In the 1930s and 1940s, a group of scientists tried to explain homosexuality by looking for “masculine” traits in lesbians and “feminine” traits in homosexual men. They claimed that gay men had broad shoulders and narrow hips (indicating “immature skele­tal development”) and lesbians had abnormal genitalia, including larger-than-average vulvas, longer labia minora, a larger glans on the clitoris, a smaller uterus, and higher eroticism, shown by their tendency to become sexually aroused when being examined (Terry, 1990)! Modern research has failed to find any significant nonneurological phys­ical differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals, although some attempts to ex­amine physical differences still exist.

Today’s theories can be divided into two basic types: essentialist and construction­ist. Essentialism suggests that homosexuals are innately different from heterosexuals, a result of either biological or developmental processes. Early essentialist theories implied that homosexuality was an abnormality in development, which contributed to the argu­ment that homosexuality is a sickness. More recently, gay and lesbian scholars, in an at­tempt to prove that homosexuality is not a “lifestyle choice” as antihomosexual forces have argued, have themselves been arguing that homosexuality is a biologically based sexual variation. Constructionists, on the other hand, suggest that homosexuality is a so­cial role that has developed differently in different cultures and times, and therefore nothing is innately different between homosexuals and heterosexuals. In Chapter 2 we discussed queer theory, which holds a constructionist view of homosexuality.

Question: Why are men often turned on by watching two females having sex but turned off by watching two males?

Heterosexual men’s magazines often feature two women together in sexual positions but almost never two men. In the United States, watching women interact sexually is much more socially acceptable. These pictorials always imply that the women are still attracted to men, waiting for them, just biding their time until a man arrives. An internalized fear of homosexuality in men also makes it difficult for many men to see two men being sexual with each other. It is much less threatening to watch two women. In Chapter 18 we’ll discuss gender and the use of pornography.

Scholars in different fields tend to take different approaches to explain why some people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Note, however, that almost all the researchers we will discuss assume there are two, exclusive, nonoverlapping categories: homosexual and heterosexual. Most theories on sexual orientation ignore bisexuality or do not offer enough research to explain why bisexuality exists. We will discuss bisexuality through­out this chapter.