a term created by 19th cent. theorists to describe a sexual and emotional interest in members of one's own sex. Today a person is often said to have a homosexual or a heterosexual orientation, a description intended to defuse some of the long-standing sentiment among many Westerners that homosexuality is immoral or pathological. Homosexual practices are not afforded any special moral or psychological significance in many other cultures. A survey of 190 societies around the world (1951) reported that homosexual practices were considered acceptable behavior in approximately 70% of them.
The description of homosexuality as an orientation also suggests, as some contemporary theorists have argued, that the boundaries between "homosexual" and "heterosexual" are not necessarily rigid. Some studies have indicated that most individuals have some erotic interest in both sexes, whether overt or not. The open expression of interest in both sexes is known as bisexuality. Transsexuals are distinguished from homosexuals by the feeling that they are really members of the opposite sex. Male and female homosexuals are now commonly known as gays and lesbians, respectively.
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