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What exactly is a sexual preference?

As with almost every post I write, this topic comes out of a direct conversation I had with an old friend and colleague. She has been a proud supporter of the LGBT community for many years and has been very active and successful in doing so.

We were talking about equality and she made a comment along the lines of “Whether you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender – whatever your preference is – it doesn’t matter to me because I care about the person.” As she said that I had a moment of “Humph, whatever your preference is? Well what exactly is a preference?”

So she, as with most, didn’t mean anything negative or derogatory about the word preference but it did get me thinking about what a preference is and what the implication is that goes with it. As I began to research the definition of a preference it appears that the term is rooted in science and social sciences. So in psychology a preference could be conceived as an individuals attitudes towards a set of objects. Or alternatively one could interpret the term preference to mean evaluative judgement in the sense of liking or disliking an object (I am paraphrasing from Wikipedia’s definition.) However, the last one listed under “Other” is that a preference may also refer to non-choices such as genetic and biological explanations for one’s preference. This notes sexual orientation as an example saying it is no longer considered a sexual preference by most individuals but it is debatable based on philosophical and/or scientific ideas.

So we have two conflicting meanings essentially – one saying that this could mean a preference for liking or disliking and object. And two saying that it refers to non-choices such as a biological explanation for ones sexual orientation. Fascinating, right?

I would venture a guess that the lay person interprets preference as something to do with choices. I.e. my preference is to listen to books versus read books. Or my preference is to be outside rather than inside. Those are things that I prefer. I would not say though that my sexual orientation is something of a preference. I was inherently born attracted to women, it’s not something I just decided one day. Therefore in my version of this definition my sexual orientation is intrinsically who I am and not a preference. Preference to me, is indicating that there is a choice in the matter. When it comes to LGBT folks – it’s not a choice – you are who you are – and in the words of Lady Gaga, “I was born this way.”

How do you feel about someone referring to your sexual orientation as a preference? Is it something you’ve ever thought about? Or is it something that’s never been an issue? I can’t say I’ve ever given it too much thought until today. We know there are other phrases out there like “The Gay Lifestyle” which insinuates choice, so that one is always a red flag for me, but not so much the word preference. What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below, on social media, or send me an e-mail.


About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published 100+ books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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