Traditionally, a family has been considered to consist of a heterosexual couple and their children, but many forms of family life exist in contemporary society. Surveys indicate that between 45% and 80% of lesbians and between 40% and 60% of gay men are currently in a steady relationship, and many have long-term cohabiting relation­ships (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2003). Homosexual people also form family units, either as single parents or as couples, with children, who are included in the family through a variety of circumstances. Census data show that 17% of lesbian and gay couples are raising children (Gates & Cooke, 2011). Many have children who were born in previous heterosexual marriages. Others become parents with foster or adopted children: In the last 10 years the number of same-sex couples who adopt has

tripled to almost 22,000 (Seager, 2011). A gay man or couple may enlist the help of a surrogate to have a baby. In 2010 CNN presented a documentary titled In America: Gary and Tony Have a Baby, which followed the gay couple through their decision to become parents, their surrogacy process, and the first 6 months of their son’s life.

Most laws about adoption by homosexual parents are ambiguous, and in many cases homosexual people have to adopt as individuals rather than as couples. In 1998 New Jersey became the first state to allow partners in gay and lesbian couples to jointly adopt children, and California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illi­nois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont have since established laws to permit such adoptions (Human Rights Campaign, 2011).

People have questioned the ability of homosexual parents to provide a positive family environment for children. However, research has found that concern to be unfounded. The U. S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS) has followed lesbian mothers and their children since 1980, and the study’s results show that children of les­bian mothers are essentially no different from other children in terms of general devel­opment, self-esteem, gender-related problems, gender roles, and sexual orientation (Bos & van Balen, 2008; Bos et al., 2008). After analyzing scientific research on gay and les­bian parenthood, the American Academy of Pediatrics decided to endorse adoption by gay and lesbian couples to provide children with the security of two legally recognized parents (Contemporary Sexuality, 2002). The American Psychiatric Association also supports the rights of gay and lesbian parents (Gartell et al., 2011).

Unfortunately, children with gay or lesbian parents often face various expressions of homophobia, such as bullying, name-calling in school, or being forbidden by friends’ par­ents to visit those friends at home (Signorile, 2011; van Gelderen et al., 2012). Research has found that attending schools with curricula that include discussions of homosexual­ity and socializing with other lesbian families helped to lessen the impact of the homo­phobic stigma the children encountered (Bos, van Balen et al., 2008). A comparison between children of lesbian mothers in the United States and the Netherlands found that the Dutch children were more open with their peers about having lesbian parents, reflecting the differing levels of acceptance in the two countries. For example, 49% of people in the United States compared to 66% of people in the Netherlands said that they believe homosexual couples should have the legal right to adopt a child (Bos, van Balen et al., 2008). As acceptance of homosexuality increases, the well-being of gay and lesbian parents will benefit from a favorable legal climate, gay-friendliness of the neighborhood, and support in the workplace and from friends and families (Goldberg & Smith, 2011).

Historical and Social Perspectives

In what ways can contraception contribute to personal and societal well-being in the United States and in developing countries?

Sharing Responsibility and Choosing a Birth Control Method

What do both men and women have to gain by sharing responsibility for birth control?

What should an individual or a couple consider in choosing a method of birth control?

Hormone-Based Contraceptives

How do hormone-based contraceptives work? What are some risks associated with their use?

Barrier and Spermicide Methods

What is the only method that provides protection from transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

What are some of the advantages of male and female condoms, vaginal spermicides, and cervical barrier methods compared with hormone-based contraceptives?

Intrauterine Devices

Why might a woman choose to use an intrauterine device (IUD)?

Emergency Contraception

What are the types of emergency contraception?

Fertility Awareness Methods

What are the four fertility awareness methods?

How do they work, and which one is most reliable?


What are the benefits of vasectomy compared to female sterilization?

Unreliable Methods

How reliable are breast-feeding, withdrawal, and douching as methods of contraception?

New Directions in Contraception

What new contraceptive methods are being developed for men and


It’s a good thing that there are lots of birth control options, because I’ve used different ones at one time or another. I did have the good sense to use the sponge the first time I had intercourse, and I insist on condoms when I’m with a new partner. I tried the combination pill and the minipill, then used an IUD when I had a long-term boyfriend. I haven’t had any particular problems with any of the methods, and I’m very grateful not to have had an unwanted preg­nancy. But I do wonder if there will ever be a method I don’t have to remem­ber every day or use at the last minute and is 100% effective and reversible. (Authors’ files)