Is sexual orientation a nonsense term?

Everybody knows what sexual orientation is. There is even a lengthy wikipedia article about it. But researchers are still trying to figure it out. I'm not a researcher in this field, but a layperson who is sceptical on the whole concept. Looking carefully i even question if the term makes sense at all.

Ingredients of sex

Dr. Jim Pfaus thinks of sex as encompassing four categories — arousal, desire, pleasure, and inhibition. There is love and lust — and rewards. Moreover books are filled with romantic stories, another side to it. The christian church wants you to believe that reproduction is the sole purpose of sex. When listening to the many TED-talks about sex on youtube, you learn:

  • there are at least 16 different functions of sex,
  • 95% of all sexual activity is not reproduction related,
  • hidden estrus is something special in humans,
  • humans and bonobos are the only ones having sex face-to-face
among many other facts. Moreover, humans are exceptional with respect to upbringing of children and society. Hence not all explanations can be transferred from the animal kingdom without modifications.

Tampering with the wrong end

The term "sexual orientation" tends to unify sexual arousal and sexual desire. The former is this excitement when our senses catch sight of the object of our desire. The rush is real as hormones are released that switch our brain into the mode where we are blind to all flaws. It even tempers with rational thinking, making us believe to be the heroes we are not and makes fools of ourselves. The latter is more complex and might have been misunderstood.

Gay conversion therapies aimed at redirecting the sexual arousal onto more appropriate targets. It has failed big time, it is now considered to be unethical, and it is banned. Why didn't it work? Are we not desiring what arouses our senses? Or are we aroused by what we desire? D.J. Bem published a model for sexual orientation, the exotic becomes erotic theory. One basic element of that theory is that stuff becomes erotic if desired long enough. Women are hot, so are cars. Although, as men we find cars to be cool, or even sub-zero. So in order to understand sexual orientation, we should consider what we desire. Gay conversion therapies did not work, because nobody questioned what it was to was desired. The therapists were so disgusted by it that they never looked for the attraction.

What we want or not

There are clues out there, what influences our desire. Disgust has been found as a major factor in homosexuals. Sexual disgust is learned unlike pathogen disgust. Another important factor influencing relationships is the attachment from childhood. People who grew up with an avoidant attachment to their caregiver face difficulties in finding a trustworthy partner. One explanation for homosexuality is the older-sibling theory. However, having many older siblings leaves little attention to the smaller one. According to the older sibling theory, latecomers should be equally bound to be homosexual, but usually get much more attention from all family members. I haven't heard of a single case of such an homosexual, while i knew plenty who had to fight for attention.

Attachment is primarily not sexual, hence it tends to get overlooked in the sexual orientation discussion. It seems obvious that we seek company of those who make feel us comfortable. Reading Lautmann "Die Lust am Kinde" i noticed that pedophilic men desire the company of boys more than their bodies. Their attraction is to boys who behave like boys. As it turns out, their aim is not to transform the child into an adult sex partner, but to indulge into the childness. When listening to homosexuals talking about their partners, i notice that they tend to talk how the other half is making them into a whole one. Do homosexuals seek what they are missing in themselves?

Fish may have a pure sexual desire. Humans are more complicated. Women have hidden estrus, which means only frequent sex makes an offspring. The rate of attempts per success is one of the highest among mammals, equalling those of fishes 1000:1. Somehow reproductions scores low on the list of priorities when it comes to the selection of a partner. There is certainly sexual arousal, but the desires is not much sexual.

Genetic, prenatal influence, inborn or track bound result?

Our genetic makeup makes us women and men at the moment we were conceived. During the late first-trimester and second-trimester our developing brains are influenced by prenatal exposure to hormones making us more or less feminine or masculine. When we are born, we are more or less put on a track, like a railway track. We got engines of a certain kind and are exposed to family. From that moment on a certain dynamic is at work. How do we respond to our parents and siblings? Both nature and nurture are at work, working hand-in-hand and against each other. We know that gender is not a social construction, but we also see patterns in development. Those patterns are the tracks we were put on at birth. There are switches, but most of them are unknown. We have evidence, mostly from women, who show a fluid pattern of sexuality - hence we can assume that sexuality is flexible in some of us.


John Money assumes phylism to be part of the game. The ignorance of the sexual aspects seems to be right. Much of the search for a sexual partner is a quest for the right spouse with the right qualities. It seems like a puzzle game, where only certain pieces can get attached to each other. Which brings me back to attachment. From the cradle we learn to prefer to be around certain people or stuff. We get to feel secure and to derive comfort from their company. This sharpens our mind, at least the limbic system, to signal whenever we get close. We have to remember that the conceptual thinking is a recent acquirement in humans, symbols and gut reaction have accompanied us for millennia. Over time the exposure to the desired company will result in an arousal which will further drive us towards them or it. There might be no sexual desire, but a desire to seek certain learned attachments.

The ability to seek out and established attachment, the kind of attachments we seek seems to be in my opinion the key to understanding "sexual orientation".

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