Situational Homosexuality is a term used to describe individual homosexual behaviors performed outside of a typical homosexual lifestyle. This article discusses situational homosexuality, its origins, and its presence in modern society.
Definition and Origin
Situational homosexuality, sometimes referred to as pseudo-homosexuality, is sexual behavior that is different from that which the person normally exhibits. This is often due to a change in social environment that in some way permits, encourages, or compels this atypical behavior. Situational homosexuality may also occur when expression of a person’s typical behavior may not be possible. Situational homosexuality is not a widely used term in contemporary sociological discussions of sexuality.
For many, the term is outdated, as it originated in the 1940s. The term was originally used during the late 1940s and early 1950s to distinguish between homosexual behavior performed by heterosexuals in social settings and institutions that were predominately same-sex (such as prisons, barracks, naval vessels and boarding school) and those who were actually considered to be homosexual.1 “Situational homosexuality” in the 1940s and 1950s was assumed to be temporary and primarily due to physical isolation. Situational homosexuality is prevalent among both males and females, but unlike other forms of sexual preference, situational homosexuality does not represent a fluidity in a person’s sexuality.
One reason this term is not usually heard today, as it is more commonly believed that sexuality is measured on a continuum and that the term “situational homosexuality” classifies sexuality too rigidly. Because sexual orientation is now understood to be fluid and non-binary (non-binary means not restricted to two fixed and rigid categories such as homosexual or heterosexual), the use of outdated term to shield heterosexuals from the label of homosexuality may have been useful in a previously homophobic society but currently only acts to reinforce the heteronormative attitudes of the past.
Examples of Situational Homosexuality
Situational homosexuality is referenced and represented very strongly in settings of physical isolation such as prison, the military, and boarding school, as well as in circumstances of monetary compensation such as in the case of pornography or prostitution. This section details two common settings in which situational homosexuality is believed to be prevalent.
Situational Homosexuality is most commonly understood to be a result of individuals engaging in homosexual behavior to experience sexual fulfillment in an environment in which they are deprived of heterosexual partners.1 The prison system is commonly believed to be an environment where situational homosexuality is practiced as a means of sexual fulfillment or an assertion of power or status over another individual. These sexual interactions often take the form of rape.2 However, one framework now being used to understand the frequency of homosexual behavior in the prison system is the social constructionist approach.
Some researchers have concluded that in a setting in which homosexual behavior is more socially acceptable, individuals who identify as heterosexual are more willing to engage in homosexual behavior, this is the social constructionist approach to understanding situational homosexuality. In the context of socially constructed situational homosexuality many inmates believe that their decision to engage in homosexual behavior does not reflect their orientation because they can convince themselves and others that they are still heterosexual and engage in such behavior only because they are deprived of any opposite-sex partners.1
A 2013 study found that male inmates who once identified as heterosexual were 52 times more likely to change their sexual orientation after engaging in homosexual behavior.1 Conversely, even the most extreme forms of deprivation do not motivate other heterosexual men to engage in homosexual activity. Similarly, many homosexual men who are repressing their sexuality will still refuse to engage in heterosexual behavior for their entire lives. This gives credibility to the understanding of sexual orientation as on a continuum rather than as being binary.3 This study concluded that those who ultimately refuse same-sex partners, even in situations of extreme isolation, are likely situated on one of the far ends of the continuum compared to those self-identified heterosexual inmates who choose to engage in homosexual behavior.1 Therefore, the social constructionist approach explains why the social construction of situational homosexuality allows inmates to feel more comfortable exploring same-sex behaviors and contributes to the expression and/or adoption of a homosexual identity.
In Gay Pornography
Situational homosexuality is represented across multiple media platforms and is most commonly featured in film, television, and, notably, in the pornography industry. Though most studies on situational homosexuality in the pornography industry examine gay pornography, all sexual performances in the porn industry are example of situational sexuality. The actors are often required to engage in sexual acts for monetary compensation that they would not otherwise choose to perform and with partners for whom they feel no desire.
In the early days of gay pornography, directors found recruiting actors difficult because homosexual behavior was highly stigmatized. Actors were often the filmmaker’s friends, sexual partners, and boyfriends. Regardless of sexual preferences, when any man seeks employment in gay pornographic video production he must justify his decisions from a number of perspectives. Participation in gay pornographic video production can be a socially stigmatizing activity (especially for those who do not identify as gay), not only because it is a form of sex work and because many people believe that public sexual performance negatively affects those who participate in it, but also because in many places homosexuality is still a stigmatized form of sexuality. For a straight actor in gay pornography, it is the performance of homosexual acts that defines his ability to successfully manage the situationally-specific sexual demands. Many heterosexual actors claim that their first sexual encounter with another man was on the set of a gay porn video. Since performing in pornography is work for the actors, their sexual conduct is a specific response to their customers’ preferences and does not always represent their preferred sexual orientation. In other words, the sex that is performed is that for which the customer is willing to pay.
While some individuals may engage in homosexual behavior with an undesired partner or in an act which does not represent their preferences, situational homosexuality is a somewhat rigid label to define this type of sexual behavior and does not comply with current ideas about sexuality as a spectrum.
For many reasons, the scientific community has largely abandoned use of the term “situational homosexuality.” It is, for the most part, dated and inaccurate, and simply a reflection of ideological beliefs of the past. Choosing to consent to homosexual behavior does not require a term which is meant to maintain an individual’s claim to a heterosexual orientation as we now know that sexuality is neither fixed nor binary. Instead, situational homosexuality has typically remained as a defense for those who choose to engage in homosexual acts yet wish to protect themselves from a potentially socially harmful label. Whether it is done for money, curiosity, or lack of available partners of the opposite sex, one’s choice to engage in homosexual behavior is not a reflection of that individual’s past or future orientation. As long as one understands that sexuality is neither fixed nor binary, and is instead fluid and non-binary, then it becomes clear why a term such as “situational homosexuality” is unnecessary and inaccurate.
1. Barry, Adam. “Situational Homosexuality.” Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
2. Escoffier, Jeffrey. "Gay-For-Pay: Straight Men And The Making Of Gay Pornography." Qualitative Sociology 26.4 (2003): 531-555. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.
3. “Sexuality Definitions.” APA Guidelines and Documents. Web. 20 Oct. 2016
Last Updated: 10 November 2016.