Homosexuality refers to sexual behavior or attraction between people of the same sex or to homosexual orientation. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to “having sexual and romantic attraction primarily or exclusively to members of one’s own sex”; “it also refers to an individual’s sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviors expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them.” Homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality together make up the three main classifications of sexual orientation and are part of the Heterosexual-homosexual continuum. The exact proportion of the population that has had homosexual contact is difficult to estimate reliably, but most recent studies place it at 2–13%.
Sexual orientation is also distinguished from other aspects of sexuality, “including biological sex (the anatomical, physiological, and genetic characteristics associated with being male or female), gender identity (the psychological sense of being male, female or other), and social gender role (adherence to cultural norms defining feminine and masculine behavior).”
Etymologically, the word homosexual is a Greek and Latin hybrid with homos (sometimes confused with an unrelated Latin word for “man”, as in Homo sapiens) deriving from the Greek word for same, thus connoting sexual acts and affections between members of the same sex, including lesbianism. The word gay generally refers to male homosexuality, but is sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to homosexuality in general. In the context of sexuality, the word lesbian denotes female homosexuality.
There is much evidence of both acceptance and repression of homosexual behavior throughout recorded history. During the last several decades, there has been a trend towards increased visibility, recognition, and legal rights for homosexuals, including marriage and civil unions, parenting rights, and equal access to health care.