Any behavior that differs from the norms and standards set out by society is considered deviant. From this perspective, homosexuality, or attraction towards the same sex, opposes the traditional views of relationships between men and women. Several social theories can help gain a better understanding of the history of homosexuality, including Structural Functionalism, Conflict Theory, and Social Interactionism. Although currently homosexuality is accepted as a norm, the views on this topic have changed throughout history. This paper will discuss the history of homosexuality from the perspective of three theoretical lenses.
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The first theory that can be used to review homosexuality is Structural Functionalism, where the focus is on the benefits that an individual’s behavior has for their community. Under the theory of Structural Functionalism, society is seen as a system where all elements interact to create a stable environment (Kaplan Test Prep, 2019). From the perspective of this theory, homosexuality affects society due to its impact on the traditional perceptions of the family, people’s ability to procreate and survive as a species, and the changing behavior norms.
The history of homosexuality contains many examples of scientists and researchers trying to explain this phenomenon and even trying to change people’s sexuality. During the 1960s, Pavlov tried to invent an aversion therapy that would cure homosexuality (Davison, 2021). Another historical example is the Bible’s perception of sex and sexuality, which are viewed as means of procreation (“Is sex intended only for procreation,” n.d.).
From the perspective of functionalism, any deviant behavior interferes with the stability of society. Since the role of society is perceived as more important than that of the individuals living in it, the former is a priority. Moreover, in functionalism, each person has their own established role within the society, and these roles are usually consistent and do not change significantly over the years. Hence, homosexuality from this perspective is viewed as something negative and that interferes with the normal functioning of society.
Under the functionalism perspective, the role of the family as a social unit is very important. Moreover, structural functionalists “maintain a strict focus on it at all times and argue in favor of social arrangements that promote and ensure family preservation” (“Module 7: Gender, sex, and sexuality,” n.d., para. 2). Hence, functionalists promote sexual activity and behavior within a family and discourage sexual interactions outside a family unit, which is why the Bible has verses that support the traditional family format and why scientists have looked for ways to treat this deviant behavior. Hence, since the times of the Bible’s creation and until fairly recently, homosexuality has been perceived negatively, which can be explained through structural functionalism.
On the other hand, the recent changes within the society, such as policies that allow homosexual couples to marry, are not addressed in this theory. Moreover, the new legal framework also allows these individuals to adopt and raise children, which addresses the procreation concern of functionalists. Hence, historically the theory of Structural functionalism did not accept homosexual relationships as appropriate for society, but the recent changes in the legal field may address some of these concerns.
The Conflict Theory, unlike functionalism, implies that the members of the society are in a consistent battle over the possession of scarce resources (Kaplan Test Prep, 2019). Since currently, there are more heterosexual couples than homosexual ones, the former is the dominant group that sets standards of behaviors for others (Module 7: Gender, sex, and sexuality,” n.d.). This distribution has been consistent throughout history since there were more heterosexual couples than homosexual ones, which explains why the legal framework has been designed to accommodate traditional marriages until recently.
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Social Interactionism theory focuses on the communication between people and implies that individuals create certain words or dialects to explain and normalize their behavior, and this in its turn shapes the way they act in society (Bader & Baker, 2019). Historically, there have been negative connotations for the words “gay” since it was used as an offense. Considering this, the recent establishment of the words such as “queer” and broadening the number of gender pronouns to enhance the conversation about homosexuality applies to the Social Interactionist theory.
Overall, in this paper, the three major social sciences theories were applied to examine homosexuality and its history. From the perspective of functionalism, homosexuality is in opposition to traditional family values and procreation, which benefit society. The Bible contains verses that condemn sexual relationships that do not allow procreating. During the 1960s, Pavlov tried to create aversion therapy for homosexuals, which is consistent with the functionalism theory. Conflict theory implies the existence of competition for resources between the heterosexual majority and homosexual minority, which explains why homosexuality was viewed as deviant for a long time. Finally, Social Interactionism allows one to review the lexicon such as feminine and masculine, the meaning of these words, and how they might shape people’s behavior and sexual orientation. The recent integration of new words such as “queer” and expansion of gender pronouns shows the evolution of homosexuality from Social Interactionism’s perspective.
Bader, C. D. & Baker, J. O. (2019). Deviance management: Insiders, outsiders, hiders, and drifters. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
Davison, K. (2021). Cold War Pavlov: Homosexual aversion therapy in the 1960s. History of the Human Sciences, 34(1), 89–119. Web.
Kaplan Test Prep. (2019). MCAT behavioral sciences review 2020-2021: Online + book. A. C. Macnow (Ed.). New York, NY: Kaplan.
Module 7: Gender, sex, and sexuality. (n.d.). Web.