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CROSS-CULTURAL COMPARISONS: HOMOSEXUALITY

Some type of homosexual activity has been reported in many cultures throughout the world. Ford and Beach (1951) indicated that homosexual activity was rare, or at least engaged in secretly, in 28 of the 76 societies studied. In general, homosexuality is most likely to occur among adult and adolescent males; female homosexual activities occur less frequently, although Jensen (1976) reports that female homosexuality is more accepted than male homosexuality in all societies throughout the world.

The actual incidence of homosexual activities varies greatly among cultures. In some societies almost all the males have had at least one homosexual experience, and in some societies virtually none of the males have had homosexual experience (Gebhard, 1971). While many societies have (or do not have) laws or customs against homosexuality, these social pressures (or the lack of them) by themselves do not seem to account for the relative presence or absence of these behaviors in any given culture. Homosexuality occurs even in those societies with strict prohibitions against such behavior, although it may be engaged in secretly and participants may be punished if discovered. Conversely, in the Mangaian society discussed above, even though there is little or no social pressure against homosexuality, almost no homosexual behavior is reported in this society. Perhaps the general availability of heterosexual partners, as a result of the high degree of permissiveness toward heterosexuality, explains this low incidence of homosexuality among the people of Mangaia; and the same may be said of other, similarly permissive societies. This explanation, however, is a purely speculative one at present.

Frequency of homosexual activities also varies among societies (Gebhard, 1971). One generalization can be made: exclusive or near-exclusive homosexuality on the part of any one individual is found most often in more complex, highly organized cultures like our own. Such behavior patterns appear to be very rare in simple, preliterate societies. Finally, it should be noted that homosexuality has never been found to be the predominant form, culturewide, of sexual behavior in any of the cultures investigated.

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