What is psychology behind homosexuality and homophobia

Sexuality: Psychologists look for reasons for homophobia

“I'm gay, and that's a good thing.” It is uncertain whether the much-quoted sentence by Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit has contributed to greater acceptance of gays in society. One thing is certain: it must have met with rejection from many people, because they do not think homosexuality is “a good thing”, but reject it as immoral: According to a survey, 21.8 percent of Germans hold this view.

But where does this rejection come from, also called "homophobia" in its more extreme forms by psychologists? Sigmund Freud, the forefather of psychoanalysis, already had an explanation for this: Whoever condemns homosexuality in a bunch, is only fighting his own homosexual impulses. Indeed, there are prominent examples of such behavior. The evangelical preacher Ted Haggard demonized homosexuality as immoral and unbiblical behavior in the USA and spoke out violently against any recognition of same-sex civil partnerships. But in the end the prominent preacher had to admit to having had a sexual relationship with a callboy.

Laboratory tests also found evidence of such a double standard: American psychologists showed male test subjects pornographic films with gay men. In test subjects who had previously shown homophobic tendencies in a survey, the researchers observed sexual arousal in 54 percent of the cases, whereas in non-homophobes it was only 24 percent.

However, such a displacement mechanism alone is not enough to fully clarify the phenomenon of homophobia, writes the science journalist Rolf Degen in a report in the November issue of the science magazine "Bild der Wissenschaft": There are reservations about gays especially among older people with a low level of education , in people closely related to religion and people who have no contact with homosexuals, the magazine quotes the American psychologist Gregory Herek of the University of California at Davis.

The religious background seems to play a particularly important role: For example, the Kiel psychologist Bernd Simon observed anti-homosexual ideas particularly frequently in young men of Turkish origin. In a survey, 38 percent rejected legal equality for homosexual partnerships, while the figure was 74 percent for students of the same age with parents of German origin.

Why especially young men show anti-gay tendencies, puzzles psychologists time and again - after all, gays fail as potential competitors in the competition for women. But the often unbound and free lifestyle of many gay men often arouses feelings of envy: “That is the fear that someone will be happier”, suspects the physician Marshall Forstein from Harvard University in “Bild der Wissenschaft”.

An important aspect of homophobia is the feelings of disgust that homosexuals cause in some people. Here, too, behavioral tests provide an explanatory pattern: for example, psychologists from Cornell University in Ithaca found in tests with a hundred test subjects that men and women with a greater tendency to develop disgust also show more disgust reactions when confronted with homosexual practices than less for this feeling susceptible subjects. Feelings of disgust were generally more pronounced in conservative people than in politically more left-wing people, showed further studies - which could explain why the rejection of homosexuality is greater in conservative circles. Homophobia finds its most extreme form in some Islamic countries: in states such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen or Sudan, where Sharia law applies, homosexual acts are even punishable by the death penalty.

The connection between belief and homophobia is often associated with ideas of purity and the view that heterosexual relationships alone are natural, while homosexuality is morbid behavior. There are plenty of examples of same-sex contacts in the animal world, as reported by “Bild der Wissenschaft” in the November issue: female macaques engage in lesbian sex practices and sometimes even prefer sexual contact with males, male king penguins pair up, gorillas