The science of sexuality

Greta Christina has a reflection on the science of sexuality which provides good balance to extreme claims of biological and developmental causation – in a phrase – we don’t know.

She makes an interesting statement that activists on all sides should heed:

We should stop ignoring scientific findings that do not mesh with our political beliefs


20 thoughts on “The science of sexuality”

  1. jayhuck

    I responded to you a couple of days ago but I fear the spam killer grabbed my post.

    But the cliff notes as I remember them…

    You are correct genes appear to play a part, but at least for now it looks like a small part.

  2. A genetic/prenatal environmental combo almost certainly isn’t the whole picture for ANY orientation.

  3. Drowssap –

    You know we’ve already been through this, right?

    Actually, twin studies DO suggest that something genetic is going on.

    From NYT article on the Bailey study from the early 1990’s

    “We found 52 percent of identical twin brothers of gay men also were gay, compared with 22 percent of fraternal twins, compared with 11 percent of genetically unrelated brothers,” said J. Michael Bailey, an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, “which is exactly the kind of pattern you would want to see if something genetic were going on.” By “unrelated,” Dr. Bailey was referring to brothers by adoption.

    And from a Wiki article on the subject

    “Twin studies give indications that genes may predispose some men to seek partners of the same sex. Hamer commented “From twin studies, we already know that half or more of the variability in sexual orientation is not inherited. Our studies try to pinpoint the genetic factors, not to negate the psychosocial factors.”[88] One common type of twin study compares the monozygotic (or identical) twins of people possessing a particular trait to the dizygotic (non-identical, or fraternal) twins of people possessing the trait. Bailey and Pillard (1991) in a study of gay twins found that 52% of monozygotic brothers and 22% of the dizygotic twins were concordant for homosexuality.[89] Bailey, Dunne and Martin (2000) used the Australian twin registry to obtain a sample of 4,901 twins.[90]”

  4. I want to add just one more thing to my “we don’t really know” comment.

    True, we don’t know.


    Strong Clue #1: Identical twin studies show very low concordence for SSA.

    This is an indicator that SSA is triggered (or not triggered) sometime after birth. This doesn’t mean that the prenatal environment isn’t important but a genetic/prenatal environment combo almost certainly isn’t the whole picture. For every environmental difference that babies experience in the womb, there are at least 100,000 differences they experience after birth. If you played the Vegas odds you’d have to guess it’s something that occurs after birth although probably at a very young age. My guess… first few months of life up to the first couple of years.

  5. Ken,

    I absolutely agree with you, but the multiple factors you are talking about usually fall under one of the two general headings: Nature or Nurture πŸ™‚

  6. Jayhuck said in post 98912:

    there is strong evidence right now for a genetic/biologic cause.

    What there is right now is a lot of research into genetic/biological causes, so that is the evidence that gets the press. The environmental/psychological research has died out because it couldn’t find anything conclusive. I suspect the current research will have similar results.

    As Greta pointed out in her article, it is quite likely there are multiple factors that determine a person’s orientation. Also, people may have different orientations due to different factors.

    On another note (perhaps this should be another topic) Greta pointed out a lawsuit against UC in her article. You can read it here: UC-Calvery Lawsuit

    Personally, I hope UC files a suit against Calvary for filing a frivolous suit. Hopefully a large judgment against Calvary would put a stop to this kind of non-sense.

  7. Greta said:

    We should stop ignoring scientific findings that do not mesh with our political beliefs

    Nick R says:

    So, there’s no evidence for ex-gay beliefs about causation.

    Really, Nick? NONE?

  8. Nick,

    You are absolutely correct – there is strong evidence right now for a genetic/biologic cause. There is very little evidence supporting nurture in this case, which does make it odd when you hear some conservative Christians trying to push that as the main cause – probably because it fits their particular agenda.

    I do agree with Mary and others that it is probably a combination of both though – and that goes for all orientations – but isn’t that what so many of us have already been saying on this blog for years???? Its not really anything new. I think most people in the gay community would acknowledge that it is a combination of both as well

    One more time with this reprint πŸ™‚

    But it has absolutely no bearing on questions like job discrimination, or adoption of children by same-sex couples, or whether we should be able to marry. We don’t yet know the answer to this question … but for any practical, political, social, or moral purposes, it absolutely does not matter.

  9. Nick,

    There are many conservative christians who say that it is both genetic and environment. And I think that’s what Greta’s article was about – that both sides need to admit that it’s a little of both and let’s get down to honesty.

    I agree with Eddy that conservative wave away the weaknesses in their arguments and gays wave away the weaknesses in their arguments. And then both sides keeping stamping into the ground their entrenched “beliefs”

    There is alot both sides have to learn. No one is completely right and no one is completely wrong.

  10. Thanks Jayhuck, it is also so interesting how one can leave one personality and enter another one with such conviction. I think women with PMS can do the same thing πŸ˜‰ I recently saw the Herschel Walker segment ( he has a multiple personality condition) on a news program and they showed other people affected with this condition. One man was a husband and father and yet actually emerged as an infant for over a year. His family took care of him as an infant until another personality emerged – I believe the father/husband role again. He sought help and claims he is much better now.

  11. Ann,

    I have no idea if this is the case or not, but it could simply be a dysfunctional way of expressing a bisexual nature πŸ™‚

  12. Drowssap,

    I have heard of it before – I believe it was on tv in a documentary but I really cannot remember. It just struck me as so interesting how someone with a multiple personality condition can have so completely differing personalities emerge at different times. I have also heard that different personalities/identities emerge to protect the individual in various and differing circumstances but really have never done any in depth studying on it. I’m wondering if the gay identity that emerges can be linked to an environmental, psychological or biological issue or combination of all three? How is this individual capable of having various sexual identities and others do not feel it is a possibility? What is it about the mind that allows people with multiple personalities disorders to have this capability?

  13. Ann

    Ya know, interesting question. I look up science links every day and I haven’t come across that one… yet.

    I remember one story I read a few years ago that was just barely similar to that. (sorry, no link handy). A guy suffered some sort of serious head injury and awoke with amnesia. His girlfriend left him while he was in recovery. A year or two after that he determined that he was gay.

    Maybe he was just in the closet. Maybe the head injury altered the way his brain worked. The story didn’t say either way. I guess that’s not multiple personalities at the same time but it’s the possibility of two different personalities in one person over a lifetime.

  14. Drowssap,

    Do you have any information about how an individual with a multiple personality disorder is able to have one of those personalities emerge as gay?

  15. Best science line in her article

    “We should be thinking about this question on the basis of which answer is best supported by the evidence. If we don’t, then we are no better than the creationists, refusing to accept evolution because it screws up their view of the world.”

    Socialization vs. Genetics. These titanic forces have been slugging it out for years. In a surprise twist both will be defeated by a complete unknown, a tiny germ or virus. 😎

  16. FYI, I believe your link goes to page 2 instead of page 1.

    BTW, the article is right on the money. We just don’t know.

  17. So, there’s no evidence for ex-gay beliefs about causation. Yet, mounting evidence clearly does point to biological factors, even if we don’t know specifically how it works or if it works differently in different people.

    So, all those who advocate that it is learned, that it is not inborn, that it is not biological, etc should start being honest and stop telling people it is not an inborn biological trait, because they don’t know.

    Perhaps now conservative Christians will start being honest. But, I won’t hold my breath.

  18. I’m willing to accept Greta’s statement as it stands. Politics is the arena where religious beliefs, personal prejudices and (when we have them) psychological theories come and try to bring order, structure, provision or prohibition that make sense to us (based on our beliefs, prejudices, etc.) In short, it’s where we each bring our value system (religious or otherwise) to the table and try to enforce or accommodate it.

    I like the simplicity of her statement because she’s trying to speak to both (or all) sides. Both sides are tempted to ignore arguments, theories and findings that could potentially ‘damage their cause’; both sides are tempted to hide the weak areas in their own theories while ‘bringing to light’ the weaknesses from the other side. And while we all know that this statement does speak to many in the church, Greta was not addressing a church audience. I’m glad she recognizes how pervasive this tendency towards closed-mindedness is.

    I agree with Michael that the three basic possibilities: genetics, learned or combined….might not capture the whole picture. “Genetics” has a variety of ways where it could impact sexual identity. “Learned” has areas of possibility that we’re just beginning to explore. (I keep pondering the impact of mass media on identity, sexual identity, attitudes, etc. The Television came about in the late 1940’s, early 1950’s. No longer did we have that “Little House” version of living…where you learned all your values and attitudes at home and in school. Now, tv, videos, music and magazines are telling us what handsome is, what pretty is, what we want…want we need to fit in. Tells us what a man is…what a woman is…what a man wants, what a woman wants. And that’s just the commercials!)

    LOL! Warren, how about that quote getting a featured spot somewhere in your banner? Or down on one of the sidebars where we’d notice it while reading or commenting…. LOL! Add it to the ‘Submit Comment” button with an ‘agree/disagree’ toggle. πŸ˜‰ (I’m joking, believe me, I’m joking.)

  19. Saying we don’t know (for certain) the cause(s) doesn’t mean that enough studies haven’t been done to point us in a particular direction.

    I really appreciated Greta’s writings – and agree with her – but she isn’t saying anything many of us on this blog haven’t been saying for some time now.

    I did want to reprint a couple of her last paragraphs that I truly enjoyed:

    “”We don’t really know what causes sexual orientation. And we don’t think it matters. It’s probably a combination of genetics and environment, but until more research is done, we don’t really know for sure. And we don’t think it matters. It’s an interesting question, one many people are curious about — but it doesn’t really matter. Homosexuality doesn’t harm anybody, and it doesn’t harm society, and our relationships are as healthy and stable and valid as anybody else’s … and it isn’t anybody’s business but our own.

    “We deserve rights and recognition because we are human beings and citizens: as much as racial minorities, whose skin color is inborn, and as much as religious minorities, whose religion or lack thereof is learned. The ‘born versus learned’ question is a fascinating one, with many possible implications about human consciousness generally. But it has absolutely no bearing on questions like job discrimination, or adoption of children by same-sex couples, or whether we should be able to marry. We don’t yet know the answer to this question … but for any practical, political, social, or moral purposes, it absolutely does not matter.””

  20. Greta Christina is right. We don’t know — and “we should stop ignoring scientific findings that do not mesh with our political beliefs.” I would add that we should stop ignoring scientific findings that don’t mesh with our religious beliefs, personal prejudices or favorite pyschological theories.” Of course, that would pretty much be the end of NARTH as we know it, wouldn’t it?

    The writer asks “‘Is sexual orientation genetically determined, learned, or a combination of both — and if a combination, how much of each, and how do they work together?’ I think this is a fair question, but it only offers three possibilities: genetic, learned or combination. I really believe there may be other factors at work that are neither genetic or learned, For example, I really believe there is a spiritual (soul or temperament) aspect to sexuality that transcends either geneticis or learning.

    But in any event, I agree with the writer of the piece that “We don’t yet know the answer to this question … but for any practical, political, social, or moral purposes, it absolutely does not matter>”

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