Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality

The American Psychological Association recommends that psychologists help reduce the stigma of mental illness through the education of others about how long-held beliefs and fears about sexual orientation have led to prejudice and discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is the personal sense of identity and attraction that a person feels toward the same and/or opposite sex members. Recent studies have shown sexual orientation to be fluid (not fixed), with the strength of attractions differing on a continuum–from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual.

How do people determine their sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is a journey that begins with emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to others. By experiencing these attractions, individuals come to know their sexual orientation. The patterns of emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction that form the basis for adult lesbian, gay, bisexual, or heterosexual identity emerge during middle childhood and early adolescence and usually precede any sexual activity. 

Over time, people sort out their feelings about the attractions they experience—they may connect those feelings with a sexual orientation identity label and share it with others (e.g., “I am gay”), or they may not. Prejudice and discrimination can make it difficult for people to acknowledge and explore their feelings about their attractions. Some lesbian, gay, and bisexual people take a long time before claiming an identity label; some never do so.

Is homosexuality a mental illness?

Mental health professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose mental disorders. No mental health professional group has sanctioned classifications of homosexuality. The DSM-5 states that sexual orientation falls under the category of “enduring patterns of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions” and is not in itself a mental disorder.