The topic of sexual orientation has been attracting controversy for the past couple of years. In the past, it was even considered as taboo to talk about sexuality. However, times have changed. Now there are many television shows that feature openly gay men and thousands are watching. This paper aims to discuss how sexual orientation as a notion came into being and how it was viewed through different cultures in history. What does the phrase “sexual orientation” mean?
The American Psychological Association defines the phrase as such: “Sexual Orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attraction to another person…Sexual Orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality (qtd. in Tremblay and Ramsay 1). ” This is a specific definition. However, it poses a problem. These terms are relatively new. It can help define sexual orientation at present, but it does not address the sexual issues of the past.
The terms homosexuality and heterosexuality did not exist before; it was not until recently that these words came to being. Therefore, to further expound on the history of sexuality, one must not refer to these labels. In Ancient Greece, a relation between an adult male and young boy exists, but that does not mean they are homosexuals. Michel Foucault, who wrote three volumes of The History of Sexuality, has this to say: “It makes no sense to say homosexuality was tolerated by the Greeks…our division of sexual behavior between homo-and heterosexuality is absolutely not relevant (363).
” The dichotomy of heterosexuality and homosexuality did not exist in ancient times; what they practiced was merely a normal part of their lives. This practice is called pederasty: “a relationship and bond between an adolescent boy and an adult man outside of his immediate family (“Pederasty in Ancient Greece” 1). ” It also generally refers to “erotic love between adolescents and adult men (“Pederasty in Ancient Greece” 1). ” This relation, however, varied in different places. Some places had both boy and man living together as a couple, while some did not allow it at all (“Pederasty in Ancient Greece” 1).
This practice was known to have begun as a method to control population, along with the delay of marriage and the seclusion of women (“Pederasty in Ancient Greece” 1). Pederasty also has socio-political aspects as well. For starters, the boy-man relation is crucial in the educational system. It is the adult male’s responsibility to supervise his education or he could teach him himself. Pederasty had also come to function as “the introduction of the young man into adult society and adult responsibilities (“Pederasty in Ancient Greece” 1).
” Furthermore, the relation is beneficial for the boy and his family since being under the influence of an older man can advance one’s social status. A man’s experience of being mentored by many influential men in his youth would be a testament to his good looks and would further his social standing (“Pederasty in Ancient Greece” 1). Pederasty also has a political advantage. Aside from the relation being crucial for democracy, it was another method used to curb crimes. This is because when an adolescent boy commits a crime, it is his lover who is punished, not him.
Therefore, pederasty not only benefited the two parties involved, but the state as well. Seventeenth century Western society had presented a different view on sexuality (“The History of Sexuality” 1). Back then, the pervading notion was that of a repressed sexuality. It was taboo to speak about it, somehow sexuality in general became forbidden. However, Foucault begs to differ. The repression we refer to has resulted in a preoccupation with sexuality. A discourse was created about and around it, and the term sexuality itself became a result of discourse (“The History of Sexuality” 1).
This discourse then lead to the creation of the “sexual identities and multiplicity of sexualities (“The History of Sexuality”1). ” According to Foucault, there are two views of sexuality. The first view is “ars erotica”, or erotic art. In places like Japan, China and India, sex is an art form and a sacred experience. It was not spoken openly about because it was considered too sacred for discussion. Take the Kama Sutra, for example. It embodied sexual intercourse as an artistic and pleasurable experience. The other view is “scientia sexualis,” or the science of sexuality.
As opposed to the first one, this view required open discussions about sex. Foucault refers to it as a period of confession. The society became a confessing society; everything from innermost thoughts, desires, and dreams were revealed. This whole business of revelation brought about psychoanalysis, which was considered “the legitimization of sexual confession (“The History of Sexuality” 1). ” Homosexuality only came to the fore because of the need for confession. It presupposes that “there seems to be a compulsion to reveal one’s sexuality to confirm its existence in our society (“The History of Sexuality”1).
” The nineteenth century further legitimized the science of sexuality. Since it became a legitimate science, it was dealt with logically, and any unnatural leanings resulted in labels or distinctions. The distinction of being a homosexual then appeared. According to Foucault, “The homosexual of the 19th century became a person: a past, a history, an adolescence, a personality, a life style; also a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mystical physiology. Nothing of his full personality escapes his sexuality (qtd in “The History of Sexuality”1).
” As time went by, more and more distinctions are made. The term ‘homosexual’ referred to same-sex attractions, ‘heterosexual’ came to denote opposite sex attractions, while ‘bisexual’ came to distinguish those with varying degrees of attractions to either gender (Tremblay and Ramsay1). Thus, the existence of one’s sexual orientation came to being. The 20th century brought problems to those distinctions. The American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association considered homosexuality as a mental disorder, and this created quite a heated debate between homosexuals and professionals.
It was not until the 1970s when the label was removed, due to the insistent demands of those who were targeted by the mental health professionals (Tremblay and Ramsay 1). On the other hand, many of the mental health experts did not even consider homosexuality was a mental disorder. Billings described sexual orientation as “a continuous characteristic of human populations (qtd. in Tremblay and Ramsay 1). ” It is safe to presume from this definition that sexual orientation is not fixed; it can change through time. At present, the topic of sexuality has been more open, and different sexual orientations can mingle within the same sphere.
This is not to say the homosexuals have been accepted by all; there still are cases of hate crimes and discrimination still exists. However, there is more tolerance now for homosexuality than before. Take for example, the celebrities of Hollywood. In recent years, more and more celebrities are coming out about their sexuality. This means that the cultural landscape has become friendlier to gays and lesbians. Moreover, pop culture has exhibited some form of support for this movement, as evident in the increase in number of television shows that feature homosexuals or homosexuality.
The list includes Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Queer as Folk and The Ellen de Generes Show, just to name a few. Sexual orientation as a notion did not exist until recently; therefore, a critical discussion of the history of sexuality in different cultures is necessary for it to be understood. With the existence of the new distinctions of sexuality, it is now crucial that we should try to respect and understand other people’s sexual orientation. Sensitivity to one’s sexual orientation is needed to develop healthier relationships with people. The world consists of different types of people; that difference should be celebrated, not shunned.
Works Cited Foucault, Michel. Foucault Live (Interviews 1966-84). Trans. John Johnson. New York: Semiotext(e), 1996. Pederasty in Ancient Greece. 3 December 2006. Arikah. 21 November 2007 <http://www. arikah. com/encyclopedia/Pederasty_in_ancient_Greece>. The History of Sexuality-About Foucault. N. d. The Ipce Web Site. 21 November 2007 <http://www. ipce. info/ipceweb/Library/history_of_sexuality. htm>. Tremblay, Pierre, and Richard Ramsay. The Social Construction of Male Homosexuality and Related Suicide Problems: Research Proposals for the Twenty First Century. N. p. :University of Calgary, 2000.