Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Who is homosexual and the difference it makes

In Brief

Who is homosexual and the difference it makes

A review in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science contends that we can't say much that is useful about the mental health of gay men and women until we get clearer about a definition of homosexuality.

Sexual orientation can be defined by romantic or sexual attraction or arousal; by sexual activity or behavior; or by "identity," meaning that a person regards herself or himself as homosexual or heterosexual. According to the author, what you can conclude about the relationship of sexual orientation to mental health may depend on which definition you choose.

Mental health researchers understandably prefer to rely on identity, which can often be found by asking and divides people simply into two categories. Using this definition, they find an association between homosexuality and anxiety, alcoholism, depression, and suicidal tendencies. The influence of social stigma and discrimination is likely to be powerful here, especially because self-proclaimed homosexuality is sometimes associated with nonsexual behavior, appearance, or personal style that does not fit a gender stereotype — some apparent effeminacy in men or "masculinity" in women.

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