History and Prevalence

In ancient Greek and Roman cultures, same-sex interactions were part of the cultural background, notwithstanding critics in those very societies. Educational relations among the Greek aristocracy took the form of mentoring relationships between older men and adolescent males, and schools for women sometimes followed this model (Marrou). It is not surprising that intimate mentoring relationships would sometimes become sexual. Roman civilization also had its share of same-sex eroticism, with some notorious emperors having harems of male lovers at their disposal (Gibbon). The

Emperor Hadrian was so distraught after the death of a beloved youth, Antinous, that he deified him, erected statues of him through the empire, and founded a city in his name (Birley).

In later times, the social and religious circumstances of medieval Europe worked to limit the visibility of homosexuality, but subcultures and literary and artistic expressions of same-sex love were far from unknown even in ecclesiastical communities (Boswell). Homosexuality has expressed itself elsewhere around the globe, as well, including Africa, China, and among Native American cultures.

In ways without precedent in human history, a samesex culture has emerged in the large contemporary cities of the developed world and, it is a social force in communication, entertainment, business and commerce, and politics. Men and women who acknowledge their homosexuality hold prominent and influential social positions, as do men and women who choose not to disclose their homosexuality. The social visibility of homosexuality has not dispelled all moral and religious condemnation. In less developed parts of the world, homosexuality is sometimes far less visible but not altogether absent.

The extent of homosexuality in a given human society is difficult to estimate, for a number of reasons. Studies of sexual behavior face certain methodological problems, including adequate study samples and reluctance to discuss sex freely. Several ambitious studies have nevertheless tried to estimate the extent of homosexuality among men and women in the United States. In the mid—twentieth century, one Kinsey study of approximately 6,000 men showed that about 4 percent of them behaved exclusively as homosexuals after adolescence, and that 37 percent of men overall had some sexual experience with another man to the point of orgasm at some point during their lives (Kinsey). Another study showed that 1.32 to 2 percent of approximately 6,000 women behaved exclusively as homosexuals after adolescence, and that 13 percent of the women overall had had sexual experience with another woman to the point of orgasm at some point during their lives (Kinsey). At the end of the century, Laumann and colleagues also found that many people engage in homosexuality at some point. They found that 2.8 percent of their 1,749 male subjects and 1.4 percent of their females subjects claimed a homosexual identity (Laumann et al.).

Taken together, these studies show that many adolescents, and adult men and women, have same-sex fantasies and desires and engage in same-sex behavior. That said, there is often a fluidity to human sexuality that does not allow any easy division of humanity into homosexuals and heterosexuals, even if most people come to have entrenched sexual interests in males or females alone. This fluidity sometimes stands in the way of precise definitions of homosexuality, and of scientific accounts of why people behave a certain way.

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