While homosexuals enjoy greater freedom and acceptance today than ever before in history, many instances of sexual prejudice towards them remain from their heterosexual counterparts. The reasons for this prejudice have been debated for a myriad of reasons, from religious to social to political.
However, conclusive evidence has yet to emerge as to why such prejudice exists, whether for personal psychological reasons or because of societal reason. Upon close investigation, it would appear that much of the sexual prejudice by heterosexual males and females towards homosexual males and females may come from a combination of both individual psychology as well as social factors. It is commonly believed that much of the recent sexual prejudice has grown out of the movement by homosexuals to fight for their equal rights in many countries throughout the world. Only in the last decade have a limited number of countries allowed members homosexuals to marry, something traditionally reserved for only heterosexual males and females. However, in many more countries homosexuality is still taboo and even illegal. The nature of this stigmatization is deep-rooted and finds its origins in a long history of opposition to homosexuality. As recently as 1973, homosexuality was considered a psychological disorder in the United States, until the Board of Directors of the American Psychiatric Association removed it from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Benjamin et. al, 2000, p.
99).As a leader in psychological and medical research, the U.S. claiming homosexuality was a disorder until a few decades ago illustrates the strong opposition by professional psychologists to homosexual behaviour. Save for the religious dogma that opposes homosexuality, the natural reason include the fact that homosexual couples are unable to procreate in their respective unions.
Some psychologists cite the current debate over homosexuality and sexual prejudice has multiple parts: the moral and pragmatic question of whether two people of the same sex can make their lives together; whether basic financial rights and duties should be recognized for homosexuals in the same way they have been recognized for a heterosexual couples; another part is the child-bearing aspect, as homosexual parents are unable to bear children naturally (Miller et al, 2008). These issues have allowed critics of homosexuality to cite the unnaturalness of it, as well as the contempt it shows for society. Science has largely overcame this basic inability of homosexual couples to conceive, however advancements in technology are little to dissuade the majority of people that feel homosexual unions are nothing more than contempt for the natural cycle, as well as the future of the human race.
Despite the unnaturalness of homosexuality, at least in terms of procreation, some experts suggest that sexual prejudice against homosexuals is rooted internally. According to Herek (2005), sexual prejudice is strongly about the sexual attitudes that one holds towards one’s own sexuality. Citing the work of Alfred Kinsey, who determined that clear-cut categories of sexual preference were difficult to ascertain and inaccurate anyway, Herek explains that categorizing one’s own sexual label is difficult, often confusing, and leads to sexual prejudice: “Because of the stigmatized status of homosexuality, such individuals may experience anxiety at the prospect of being labelled gay or lesbian, which they may externalize in hostility or overt aggression toward gay people” (Herek, 2005, p. 2). Insecurity over one’s own sexuality may help create an internalized view of why some find it necessary to discriminate against homosexuals, though it only provides a partial picture of the causes of sexual prejudice. While the individual perception of homosexuality encourages some sexual prejudice, the societal perception is a large factor. Much of sexual prejudice is the result of societal influences throughout the life of those that display prejudice.
Being raised in a culture in which sexual prejudice towards homosexuals is commonplace can lead people to adopt a similar stance. The social learning theory of Julian Rotter goes beyond the mere belief that environment is represented in personality, making personality more of a reaction to external stimuli than an internal creation independent of environment. To Rotter, understanding behaviour takes into account both the individual and the sum collection of experiences and thoughts, and also the environment into account (Mearns, 2008). Behaviour thereby becomes some that is not static and unchanging, but something that is fluid and influenced by external factors. In a society in which homosexuals are stigmatized, it only makes sense that the impressionable are irrevocably influenced by such behaviour. When they see that homosexuals face opposition in areas of personal, professional, and political life, they will have a natural aversion to homosexuality, even if they have homosexual impulses themselves.
To help explain how Rotter’s theory applies to sexual prejudice, Rotter delineated social learning theory into four main components: behaviour potential, which is the likelihood of a particular behaviour in a situation; expectancy, which is the subjective probability that a given behaviour will lead to a particular outcome, or reinforce; reinforcement value, which is the outcome of the action; and the psychological situation, which recalls the subjectivity of one’s perceptions to process their environment (Mearns, 2008). Social learning theory of Rotter therefore leaves a great deal of room for the subjectivity of the individual to shape behaviour based on the environment, which can never be objective. Sexual prejudice, though influenced by societal influences, is really up to the individual as to whether such behaviour will be adopted or opposed. Applying other theories of learned behaviour, such as those of Carl Rogers can also help explain how sexual prejudice develops in heterosexual individuals towards homosexuals.
To Rogers, the main issue is the development of a self concept and the progress from an undifferentiated self to being fully differentiated. In the development of the self concept he saw conditional and unconditional positive regard as key. Those raised in an environment of unconditional positive regard have the opportunity to fully actualize themselves; those raised in an environment of conditional positive regard only feel worthy if they match conditions that have been laid down by others (Cain, 2007). In an environment in which homosexuality is continuously belittled or worse, many will simply choose to follow the behaviour as opposed to risk any sort of punishment, whether actual or through social alienation. Once again, this makes sexual prejudice a combination of individual learning and social influence.
Though there is a lack of significant research that examines sexual prejudice in detail, there remain many psychological theories of observational learning that help explain why it persists. Heterosexuals that are raised in a predominantly heterosexual society will inevitably view homosexuality as something other than normal, and on many occasions, something extremely negative to the health of society as a whole. Coupled with individual issues of sexuality, this leads to a great deal of sexual prejudice by heterosexuals directed at homosexuals.
As society continues to strive for equal human rights, it remains to be seen whether sexual prejudice will be replaced with tolerant behaviour or whether it will continue to be passed from one generation to the next.REFERENCESCain, D. J. (2007). What Every Therapist Should Know, Be and Do: Contributions fromHumanistic Psychotherapies. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy.
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