Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What Is Sexual Orientation?

The George Rekers situation is good for more than just snark. His hiring of a male prostitute for massage purposes with no intercourse was meant to satisfy his urges while granting him plausible deniability that he is gay, after all, he would argue, he never had gay sex and that is a necessary condition for being homosexual.

It is much like the line that Bill Clinton and Newt Gingerich took in contending that being on the receiving end of an admirer's oral pleasures was not sex since they didn't do anything. the flaw here is that sexual relations are just that relations and if one is n any way part of the relation, then once has had sex.

But Rekers' approach leads to a more interesting question. We have three distinct elements:

(1) There is the felt desire or urge to have sexual relations with (a) a sort of person or (b) a particular person.

(2) There is the forming of an intent to seek sexual relations with (a) a sort of person or (b) a particular person.

(3) There is the act of having sexual relations with a particular person.

Does sexual orientation reside in (1), (2), or (3)?

The Rekers contention is that sexual orientation resides in the action, that is, (3). If I want to paint, but never try then surely I could not be called a painter no matter how deep the desire to someday take up painting. in the same way, if I don't have gay sex, I cannot be called gay.

But surely if one tried constantly to find a partner, say, of the opposite sex, and continually failed, one would say that this person was heterosexual, despite his or her failures. This seems to point to (2) as the important condition.

But one might object that it is (1) that is important. This would be the line that considers Rekers to be a closeted or repressed homosexual. Being gay is something you feel, not something you decide or something you do. Sexual orientation is something that happens to you as you are not in control of desires. You don't choose to want something, you just find yourself wanting it.

If one were to have the urge to be with someone of the same sex, but never formed the intent to act on it and didn't, would that person be gay? Suppose one had no desire, but only sought and succeeded in having sex with someone of the same sex for other reasons, would that person be gay? If not, how do we make the determination if all we can observe are behaviors?