Sociological Theories: Social Forces at Work
Sociological theories are constructionist and try to explain how social forces produce homosexuality in a society. They suggest that concepts like homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality are products of our social imagination and are dependent on how we as a society decide to define things. In other words, we learn our culture’s way of thinking about sexuality, and then we apply it to ourselves.
The idea of “homosexuality” is a product of a particular culture at a particular time; the idea did not even exist before the 19th century (though the behavior did). Some have argued that the use of the term “homosexuality” as a way to think about same-sex behavior arose only after the Industrial Revolution freed people economically from the family unit and urbanization allowed them to choose new lifestyles in the cities (Adam,
1987) . Thus, the idea that people are either “heterosexual” or “homosexual” is not a biological fact but simply a way of thinking that evolves as social conditions change. In other countries, as we note later, these terms are not used, and a person’s sexuality is not defined by who his or her partners are. Scientists often assume that homosexuality and heterosexuality are unproblematic categories, without considering whether they might be products of their particular culture.
Sociologists are interested in the models of sexuality that society offers its members and how individuals come to identify with one model or another. For example, maybe effeminate young boys begin to behave as homosexuals because they are labeled homosexual, are called “faggot” by their peers, are ridiculed by their siblings, and even witness the worry and fear on the faces of their parents. They begin to doubt themselves, search for homosexuality in their own behavior, and eventually find it. If American society did not split the sexual world into “homosexual” and “heterosexual,” perhaps these boys would move fluidly through same-sex and other-sex contacts without having to choose between the “gay” and “straight” communities.