What causes homosexuality? There has been much debate about what causes homosexuality. Is there a gay gene? Is homosexuality caused by environmental factors, such as upbringing, child molestation, an absent mother or affectionate father? Or is it something we’re born with, an inherited trait, like skin or hair color?
Although there have been few studies on the cause of homosexuality, the debate seems to be divided, with scientists in one corner and religious fundamentalists in another.
What is Sexual Orientation?The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as such: Sexual orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectional attraction that a person feels toward another person. Sexual orientation falls along a continuum. In other words, someone does not have to be exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, but can feel varying degrees of attraction for both genders. Sexual orientation develops across a person's lifetime—different people realize at different points in their lives that they are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
They go on to say that sexual behavior is not the same as sexual orientation. Certainly gay individuals can engage in heterosexual sex, in fact many do before they come out. One needs to look no further than the prison population to see evidence of homosexual behavior in otherwise heterosexual individuals. (And I’m not including incidents of prison rape in this analysis.)
Also, the work of Alfred Kinsey in the 1950s determined that most individuals are not exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, but most fall somewhere in the between the two.
Why does it matter?Does it matter if homosexuality is a choice or if it’s something one is born with? Shouldn’t gay people be afforded the same rights as heterosexuals whether being gay is a choice or not? Not all people think that way.
If homosexuality is caused by genetic or inborn traits, then gay and lesbian people would be unable to change their sexual orientation, even if they wanted to. But if homosexuality is caused by some environmental factor, then gays and lesbians could change and become straight with therapy. Or so some religious fundamentalists and other anti-gay crusaders would have you believe.
Is being gay a choice?If you ask most gay people they will tell you that being gay is not something they chose. Why would anyone choose to be something that could cause them to be scorned by society, rejected by their families, deny them rights and subject them to possible violent hate crimes? That is not to say that all of being gay or lesbian is negative. In fact, most lesbians, once they come out, say they’ve never been happier or more fulfilled.
Some lesbians will contend that being gay is a choice, especially those who were once married or came out later in life. Others are angered to hear someone say that. Sheryl Swoopes received some scorn from the gay and lesbian community when she said she thought being gay was her choice., “I think there are a lot of people -- gays and lesbians -- who believe you are born that way. I think there also a lot of people who believe it's a choice. And, for me, I believe it was a choice. I was at a point in my life where I had gone through a divorce and was not in a relationship, and the choice I made happened to be that I fell in love with another woman” she said in an interview on Gay.com
Many gays and lesbians would argue that being gay is not a choice, but whether to act on it is. We don’t choose our sexual orientation, but we do choose whether or not to come out of the closet.
Most scientific organizations also believe that homosexuality is not a choice, that biology plays some role. The National Mental Health Association says, “Most researchers believe sexual orientation is complex, and that biology plays an important role. This means that many people are born with their sexual orientation, or that it’s established at an early age.”
What Twin Studies Tell us about HomosexualityScientists have studied twins to try and learn if being gay is biologically determined. Studies of identical and fraternal twins suggest that there is a genetic influence on sexual orientation. If being gay were strictly genetic, then in identical twins, there would be a 100% concordance rate for sexual orientation. But one study in 1995 found a 52% correlation for male identical twins and 22% for male fraternal twins. A study on females came up with similar results. If one identical twin was a lesbian, in 48% of cases, the other twin was also a lesbian. For fraternal twins, the concordance was 16%. (source Simon LeVay.
These studies show that people with the same genetic make up (identical twins) are more likely to share sexual orientation than those with different genetic make up (fraternal twins.) Genetics alone cannot cause sexual orientation, but they do play a part.
Is there a gay gene?Scientists have not been able to conclude that there is any gene or combination of genes that will make someone gay. Genetics is very complex and scientists continue to study both humans and animals chromosomes for linkage to sexual orientation.
What about the gay brain study?A widely publicized study in 1999 found that a certain part of the hypothalamus was smaller in gay men then in heterosexual men. This study was widely touted at the time as “proof” that one’s sexual orientation is biological and not chosen. But it is not known whether these differences in brain are present at birth or if they occur over a lifetime.
In conclusionDespite social science and biological research, it is still not known what causes someone to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight. Scientists and social scientists will no doubt continue to study the causes of homosexuality in both animals and humans.
No matter what they find, gays, lesbians and their supporters will continue the fight for fair and equal treatment.