychiatric Aspects

Classification according to ICD-10
F66 Mental and behavioral disorders related to sexual development and orientation
F66.0 Sexual maturation crisis
F66.1 I-dystonic sexual orientation
F66.2 Sexual relationship disorder
ICD-10 online (WHO version 2019)

In the ICD-10 it is specially noted that sexual orientations as such are not to be regarded as disorders. However, “mental and behavioral disorders in connection with sexual development and orientation” can be diagnosed (code F66).

These include the “ ego-dystonic sexual orientation ” (F66.1), in which the person concerned wishes to change their sexual orientation, the “sexual maturation crisis” (F66.0), which relates to psychological problems in connection with insecurity or change in sexual orientation or Gender identity, and “sexual relationship disorder” (F66.2), where gender identity or sexual orientation causes problems with regard to existing or desired sexual relationships.

In the DSM-IV there is only the general category “unspecified sexual disorder” (302.9) under “sexual and gender identity disorder”, under which a “persistent and pronounced disorder of sexual orientation” can also be diagnosed.

“Sexual orientation” is understood to mean only hetero-, homo-, bisexual and asexuality, not paraphilias , that is, sexual preferences that deviate from the “norm”.

Web links

Individual evidence

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  3. Example: "Faʻafafine are a heterogeneous group of androphilic males, some of whom are unremarkably masculine, but most of whom behave in a feminine manner in adulthood." Nancy H. Bartlett, Paul L. Vasey: A Retrospective Study of Childhood Gender- Atypical Behavior in Samoan Faʻafafine. In: Archives of Sexual Behavior . Volume 35, Number 6, December 2006, doi: 10.1007 / s10508-006-9055-1 , pp. 659-666.
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  44. Jump up ↑ J. Michael Bailey, Paul L. Vasey, Lisa M. Diamond, S. Marc Breedlove, Eric Vilain: Sexual Orientation, Controversy, and Science . In: Psychological Science in the Public Interest . tape 17 , no. 2 , September 2016, ISSN  1529-1006 , p. 45-101 , doi : 10.1177 / 1529100616637616 .