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1. Sexual orientation is a preferred term for psychological writing over "sexual preference" and refers to sexual/affectional relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual people. The word "preference" suggests a degree of voluntary choice that is not necessarily reported by lesbians and gay men and that has not been demonstrated in psychological research.
The terms "lesbian sexual orientation," "heterosexual sexual orientation," "gay male sexual orientation," and "bisexual sexual orientation" are preferable over "lesbianism," "heterosexuality", "homosexuality", and "bisexuality", respectively. The former terms focus on people and some of the latter terms have in the past been associated with pathology.
2. Lesbian and gay male are preferred to the word "homosexual" when used as an adjective referring to specific persons or groups, and lesbians and gay men are preferred terms over "homosexuals" used as a noun when referring to specific persons or groups. The word "homosexual" has several problems of designation. First, it may perpetuate negative stereotypes because of its historical associations with pathology and criminal behavior. Second, it is ambiguous in reference because it is often assumed to refer exclusively to men and thus renders lesbians invisible. Third, it is often unclear.
The terms "gay male" and "lesbian" refer primarily to identities and to the modern culture and communities that have developed among people who share those identities. They should be distinguished from sexual behavior. Some men and women have sex with others of their own gender but do not consider themselves to be gay or lesbian. In contrast, the terms "heterosexual" and "bisexual" currently are used to describe identity as well as behavior.
The terms "gay" as an adjective and "gay persons" as a noun have been used to refer to both males and females. However, these terms may be ambiguous in reference since readers who are used to the term "lesbian and gay" may assume that "gay" refers to men only. Thus it is preferable to use "gay" or "gay persons" only when prior reference has specified the gender composition of this term.
Such terms as "gay male" are preferable to "homosexuality" or "male homosexuality" and so are grammatical reconstructions (e.g., "his colleagues knew he was gay" rather than "his colleagues knew about his homosexuality"). The same is true for "lesbian" over "female homosexual", "female homosexuality", or "lesbianism."
3. Same-gender behavior, male-male behavior, and female-female behavior are appropriate terms for specific instances of same-gender sexual behavior that people engage in regardless of their sexual orientation (e.g., a married heterosexual man who once had a same-gender sexual encounter). Likewise, it is useful that women and men not be considered "opposites" (as in "opposite sex") to avoid polarization, and that heterosexual women and men not be viewed as opposite to lesbians and gay men. Thus, male-female behavior is preferred to the term "opposite sex behavior" in referring to specific instances of other-gender sexual behavior that people engage in regardless of their sexual orientation. When referring to sexual behavior that cannot be described as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual, special care needs to be taken. Descriptions of sexual behavior among animal species should be termed "male-male sexual behavior" or "male-female sexual behavior" rather than "homosexual behavior" or "heterosexual behavior," respectively.
Bisexual women and men, bisexual persons, or bisexual as an adjective refer
to people who relate sexually and affectionally to women and men. These terms
are often omitted in discussions of sexual orientation and thus give the erroneous
impression that all people relate exclusively to one gender or another. Omission
of the term "bisexual" also contributes to the invisibility of bisexual
women and men. Although it may seem cumbersome at first, it is clearest to use
the term "lesbians, gay men, and bisexual women or men" when referring
inclusively to members of these groups.
6. Use of gender instead of sex. The terms "sex" and "gender" are often used interchangeably. Nevertheless, the term "sex" is often confused with sexual behavior, and this is particularly troublesome when differentiating between sexual orientation and gender. The phrase "it was sexual orientation, rather than gender, that accounted for most of the variance" is clearer than "it was sexual orientation, rather than sex, that accounted for most of the variance."
latter phrase, "sex" may be misinterpreted as referring to sexual activity.
It is generally more precise to use the term "gender."
-Using examples of lesbians, gay men, and bisexual persons when referring to activities (e.g., parenting, athletic ability) that are erroneously associated only with heterosexual people by many readers.
-Referring to lesbians, gay men, and bisexual persons in situations other than sexual relationships. Historically, the term "homosexuality" has connoted sexual activity rather than a general way of relating and living.
-Omitting discussion of marital status unless legal marital relationships are the object of the writing. Marital status per se is not a good indicator of cohabitation (marital couples may be separated; unmarried couples may live together), sexual activity, or sexual orientation (a person who is married may be in a gay or lesbian relationship with a partner). Further, describing people as married or "single" renders lesbians, gay men, and bisexual persons as well as heterosexual people in cohabiting relationships invisible.
-Referring to sexual and intimate emotional partners by both male and female pronouns (e.g., "the adolescent males were asked about the age at which they first had a male or female sexual partner").
-Using sexual terminology that is relevant to lesbians and gay men as well as bisexual and heterosexual people (e.g., "when did you first engage in sexual activity?" rather than "when did you first have sexual intercourse?").
-Avoiding the assumption that pregnancy may result from sexual activity (e.g., "it is recommended that women attending the clinic who currently are engaging in sexual activity with men be given oral contraceptives" instead of "it is recommended that women who attend the clinic be given oral contraceptives").
2. Clarity of expression and avoidance of inaccurate stereotypes about lesbians and gay men. Stigmatizing or pathologizing language regarding gay men and lesbians should be avoided (e.g., "sexual deviate," "sexual invert"). Authors should take care that examples do not further stigmatize lesbians, gay men, or bisexual persons (e.g., an example such as "psychologists need training in working with special populations such as lesbians, drug abusers, and alcoholics" is stigmatizing in that it lists a status designation (lesbians) with designations of people being treated.
3. Comparisons of lesbians or
gay men to parallel groups. When comparing a group of gay men or lesbians
to others, parallel terms have not always been used. For example, contrasting
lesbians with "the general public" or to "normal women" portrays
lesbians as marginal to society. More appropriate comparison groups might be "heterosexual
women," "heterosexual men and women," or "gay men and heterosexual
women and men."
Reflection Exercise #11
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