Dr. Joseph Nicolosi often tells his audiences that, in essence, homosexuality in males derives from lack of bonding with the father. In this YouTube video, he describes several factors which he believes could be important in the development of male homosexuality, including a masculine, sports-minded older brother, peer rejection and sexual abuse. However, referring to these hypothetical factors, Nicolosi says
…but none of these are as important as the early relationship with the father, because if he has a solid relationship with the father, then he’s not going to be too damaged by his older brother, he’s not going to be too damaged by his peers, he’s not even going to be damaged by same-sex abuse from an older man, if he has a solid relationship with his father.
I advise fathers, ‘if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.’
Thus, fathering is the lynchpin of the reparative theory of male homosexuality. Most older studies of parenting examining sexual orientation find modest differences between gay and straight groups. However, there is often much overlap between the two groups, meaning that many gay males recall warm, accepting relationships with their fathers and many straights recall distant, unaccepting fathers.
Given that detachment from the father is theorized to occur before age 5, the potent experience is difficult to test directly. Researchers try to get at this indirectly via surveys of how gay males recall the relationship with the father. A finding that gay males and straight males recalled their fathers similarly would be evidence against the theory.
Thus, I was surprised recently to find a review of a Finnish study of sexual orientation, parental relationships and gender atypical behavior reviewed on the NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) website. Reviewed by Robert Vazzo, the study also provides evidence which addresses NARTH’s view of homosexuality and pathology. I summarized this report last year when it came out, but I want to provide another look in light of Vazzo’s review. First, the abstract (after the break):
Due to time constraints, this post is less review than description of results. However, I wanted to post something on this study in advance of some commentary coming from Michael Bailey on the topic.
Here is the reference and abstract:
Abstract: The existence of genetic effects on gender atypical behavior in childhood and sexual orientation in adulthood and the overlap between these effects were studied in a population-based sample of 3,261 Finnish twins aged 33–43 years. The participants completed items on recalled childhood behavior and on same-sex sexual interest and behavior, which were combined into a childhood gender atypical behavior and a sexual orientation variable, respectively. The phenotypic association between the two variables was stronger for men than for women. Quantitative genetic analyses showed that variation in both childhood gender atypical behavior and adult sexual orientation was partly due to genetics, with the rest being explained by nonshared environmental effects. Bivariate analyses suggested that substantial common genetic and modest common nonshared environmental correlations underlie the co-occurrence of the two variables. The results were discussed in light of previous research and possible implications for theories of gender role
development and sexual orientation.
Common Genetic Effects of Gender Atypical Behavior in Childhood
and Sexual Orientation in Adulthood: A Study of Finnish Twins
K. Alanko, P. Santtila, N. Harlaar, K. Witting, M. Varjonen, P. Jern, A. Johansson, B. von der Pahlen, & N. K. Sandnabba. Arch Sex Behavior.
The sample was obtained via a registry maintained by the Central Population Registry of Finland which includes all twin pairs born in 1971 or earlier. The researchers requested information from the twins and received responses from 36% of those surveyed (3,604). For various reasons, the authors assume representativeness of their sample, although I think they might be open to some challenge on this point given the response rate.
The authors used Zucker’s Recalled Childhood Gender Identity/Gender Role Questionaire and Sell’s Assessment of Sexual Orientation. The SASO assesses both behavior and attractions via four items:
Item 1: During the past year, on average, how often were you sexually attracted to a man (woman for female participants)? The response alternatives were: never, less than 1 time per month, 1–3 times per month, 1 time per week, 2–3 times per week, 4–6 times per week, daily. Item 2: During the past year, on average, how often did you have sexual contact with a man (woman for female participants)? The response alternatives were the same as for Item 1 above. Item 3: How many different men (women for female participants) have you had sexual contact with during the past year? Item 4: During the past year, on average, how many different men (women for female participants) have you felt sexually attracted to? The response alternatives to Items 3 and 4 were: none, 1, 2, 3–5, 6–10, 11–49, 50–99, 100C. The participants were given numerical scores so that a response of ‘‘none’’/‘‘never’’ gave a score of 0 and a response of ‘‘100 or more’’/‘‘daily’’ gave a score of 7.
Here are the correlations of twins sharing traits of sexual orientation and gender atypical behavior.
Correlations were higher for identical twins than fraternal twins for both traits, especially for women. About the genetic contribution to GAB and sexual orientation, the authors said:
Significant genetic effects were found for women and men for both GAB and sexual orientation, as was our second hypothesis. The heritability estimates for childhood GAB were 51% and 29%, and for sexual orientation 45% and 50%, for women and men, respectively.
These numbers are higher than past studies and may be related to the nature of the sampling although this is not clear.
The authors also found a relationship between GAB and sexual orientation.
Our first aim was to study the phenotypic correlations between childhood GAB and adult sexual orientation. Significant correlations of moderate sizes were found, indicating that the two phenomena were related. The strength of the phenotypic association was higher for male participants, implying that childhood GAB was a stronger predictor of adult sexual orientation for men.
The authors note that these data in conjunction with past studies lead them to propose the possibility of several pathways to homosexual attractions.
There might, in other words, be different genotypes for different kinds of homosexuality. It might also be possible that the relative importance of shared environment and genetic influences vary during development. It is plausible that parents influence their children directly only as long as they live at home (Knafo et al., 2005; Plomin et al., 2001). Bailey et al. (2000) found that GAB predicted about 30% of the variance in men’s sexual orientation. As neither the phenotypic nor the genetic correlations were unity in the present sample, GAB preceded a homosexual orientation for some participants, whereas gender typicality preceded a homosexual orientation for other participants.
What did not show up was any significant role of shared environment for men. A small amount of the effect could be attributed to shared environment for women. Another data point suggesting that the pathways to adult sexual orientation are different for men and women.
Over the next several days, I am going to comment on lots of new research out of Finland. Here is a preliminary post with a result sure to be surprising to some.
First the reference and abstract:
Alanko K, Santtila P, Witting K, Varjonen M, Jern P, Johansson A, von der Pahlen B, Kenneth Sandnabba N., Psychiatric Symptoms and Same-Sex Sexual Attraction and Behavior in Light of Childhood Gender Atypical Behavior and Parental Relationships,
J Sex Res. 2009 Apr 2:1-11. [Epub ahead of print]
This study explores the relation between the level of current symptoms of depression and anxiety and recalled childhood gender atypical behavior (GAB), and quality of relationships with parents among men and women who reported same-sex sexual attraction or engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and men and women who did not. Matched pairs, 79 men (n = 158) and 148 women (n = 296), with equal levels of GAB were created of Finnish participants with either same-sex sexual attraction or behavior and participants without. The measures used were retrospective questionnaires. Ratings of maternal and paternal over-control and coldness differed as a function of same-sex sexual attraction or behavior. Childhood GAB was correlated with negative ratings of parental relationships. Both same-sex sexual attraction or behavior and a history of childhood GAB affected the reported levels of current depression and anxiety. Only gender typical participants with no same-sex sexual attraction or behavior reported significantly lower levels of symptoms. The findings suggest that childhood GAB is related to later distress both among hetero- and homosexual individuals. The elevated level of psychological distress among homosexual individuals, reported in several studies, might-to some extent-be caused by their generally higher levels of childhood GAB as opposed to a homosexual orientation per se.
The study investigated 3 hypotheses. They were:
1. Childhood GAB is related to a negative parent-child relationship.
2. Homosexual orientation is related to a negative parent-child relationship.
3. Childhood GAB, more than current sexual orientation, predicts the level of current psychiatric symptoms.
This study emerges from an ongoing research program at the Center of Excellence for Behavior Genetics, Department of Psychology, Abo Akademi University in Turku, Finland. I will have more to say about the entire study in later posts, I want to lead off with one of the more provocative findings of this paper.
Regarding their fathers, the authors found that gay males reported warmer relationships than straight males. The researchers stated,
A distant (cold) relationship with the father of gay men was expected on the basis of previous studies; however, in this study, gay men reported warmer paternal, as well as maternal, relationships than heterosexual men did.
There is more to report here but that one will get us started. I am tracking down the instrument used to assess relationship warmth which will demonstrate more clearly what the modest differences signify.
Overall, the study finds that GAB also relates to negative parenting and current distress whether the participants were gay or straight. The GAB factor may help unravel some of the findings of poorer mental health outcomes previously reported for gays and lesbians.