Ask Dr. H: Week 5

Dr. Jill Hoxmeir, Public Health Professor

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Dear Dr. H,

Is being gay a choice that you make or are you born that way?

Dear anonymous,

Another great question – something I’m sure many people wonder and just aren’t quite sure how or who to ask! In the past, there’s been much debate on the topic, often when new policies or legislation are proposed to help secure equality for LGBT persons.

“It’s a choice!” some people argue… “They are born that way!” says the opposition.

Personally, I don’t know anyone who would voluntarily opt in for a life potentially marred with stigma and discrimination. So, on that basis alone, I think it’s safe to consider sexual orientation – and gender identity – not a choice people make but an innate sense of personal being, just as any other individual characteristic.

But, in our heterosexist society, we tend to think of people who are outside that norm as those who differ due to a choice they make about their sexuality or some other event that happened to cause them to be “different.”

Rarely do we think of being heterosexual in those terms: Do straight people choose to be straight? What happened to straight people to make them that way?

Sexual identity is complex – who we are sexually attracted to is just one aspect of that identity. We often cannot explain why we’re attracted to the people we are… we just are, right?

The same goes for sexual orientation – some people are attracted to others of the same sex, different sex, or both.

Often, due to the aforementioned stigma and discrimination of same-sex attraction, people who would otherwise have relationships with persons of the same sex may not be able to out of fear. People come out about their sexual orientation at all stages in life – some identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual early on, and others have relationships with people of the opposite sex, even marriages, until they feel safe and ready to have the same-sex relationships they really want.

Because of the social stigma against sexual minorities and the complexities of sexual orientation and identification, it is difficult to get accurate data on the LGB population in the U.S.

Some research estimates about four percent of the population identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual… but, that’s just those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Some people have sexual relationships with persons of the same sex but don’t consider themselves to be LGB because they don’t have romantic relationships with persons of the same sex. Others may be sexually attracted to people of the same sex, but also do not identify as LGB because they don’t actually have sex with people of the same sex.

So, when we think of sexual orientation as much more than just “you’re either gay or you’re not,” we can see that romantic and sexual attraction are not conscious choices we make, but rather a reflection of our individual wants and needs, what turns us on and what makes us happy.

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Ask Dr. H: Week 5