Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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College Classroom Activities

The Complexity of Sexual Orientation


To show that sexual orientation is far more complex and varied than the four categories "heterosexual," "lesbian," "gay," and "bisexual."


  1. Distribute copies of the Sexual Orientation Identification sheet and ask students to complete the 10 items silently.

  2. Once students have had a chance to answer all questions, ask them to call out the answer to item #1. Most students will have answered "lesbian."

  3. Next, ask students to call out their answer to item #2. Most will have answered "bisexual."

  4. Then ask students for their answer to item #3, at which point disagreements will probably begin to surface.

  5. Discuss the remaining items, most of which will provoke differences of opinion as to whether sexual orientation should be defined by behavior, desire, self-identification, or some combination of the three.

Discussion Questions

Here are some questions sure to provoke a lively discussion:

  • If students argue that sexual orientation is defined exclusively by behavior, ask whether virgins have a sexual orientation.

  • If students argue that sexual orientation is defined exclusively by self-identification, ask whether a rapist who sees himself as a nice guy should be categorized that way by others.

  • If students argue that sexual experimentation should not be considered, ask how much experimentation is permitted before it "counts" (e.g., 6.5 sex acts?).

You might also point out that these questions are difficult to answer not only for the class, but for the people described on the sheet and for researchers who study sexual orientation.


Adapted from Madson, L. (2001). A classroom activity exploring the complexity of sexual orientation. Teaching of Psychology, 28, 32-35.