Orientation, not preference
A Sun reporter who used the phrase sexual preference in an article got a swift rebuke from a reader who admonished that sexual orientation should have been used instead.
The reference slid past the copy desk and into print, perhaps in part because our in-house stylebook did not address the issue. (It does now.)
In the entry gay, the Associated Press Stylebook says, in part, “Include sexual orientation only when it is pertinent to a story, and avoid references to “sexual preference” or to a gay or alternative “lifestyle.”
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage entry on sexual orientation gives an explanation” “never sexual preference, which carries the disputed implication that sexuality is a matter of choice.”
Curious things happen when terms become politicized. Sexual preference might have been innocuous in an earlier age in the context of a man’s finding red-headed women attractive, or a woman’s liking tall men. But the intense emotional charge on the matter of homosexuality — witness the odd uproar over J.K. Rowling’s mentioning that she thinks of a character in her Harry Potter novels as gay — means that responsible journalists will choose neutral terms over inflammatory ones.
No one will dispute that sexual behavior is a matter of individual choice, but political/scientific/religious disputes over whether homosexuality is inborn or learned make it important for the paper not to appear to take sides.