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Religious Tolerance logo

Definitions of the term "sexual orientation"

Part 1 of 2 parts: A novel, conservative
Christian definition including 30 behaviors

Background: Definition among secular sources:

According to Wikipedia: "Sexual orientation is usually classified according to the sex or gender of the people who are found sexually attractive." 1

Many other secular sources would agree with this definition. Note that sexual behavior is not necessarily part of the definition. So the sexual orientation of a virgin, or a person who has just decided to cease being sexually active is still defined on the basis of their feelings of attraction towards men and/or women.

The vast majority of information sources on sexual orientation recognize three sexual orientations in adults:

bulletHeterosexuals are sexually attracted only to members of the opposite sex.

bulletHomosexuals are sexually attracted only to members of the same sex.

bulletBisexuals are sexually attracted to both men and women, although not necessarily to the same degree.

Some add a fourth sexual orientation -- asexuality: the absence of sexual attraction.

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Background: Definition by many religious & social conservatives:

Social and religious conservatives often assign unique meanings to commonly used words. This is particularly obvious for terms related to human sexuality and abortion. They generally define sexual orientation in terms of behavior, rather than sexual attraction. For example, the Equal Opportunity Office at the University of Texas at El Paso defines sexual orientation as: "A person's predisposition or inclination toward a particular type of sexual activity or behavior; heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality." 2 (Emphasis ours)

Many religious and conservative Christians rarely if ever refer to bisexuality. They refer to people who engage in same-sex behavior as homosexuals. Everyone else:

bulletIndividuals who only engage in opposite-sex behavior;

bulletIndividuals who are attracted to both men and women but only choose to engage in opposite-sex behavior;

bulletVirgins and other individuals who are now sexually inactive. 

bulletIndividuals who are only attracted to the same-sex partners but choose to remain sexually inactive,

are referred to as heterosexuals or "ex-gays" depending upon their past behaviors.

A new definition developed by some fundamentalist Christians:

A few influential fundamentalist Christian groups have broadened their definition of "sexual orientation" far beyond the three that other groups recognize -- by a factor of ten or more.

They seem to have reasoned that because they believe that sexual orientation is defined by a person's sexual behavior, then all sexual behaviors may be defined as sexual orientations.

They list together a group of terms that they regard as sexual behaviors:

bulletThe three universally accepted sexual orientations: heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality.
bullet Two gender identities: being transgender and transexualism. These describe rare occurrences that have are sometimes described as having a female brain in a male body, or vice versa.
bulletAbout two dozen or more paraphilias. These are "a family of persistent, intense fantasies, aberrant urges, or behaviors ..." involving human sexuality. 3

bulletSome additional behaviors like incest, prostitution, etc.

They call all of these "sexual orientations."

Having defined sexual orientation so broadly, they are then free to attack any legislative bills intended:

bulletTo protect people's employment,

bulletTo protect their accommodation,

bulletTo protect them from hate crimes, etc.

on the basis of the person's sexual orientation.

For example, they conclude that a federal hate crime law that gives higher sentences to violent crimes motivated by hatred of the victim's sexual orientation would also protect people who engage in sex with young prepubescent children, with pubescent children, with dead people, with animals, with trees, etc.

Unfortunately, many evangelical Christians are somewhat isolated from sources of information outside of their wing of Christianity. They may assume that the above are mainstream beliefs.

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What are paraphilias?:

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) lists about 30 paraphilias in their "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . Wikipedia lists about 80. 4 One source lists almost 250. 5 Many paraphilias are criminal sex acts if they are acted upon.

Paraphilias include:

bulletBestiality: having sex with animals,

bulletBiastophilia: sexual arousal through assault and rape,

bulletDendrophilia: sex involving trees (I have difficulty imagining this),

bullet Ephebophilia: sexual attraction to older teenaged minors

bullet Exhibitionism: exposing one's sexual organs to others,

bulletFrotteurism: rubbing against a person without their consent,

bullet Hebephilia: sexual attraction to pubescent children,

bulletNecrophilia: having sex with dead bodies,

bulletMasochism: sexual arousal by having suffering and pain inflicted on them,

bulletParaphilic infantilism: behaving like an infant,

bullet Pedophilia: sexual attraction to prepubescent children,

bulletSadism: sexual arousal through the inflicting of suffering and pain on another,

bulletTelephone scatologia: making obscene phone calls, particularly to strangers,

bulletTroilism: Watching one's partner having sex with a third party,

bulletVoyeurism: watching naked persons or persons engaged in a sexual act.

This topic continues in the next essay

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Related essay:


Federal hate-crimes bill H.R. 1913, (2009)

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Sexual Orientation," Wikipedia, downloaded 2009-MAY-09 from:
  2. "Glossary of terms," Equal Opportunity Office, University of Texas at El Paso, undated, at:
  3. "Paraphilia," Wikipedia, downloaded 2007-APR-18, at:
  4. "List of paraphilias," Wikipedia, at:
  5. Anil Aggrawal, "Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices," CRC Press, 2009. Pages 369-382.
  6. Robert Knight, " 'Sexual Orientation' and American Culture,' Concerned Women for America, 2002-JUL-10, at:
  7. Rev. Lou Sheldon, "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," News release, Traditional Values Coalition, 2007-JUN-04.
  8. "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," Special report, Traditional Values Coalition, undated, at:
  9. The text of H.R. 2232 is at:
  10. The term "gender identity disorder" is now considered stigmatizing. Circa 2012, it was replaced in the medical and therapy communities with the term "gender dysphoria."

Site navigation:

 Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Basic data > Orientation > here

Home > News > Media misinformation > here

Copyright © 2007 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-JUN-05
Latest update: 2015-DEC-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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