In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sexual Orientation

  • Introduction
  • Reports and Briefs
  • Education and Advocacy Organizations
  • Journals

Psychology Sexual Orientation
Allen M. Omoto, Christopher S. Lamb, Elizabeth S. Chamberlin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 December 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0162


This entry focuses on recent psychological theory and research on sexual orientation and lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) issues, mostly from English-language journals and conducted in North America using quantitative methods. Unless authors have specifically used LGB, the term “sexual minorities” is used throughout because it is more inclusive and makes no assumptions about people’s self-labels. Also, the extant research tends to use broadly constituted samples and emphasizes common experiences related to minority status, even though the experiences of lesbians, gay men, and bisexual men and women vary substantially. Transgender issues are sometimes included with sexual orientation concerns (i.e., LGBT), but this article does not explicitly include gender-related expectations, diversity, and links to anatomical sex. Some research on bisexuality is included, although work with this focus is less common. Sexual orientation can be defined in multiple ways—most commonly, definitions focus on a) sexual behaviors, b) romantic attractions and feelings, c) identification or self-labeling as LGB, or d) sexual fantasies; the bulk of work emphasizes self-labels or perceptions of individuals as LGB. Unlike many characteristics (e.g., race), sexual orientation emerges with age and raises questions about its development, stability, and the “coming out” process (i.e., accepting one’s own sexual orientation and then disclosing it to others). Coming out as LGB is fraught with worry and fear for many individuals, so much so that some people try to “pass” as heterosexual. Although “passing” may help individuals reduce or avoid some distress, self-acceptance and coming out appear to be important for good mental health. Around the mid-20th-century same-sex sexual orientation was still considered a mental illness. This view has been repudiated by the major medical and psychological professional associations, although sexual minorities appear to have heightened risk for some mental health issues (e.g., suicidal thoughts, substance use, body image disorders). These problems are increasingly understood as deriving from societal and personal mistreatment; for example, from lacking legal protections for relationships and families to being victimized through bullying and harassment. Research has explored public opinion and the determinants of attitudes toward sexual minorities, and there is increasing emphasis on how prejudice, both from non-sexual minorities and from within LGB communities, may produce negative self-views and compromise mental health. These topics and their implications for public policies are likely to receive future theoretical and empirical attention. Research is also burgeoning on transgender issues, biological markers of sexual orientation, bisexuality, asexuality, and cross-cultural issues.

General Overviews and Background Texts

There are a number of excellent texts on sexual orientation and sexual minorities, both broadly defined and in terms of focusing on specific topic areas. The texts listed here have been divided into Pedagogical Texts, Reference Texts, and Auxiliary Texts. The pedagogical texts tend to have broad coverage and provide good introduction to research and special topics related to sexual minorities and the emerging field of LGBT studies. Taken together, they offer information on sociocultural history, politics, health, and the experiences of sexual minorities in the United States. Meanwhile, the reference texts provide greater depth of information and tend to be more technical or specialized in presentation. These texts consolidate reference information and bodies of research and are appropriate for use by advanced students and experienced scholars alike who are interested in digging deeper into research on sexual orientation and sexual minorities. Finally, the auxiliary texts are topical. Some of them present technical information, but all of the listed texts are written to be accessible to a wide range of audiences. As such, they can be used in pedagogical contexts, including as supplementary material for a class or seminar, or as key reference texts.

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