The concept of homosexual behavior a source of much confusion

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Preference for having sex with partners of one's own sex is called homosexuality in contemporary society. It becomes immediately urgent to differentiate this preference from a strange concept frequently used in both the scientific and the lay literature, namely the concept of homosexual behavior. If we look at the behaviors in humans preferring to have sex with their own sex, so to say, we find that many of these behaviors are exactly the same as those displayed in sexual activities with the opposite sex. For example, many men have anal intercourse with their female partners (20-50% of 'heterosexuals' according to surveys such as those conducted by Kinsey et al. (1948, 1953) and by Laumann et al. (1994)), while others have it with their male partners, and some with both. Independently of the partner's sex, the behavior consisting of insertion of the erect penis into the rectum through the anus is always the same. We cannot call this behavior homosexual. It is simply sexual.

Some behaviors displayed in same-sex encounters cannot be displayed in opposite-sex encounters. A man can never fellate a woman, while he easily can fel-late a man. If we change our verbal habits and employ the term oral sex rather than fellatio, then a man can perform oral sex with a female as well as with a male partner. The motor patterns would probably be somewhat different, but the act of stimulating the partner's genitals with the mouth and tongue presumably produces the same consequence, a pleasurable sensation, in both cases. We can, according to the reasoning of one of the most influential behavior theorists of all times, Skinner, consider the differences in specific motor patterns as entirely irrelevant. In the Skinner box, where the task is to press a lever, it is of no importance whatsoever if the subject presses the lever with his right front paw, left back paw, nose or tail. Each of these motor patterns produces the same result, and which of them the subject chooses is of no concern (Skinner, 1935). We can, then, consider fellatio and cunnilingus as similar responses. The consequence is that oral sex is oral sex whatever the sex of the partner. It would be possible to extend the list of examples, but instead of wasting my and your time with that, I will rapidly conclude that most sexual behaviors performed by a human are exactly the same independently of the sex of the partner. This means that the concept of homosexual behavior is of limited utility. It is, however, a source of much intellectual and moral confusion and it should preferably be left to enter the oblivion of history.

Skinner's (1935) notions about the nature of a response could, in fact, be stretched somewhat further than I did in the preceding paragraph, particularly with regard to human sexual behaviors. Human sexual motor patterns are, so we know, far more varied than those of any other mammal. Knowing that the execution of sexual acts and particularly the experience of orgasm are both reinforcing and rewarding (see Chapter 7 if you have forgotten this), we can consider them as equivalent to the food or water reinforcements frequently used in operant tasks, including lever pressing in the Skinner box. Now, any behavior pattern that by some means involves a lever press will produce reinforcement, and will in effect be considered 'a response'. No further classification is needed. Exactly the same reasoning can be applied to all operant tasks and to species other than rodents, for example Homo sapiens. A 'response' is any motor pattern producing reinforcement. With regard to sexual activities, we could reasonably argue that any behavior leading to orgasm (reinforcement and reward) is a 'sexual response'. We could also maintain that no further classification is needed. Moreover, the behavior of the rat in the Skinner box is determined by the contingencies of reinforcement. In fact, all relevant aspects of the rat's behavior are determined by these contingencies. This holds also for other species, including the human (Skinner, 1969). It occurs to me that one possible way to describe and understand sexual behaviors could be to describe the contingencies of reinforcement (orgasm) and forget about the specific behavior patterns leading to it. In such a context, terms like homosexual or heterosexual would have no meaning. However, many social conventions and religious rules make strong distinctions between permissible and forbidden sexual motor patterns and to lump all these motor patterns together in the category 'sexual response' would undoubtedly provoke a moral outcry. After this digression into the Skinnerian paradise, we return to the specific subject at hand.

Some sexual behavior patterns in non-human animals are also similar regardless of the sex of the partner. A sexually receptive female rat will respond with lordosis to a male's mount, to another female's mount or the experimenter's fingers touching the flanks and the perineum. There is no known difference between a lordosis activated by a male, by another female or by an experimenter. Thus, a lordosis is a lordosis regardless of the source of the stimulation activating it. A male rat mounts females with much enthusiasm, but he may also mount other males. In both cases, his behavior, including the thrusting pattern, is the same. Again, mounting is mounting independently of who the mountee is. In fact, it appears that sexual behaviors with individuals of the same sex are identical to those displayed when having sex with individuals of the opposite sex.

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