Homosexuality (rarely homophilia) is a sexual orientation or orientations characterized by romantic or sexual desire for, or sexual attraction toward, members of the same sex. The term usually implies an exclusive or predominant sexual orientation toward persons of the same sex, and is distinguished from bisexuality as well as heterosexuality. In addition to referring to a sexualorientation, the term homosexuality is also used for sexual behavior between people of the same sex.
In women, romantic or sexual desire for other women is also called lesbianism (lesbian, noun and adjective). The term gay is used to refer to homosexual persons of either gender, although it is mostly used to refer to males (hence the expression gays and lesbians or gay men andlesbians). Persons with the sexual orientation of homosexuality are sometimes called homosexual (noun and adjective). Many people regard the term homosexual as derogatory or clinical because of its cold, antiseptic connotation, particularly when applied to a person, and because 'homosexual' was used as a description of a pathologial state, before same-sex attraction was removed from the AmericanPsychiatric Association's list of mental disorders. Most western people who regard themselves as having a homosexual orientation prefer the term gay, lesbian, or, less frequently, queer (sometimes capitalized as Queer) or 'same-gender loving'.
The term homosexuality was coined in 1869 by Karl Maria Kertbeny in an anonymous pamphlet advocating the repeal of Prussia's sodomy laws. It was listed in 1886in Richard von Krafft-Ebing's detailed study on deviant sexual practices, Psychopathia Sexualis. The word homosexual translates literally as "of the same sex," being a hybrid of the Greek prefix meaning "same" and the Latin root meaning "sex." Although some early writers used the adjective homosexual to refer to any single-sex context (such as the Roman Catholic clergy or an all-girls' school),today the term refers exclusively to same-sex sexuality. The term homosocial is occasionally used for single-sex contexts that are not specifically sexual.
The use of homosexuality to describe sexual behavior between people of the same sex sometimes causes confusion and controversy. This is due to the fact that some people who engage in same-sex behavior do not use the terms homosexual or gay (asis often-used in public discourse) to describe themselves. For instance, among some sectors of African-American gay sub-culture (called men on the DL or "down-low", same-sex sexual behavior is sometimes viewed as solely for physical pleasure. Men on the "down-low" may engage in regular (though often covert) sex acts with other men while continuing sexual and romantic relationships withunsuspecting women. These men often shun the more commonly-known "gay" as a term applying to stereotypically flamboyant and effeminate men of European ancestry; a group from which some may wish to distance themselves. On the other hand, some experts have suggested that this mostly African-American subculture may have come about because of stronger stigmas against same-sex behavior in African-Americancommunities, and, due to more widespread poverty, greater dependence on possibly homophobic family networks for support.
Some people find the use of the word homosexual to describe individuals to be offensive or at least inaccurate. For instance the Safe Schools Coalition of Washington's Glossary for school employees advises: "Gay: Preferred synonym for homosexual." "Homosexual: Avoid this term; it isclinical, distancing and archaic. Sometimes appropriate in referring to behavior (although same-sex is the preferred adj.). When referring to people, as opposed to behavior, homosexual is considered derogatory and the terms gay and lesbian are preferred, at least in the Northwest." The Guardian Style Guide, Newswatch Diversity Style Guide, and the Committee on Lesbian and Gay Concern of the...