Exotic becomes erotic: Explaining the enigma of sexual orientation

Abstract

In this address, I outline my “Exotic-Becomes-Erotic" theory of sexual orientation (Bem, 1996) , which provides the same basic account for both opposite-sex and same-sex erotic desire—and for both men and women. It proposes that biological variables do not code for sexual orientation per se but for childhood temperaments that influence a child’s preferences for sextypical or sex-atypical activities. These preferences lead children to feel different from opposite-sex or same-sex peers—to perceive them as “exotic.” This, in turn, produces heightened physiological arousal that subsequently gets eroticized to that same class of peers: Exotic becomes erotic. The theory claims to accommodate both the empirical evidence of the biological essentialists and the cultural relativism of the social constructionists. I also discuss sex differences in sexual orientation and the political implications of trying to explain homosexuality.

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