Acquired homosexuality

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Acquired homosexuality is the discredited idea that homosexuality can be spread, either through sexual seduction or recruitment by homosexuals,[1] or through exposure to media depicting homosexuality.[2][3] According to this belief, any child or young person could become homosexual if exposed to it; conversely, through conversion therapy, a homosexual person could be made straight.[4]

Scientific evidence[edit]

Although there is not yet complete understanding of the causes of sexual orientation, the evidence supporting biological causes is much stronger than that supporting social factors, and there is little or no evidence supporting the theory that homosexuality can be acquired through sexual contact with homosexual adults. In contrast, there is evidence that homosexual attractions precede behavior, usually by a few years, in most cases. Bailey et al. state, "a belief in the recruitment hypothesis has often been associated with strongly negative attitudes toward homosexual people", and those who make this argument generally do not explain an empirical basis for this belief.[1]


In her book Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick distinguishes between the minoritizing and universalizing view of sexual orientation; according to the former view homosexuality is a property of a relatively stable minority while according to latter view anyone can potentially engage in homosexuality.[5] The original view was a universalizing one whereas the ideas about homosexuality being a fixed sexual preference developed in the second half of nineteenth century, proposed independently by gay activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, French psychiatrist Claude-François Michéa, and German physician Johann Ludwig Casper.[6][7] In the early twentieth century, German sexual science showed that many adolescent boys practiced homosexual behaviors (such as kisses, hugs, caresses, and mutual masturbation) for a few years; healthy development was considered to consist of abandoning them when they were older. It was believed that the incidence of adolescent homosexual behavior had increased after World War I and one of the most popular explanations was that adult homosexual men (either in person or via gay-oriented publications) had caused the increase. This theory was popular among the general public, but also among psychologists and psychiatrists who treated youth.[8]

Based on the theories of Karl Bonhoeffer and Emil Kraepelin,[9] the Nazis believed that homosexuals seduced young men and infected them with homosexuality, permanently changing the sexual orientation and preventing the youth from becoming fathers. Rhetoric described homosexuality as a contagious disease[10] but not in the medical sense. Rather, homosexuality was a disease of the Volkskörper (national body), a metaphor for the desired national or racial community (Volksgemeinschaft). According to Nazi ideology, individuals' lives were to be subordinated to the Volkskörper like cells in the human body. Homosexuality was seen as a virus or cancer in the Volkskörper because it was seen as a threat to the German nation.[11] The SS newspaper Das Schwarze Korps argued that forty thousand homosexuals were capable of "poisoning" two million men if left to roam free.[12]


Belief that homosexuality was acquired through sexual contact was one of the ideas fueling the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany. Because of the all-male organizations for boys and young men, such as the Hitler Youth, SA, and SS, the Nazis were afraid that homosexuality would spread rapidly in the absence of a harsh crackdown. The murders of the Night of Long Knives were justified by claims of crushing alleged homosexual cliques in the SA. Afterwards Adolf Hitler stated that "every mother should be able to send her son to the SA, Party, or Hitler Youth without fear that he would be ethically or morally corrupted there".[13]

A 2018 study in the United States found that exposing participants to scientific information about the causes of homosexuality did not change support for LGBT rights.[14]

Age of consent laws[edit]

Belief that it is possible to become homosexual through sexual contact with a person of the same sex has been cited in order to justify setting the age of consent higher for homosexual acts than heterosexual ones. This was the case in Belgium,[15] the United Kingdom,[16] and Germany both in the Weimar era[17] and in West Germany.[18]

In the 2003 European Court of Human Rights case S. L. v. Austria, the court ruled that "modern science had shown that sexual orientation was already established at the beginning of puberty", therefore discrediting the recruitment argument. The court, therefore, found that the different age of consent for male homosexual relationships was discriminatory and violated the applicant's human rights.[19]


The belief that homosexuality can be acquired by reading about it in media has been cited in justification for censorship of LGBT-focused media in the Weimar Republic[20] in the United Kingdom with the Section 28 law intended to prevent young people from learning about homosexuality,[16] and in 21st century Hungary (the Hungarian anti-LGBT law) and Russia (the Russian gay propaganda law).[21]

Employment discrimination[edit]

Belief that homosexuality can be acquired has been cited to promote direct occupational bans for known homosexuals, e.g. in education, as well as rejection of anti-discrimination laws covering sexual orientation.[16] In 1977, anti-gay activist Anita Bryant claimed during the Save Our Children campaign, "Homosexuals cannot reproduce, so they must recruit."[22]

Public opinion[edit]

In the Weimar Republic, there was a widespread belief among Germans that homosexuality was not inborn but instead acquired.[23] In Russia, a survey found that 61 percent of people believe homosexuality is acquired, while 25 percent believe it is innate.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bailey, J. Michael; Vasey, Paul L.; Diamond, Lisa M.; Breedlove, S. Marc; Vilain, Eric; Epprecht, Marc (2016). "Sexual Orientation, Controversy, and Science". Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 17 (2): 45–101. doi:10.1177/1529100616637616. PMID 27113562. S2CID 42281410.
  2. ^ a b Moss 2021, p. 19.
  3. ^ Vendrell 2020, p. 14.
  4. ^ Moss 2021, pp. 21, 36.
  5. ^ Moss 2021, p. 18.
  6. ^ Sedgwick 1990, p. 47.
  7. ^ Whisnant 2016, pp. 20–21, 23.
  8. ^ Vendrell 2020, pp. 16–17.
  9. ^ Snyder 2007, p. 105.
  10. ^ Giles 2010, pp. 390–391.
  11. ^ Whisnant 2016, p. 227.
  12. ^ Zinn 2020, p. 12.
  13. ^ Schwartz, Michael (2021). "Homosexuelle im modernen Deutschland: Eine Langzeitperspektive auf historische Transformationen" [Homosexuals in Modern Germany: A Long-Term Perspective on Historical Transformations]. Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte. 69 (3): 391. doi:10.1515/vfzg-2021-0028. S2CID 235689714.
  14. ^ Suhay, Elizabeth; Garretson, Jeremiah (2018). "Science, Sexuality, and Civil Rights: Does Information on the Causes of Sexual Orientation Change Attitudes?". The Journal of Politics. 80 (2): 692–696. doi:10.1086/694896. S2CID 158235612.
  15. ^ Dupont, Wannes (2019). "Pas de deux, out of step: Diverging chronologies of homosexuality's (de)criminalisation in the Low Countries". Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies. 22 (4): 321–338. doi:10.5117/TVGN2019.4.001.DUPO. ISSN 1388-3186. S2CID 213698186.
  16. ^ a b c Ellis, Sonja J.; Kitzinger, Celia (2002). "Denying equality: an analysis of arguments against lowering the age of consent for sex between men" (PDF). Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology. 12 (3): 167–180. doi:10.1002/casp.670. S2CID 11741959.
  17. ^ Vendrell 2020, p. 19.
  18. ^ Tropiano, Stephen (2021). "Different from the Other(s): German Youth and the Threat of Homosexual Seduction". Youth Culture in Global Cinema. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-79574-7.
  19. ^ S. L. v. Austria
  20. ^ Vendrell 2020, p. 17.
  21. ^ Moss 2021, p. 20.
  22. ^ FRANK, GILLIAN (2013). ""The Civil Rights of Parents": Race and Conservative Politics in Anita Bryant's Campaign against Gay Rights in 1970s Florida". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 22 (1): 126–160. doi:10.7560/JHS22106. ISSN 1043-4070. JSTOR 23322037. S2CID 143334050.
  23. ^ Vendrell 2020, p. 4.

Works cited[edit]