Research note: Gay and straight men assess parental qualities

I am re-examining (in some cases examining for the first time) older studies of parenting and adult sexual orientation. This post will look at a paper from 1983 – Sipova, I., & Brzek, A. (1983). Parental and Interpersonal Relationships of Transexual and Masculine and Feminine Homosexual Men. Journal of Homosexuality, 9, 75-85.
This Czechoslovakian study claims to find differences between assessments of parents by gay, straight and MtF transsexuals. However, the actual data do not support the discussion from the authors who clearly wanted to find the traditional triad. A look at the data reveals few statistical differences. The authors reported absolute values in the direction they expected but analysis finds only a few differences and those were not supportive of their discussion.
This study is interesting in that the authors divided the homosexual group (from a clinical population) into effeminate and non-effeminate males. Self-assessments of dominance differed with gay males viewing themselves as less dominant than straight males. However, assessments of paternal dominance were not different by sexual orientation of respondent. In other words, these men did not differ in how assertive and strong they perceived their fathers to be. Relevant to the reparative drive model, the non-effeminate group of gay males did not differ from the straight group on how loving they perceived their fathers as being. However, the effeminate gay male group did differ from the straight males and non-effeminate gay males on perception of paternal love. This finding supports the idea that gender nonconformity may evoke paternal rejection rather than paternal rejection being causally related in a comprehensive way to homosexual attraction.
Now here is an interesting finding: Non-effeminate gay males differed from both the effeminate gay males and the straight males on assessments of maternal love. Straight and effeminate gay males were no different on this dimension — both saw their mothers as quite loving while the non-effeminate gay males saw them as loving but significantly less so than the other two groups. All groups saw mothers as equally dominant and all saw their mothers as less dominant than the fathers. While some differences associated with the groups, the study does not support the “classic triadic model” of a distant/hostile father and overbearing/protective mother associated with male homosexuality. It is striking how similar the assessments were.

Early childhood stress is associated with elevated herpes antibodies

Reading in the area of early childhood stress brought me to this article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science:

It is well known that children need solicitous parenting and a nurturing rearing environment to ensure their normal behavioral development. Early adversity often negatively impacts emotional and mental well-being, but it is less clearly established how much the maturation and regulation of physiological systems is also compromised. The following research investigated the effect of 2 different types of adverse childhood experiences, early deprivation through institutionalization and physical abuse, on a previously unexplored outcome: the containment of herpes simplex virus (HSV). The presence of HSV-specific antibody in salivary specimens was determined in 155 adolescents, including 41 postinstitutionalized, 34 physically-abused, and 80 demographically-similar control youth. Across 4 school and home days, HSV antibody was higher in both postinstitutionalized and physically-abused adolescents when compared with control participants. Because the prevalence of HSV infection was similar across the groups, the elevated antibody was likely indicative of viral recrudescence from latency. Total secretory Ig-A secretion was associated with HSV, but did not account for the group differences in HSV-specific antibody. These findings are likely caused by a failure of cellular immune processes to limit viral reactivation, indicating a persistent effect of early rearing on immune functioning. The fact that antibody profiles were still altered years after adoption into a more benevolent setting with supportive families suggests these results were not caused by contemporaneous factors, but rather reflect a lingering influence of earlier life experiences.

Here we have an indication that early stressors leave a mark so to speak on immune functioning. Those promoting the pathogen theory of sexual orientation might wonder if this finding provides any support. Not sure, but I doubt it, in light of the recent finding that physical abuse and neglect do not relate to adult sexual orientation. For men, but not women, sexual abuse did associate with adult sexual orientation. Abuse compromises the immune system with durable consequences. Physically abused and neglected children have compromised immune systems but are not more likely to report homosexual behavior. Seems like this would be a group more likely to demonstrate homosexuality since anything attacked by the immune system would have an easier time of it.

Prairie Voles, early stress and sexual behavior

Not going to start where the title suggests. First, I want to highlight another quote from the Carol Tavris article Mind Games. David Blakeslee noted this in a comment recently and it is an appropriate beginning for this post:

The scientific method is designed to help investigators overcome the most entrenched human cognitive habit: the confirmation bias, the tendency to notice and remember evidence that confirms our beliefs or decisions, and to ignore, dismiss, or forget evidence that is discrepant. That’s why we are all inclined to stick to a hypothesis we believe in. Science is one way of forcing us, kicking and screaming if necessary, to modify our views.

Live by the sword…
It is no secret that I believe research does not support a reparative drive formulation as a general theory for same-sex attraction. On the other hand, I need to practice what I preach about confirmation bias so I am looking for any evidence that could support the notion. As a consequence, I am reviewing the literature in the area of hormones, early brain organization, attachment and sexual behavior. A 2003 article by C. Sue Carter, using prairie voles as a model, reported the following:

Another example of the consequences of perinatal exposure to stress hormones comes from work with prairie voles; in this species, corticosterone treatment during the perinatal period altered both social and reproductive behaviors. In female prairie voles, postnatal treatment with corticosterone was associated with an increased preference for unfamiliar partners versus siblings, lower levels of alloparenting and increased masculinization of sexual behavior (indexed by mounting behavior in females). A more stressful early life, including possibly the absence of the father, also inhibited alloparenting in female prairie voles from a population captured in Illinois [92–94]. In nature, a lack of preference familiar animals or unwillingess to engage in alloparenting behavior might be associated with less tendency to remain with the natal family, further undermining communal breeding and monogamous social systems [20].

Note that stress hormones introduced around the time of birth effected adult parenting and sexual behavior, including same-sex behavior in females. This is the kind of evidence one would need to make a link between high levels of stress and later sexual behavior. There is nothing here that provides direct support for the developmental scheme of reparative drive theory. However, the notion that attachment stress might act to organize the developing brain structures involved in sexual behavior is plausible. Several lines of research suggest that hormones at critical periods may impact sexual behavior. However, what human experiences would lead to comparable hormone changes is not at all clear. We know that many people experience neglect, abuse, disappointment, etc., during early development and demonstrate no same-sex sexual interest. Individual genetics may play a role as may cognitive mediation and the individual experiences which shape self awareness.
One thing is clear. Whatever shapes sexual attraction leads to clear brain responses out of the awareness of the person. What is in awareness is most often experienced as intrinsic. As opposed to prairie voles, however, what we do is mediated by cognitive and social concerns that often are of greater importance than impulse.

Carol Tavris – Mind Games and a vulnerable public

From the article Mind Games by social psychologist, Carol Tavris:
“A public unable to critically assess psychotherapists’ claims and methods for scientific credibility will be vulnerable to whatever hysterical epidemic comes along next.”(Tavris, 2003, 7).
Just felt like that was important…