The concept of preference

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Preference without a choice is not possible. I cannot prefer anything if I have no alternative. So with sexual preference. Whenever we talk of a preference for sexual partners of one sex or another, we make the underlying assumption that individuals of the opposite sex are also available as partners. This is an important point, because in some situations there is no choice. For example, women locked up in a women's prison usually have no access to male partners. If some of these women were to engage in sex with each other, there would be no reason to maintain that they showed a preference for individuals of their own sex. Likewise, if the soldiers in the Great War had sex with each other in the trenches of Flanders, we cannot say that they manifested any preference for other men. It was simply that no women were available in the trenches.

We also need to introduce the concept of preference into an appropriate theoretical context, making it subjectable to meaningful experimental analysis. I can see no better way to give 'preference' a meaning than to analyze the concept in terms of incentive motivation theory. Indeed, basic to the notion of sexual preference is the idea that one sex has superior sexual incentive properties relative to the other. Translated into observable behavior, this means that an experimental subject approaches one incentive more than another. When we talk about preference, then, we talk of a difference in the intensity of approach behaviors between one incentive and another. We assume that this difference is caused by a difference in incentive value. It is important to keep in mind that the term 'preference' has no sense if not anchored in a behavior with known causation. By employing incentive motivational concepts, we give it a sense.

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