Getting the Science and Psychology about Homosexuality “Straight”
Homosexuality, a term coined by Karl Maria Kertbeny (Drescher, 2008) is a term simply defined as the sexual attraction to a person of the same sex. Three terms associated with this are homosexual attraction, orientation, and identity which all are involved with homosexuality. Homosexuality has been and is a highly controversial topic within society, politics, religion, and even science. In the journal article, “Homosexuality: Innate or Acquired?”, the statement “Homosexuality has been given different labels throughout history. It has progressed from a sin to a crime, then a mental illness, a style of life, and is now characterized as a genetic predisposition” (Edogbanya, et al., 2016, p. 8), captured the progression of how homosexuality has been classified and perceived by society and science.
A specific question at hand, that is still being debated and studied, is if homosexuality is a result of biological factors such as genetics, hormones, as well as the development and structure of an individual’s brain or if it is nonbiological, more specifically, a social psychological event where homosexuality is learned from one’s environment, trauma, interactions, and other individual’s behaviors. The two rival arguments, on what homosexuality is an effect of, when broken down is just the ongoing deliberation of nature versus nurture. The concept of this sexual orientation was at one point classified by American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a mental disorder; however, this classification was changed on December 15, 1973 when it was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) by the board (Edogbanya, et al., 2016). In today’s world, despite it being removed, some still believe that it is a form of mental disorder. Whether it is a disorder or not, is not a prevalent as the argument of the factors involved with the development of homosexuality. Research is taking place currently with hopes to discover and provide sufficient evidence that homosexuality is innate or not.
Evidence for Biological Causation of Homosexuality
There are many studies and theories that focus on the theory that homosexuality is innate which are currently taking place. However, this is not a new area of research. Many studies and theories have taken place for decades. Some studies have come upon discoveries that provide evidence that homosexuality has a biological basis. For instance, investigations throughout 1940s to 1970s focused on excessive levels of particular hormones and hormone deficiencies before and after birth. This neurohormonal theory hypothesized that males who were homosexual may have lower levels of male hormones compared to heterosexual males. In addition to that hypothesis, it was hypothesized that homosexual females, lesbians, may have excessive levels of male hormones, specifically testosterone (Edogbanya, et al., 2016, p. 8).
Around the 1960s in Germany, Gu?nter Do?rner had experimented with animals, rats, to research sexual behavior and a region of the brain, hypothalamus. Do?rner’s findings revealed that female offspring who had exposure to a male hormone, androgen, during the pre-natal phase resulted in genitalia and the brain to become masculinized which in turn led to a display of sexual behavior typically observed in males (Edogbanya, et al., 2016, p. 8). These observations and findings set in motion the work of Simon LeVay. According to Edogbanya’s article, a study in 1991 conducted by Simon LeVay led to a discovery of biology playing a possible role in homosexuality. LeVay found slight differences between heterosexual and homosexual male’s brain structure, in the “interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus” (Edogbanya, et al., 2016, p. 9). Neuron clusters were compared between heterosexual and homosexual males as well as women. It was reported by LeVay that females and homosexual males had similar size clusters which in turn were smaller compared to a heterosexual male’s cluster.
Throughout the years, there has also been research pertaining to genetics as a biological basis for homosexuality, particularly male homosexuality. These studies used individuals of the same family and individuals who were twins. A group at the National Institute of Health (NIH led by Dean Hamer was the first to locate and report a link between male homosexuality and specific genetic location, during molecular genetic studies in 1993 (Ngun and Vilain, 2014, p. 169). According to the article, Hamer’s group made more than one discovery. They notice that homosexuality in males had a relation to genetics passed down from their mothers. That finding resulted in a focus of the X chromosome, more specifically Xq28, which is located near the end of the X chromosome and is complex and sizable gene dense (Ngun and Vilain, 2014, p. 169). This ground-breaking discovery led to this study to be replicated which when four of those studies’ findings were compared, it was revealed that the sharing of the Xq28 allele was elevated in brothers who were both homosexual. In relation to the genetic studies explained previously, research found that the order males are born in have a correlation to the probability of being homosexual. First of all, it was only for brothers who shared the same mother biologically with female siblings having no effect on these findings (Ngun and Vilain, 2014, p. 173). The findings were that “Each son increases the odds of homosexuality in the next son by 33 percent relative to the baseline population rate” (Ngun and Vilain, 2014, p. 173). However, the probability of homosexuality in a son reaches a threshold of 50% after the birth of ten older brothers. Although a specific biological mechanism was not identified as the explanation of these findings, it is suspected that epigenetic mechanisms are the most likely involved with these occurrences (Ngun and Vilain, 2014, p. 173). The human body is a complex structure which involves a variety of functions and systems. The complexity provides a multitude of biological factors that will continue the progression of research with the aim to find evidence to prove homosexuality is a result of biology.
Evidence Against Biological Causation of Homosexuality
This controversial question about homosexuality also has a counter-argument from those who theorize that homosexuality is in fact not biological, but due to factors within the area of psychology, such as theories in the categories of social learning and psychoanalytic psychology. Those scientists directed their attention toward the nurture view in the nurture versus nature debate due to the arguments, from the biological perspective, were collapsing (Byrd, 2010). A variety of studies have been conducted that have focused on individual’s relationships and interactions with certain individuals or group of individuals, learned behavior, freedom of choice, and even trauma or abuse. Many researchers have come to similar and, in some cases, borderline identical conclusions.
One of the main categories of research is based on the psychoanalytic theory, which “proposes that homosexuality results from a context of difficult family relationships, particularly a detached, disconnected father and an over-involved mother” (Edogbanya, et al., 2016, p. 13). Sigmund Freud, a well-known figure known for being the founder of the study of psychoanalysis, captured the central idea of numerous researchers with his description that the relationships between homosexuals and their mothers is “excessively loving” and the relationships with the fathers is “retiring or absent” (Edogbanya, et al., 2016, p. 14). Other people such as Irving Bieber, Ray B. Evans, Stekel, and many others discovered the same exact pattern of relationships among homosexual’s and their parents. The form of relationship in this pattern is said to play a part in the child rejecting a masculine or feminine identity which backs ups the theory that a child involved in this scenario does not identify with parent of the same sex leading the child to find affirmation, support, and love by adults and peers of the same sex (Byrd, 2010). The idea that homosexuals have a positive and strong bond with their mother and relationship along the lines of negative, detached or distant, and in some circumstances nonexistent embodies many proposals that the occurrence of homosexuality is due to factors involved with psychoanalysis (Edogbanya, et al., 2016, p. 14).
Scientists also looked at theories of social-learning which studies how individuals acquire certain behaviors and attitudes through the process of observing and learning from others (Byrd, 2010). Sexual behavior, which can lead to sexual preferences, is learned from multiple sources such as the media, peers and parents. For instance, in a situation where an adolescent male is involved in acts of masturbation or being exposed to pornographic material with other peers, it can influence that individual’s attitudes on sex and influence behavior specifically sexual behavior (Byrd, 2010).
Another form of social-learning, pertains to trauma and sexual abuse experiences in an adolescent’s life. Researchers have found that female and male homosexuals had histories of higher occurrences of sexual abuse during childhood (Byrd, 2010). Males who were sexually abused during their childhood were found by Shrier and Johnson to be “seven times more likely to self-identity as homosexual or bisexual” (Byrd, 2010). A man who identifies as a homosexual, Greg Louganis, supported these findings by giving his record, of the sexual abuse he experienced as a child, in his book. Louganis’s offender was older and around the age of his father. The attention from his abuser was perceived by Louganis as positive during that time because the man was attracted to him and the man was more than willing to give him the affection Louganis was deprived of (Byrd, 2010). When an adolescent is sexual abused, it can cause gender confusion because needs of for affection and attention from others can be confused with that individual’s sexuality, especially during the years of early preadolescent (Byrd, 2010).
More research came from a theory known as the interactional theory. A prime example of this theory comes from Daryl C. Bem, a researcher who identifies as a homosexual, and his own theory known as “Exotic Becomes Erotic”. This theory suggests that when an adolescent does not conform to their gender and begin identifying with other children of the opposite sex, they do not identify and interact with those of the same sex and those children become unfamiliar to the individual who does not identify with them (Byrd, 2010). The “Exotic Becomes Erotic” theory supports a developmental theory which involves the concept of developmental trajectory. The concept is where a child views themselves as different from their same sex peers. This in turn leads to that child sexualizing the perception that they are different which results in developing attractions of homosexual nature (Byrd, 2010).
The idea, that homosexuality is nonbiological, continues with a factor that has yet to be discussed which is the fact that human beings have the freedom to choose. The concept focuses on the fact that individuals can choose their sexual orientation and sexual identity. A woman, Camille Paglia, simplified this idea when she said, “There is an element of choice in all behavior, sexual or otherwise” (Byrd, 2010). Attraction that humans feel may not be choice; however, the way that individual responds to those feelings involves a conscious choice.
To put it concisely, where homosexuality originates from, whether it is factors that are biological or not, with continued to be studied with the aim of coming to answers of this puzzling question. Both sides have made progress through their findings, but sometimes theories change due these findings. Scientists have focused on hormones, genetics, brain structure along with other possible factors and psychologists have theorized the origination is due to social-learning, psychoanalytic, free will, and many others. Although there is a divide in beliefs and arguments, they are both contributing to answers.
Both types of research focuses do provide possible explanations, it is up to interpretation and more research if those explanations are valid and reliable. More data is emerging every day and it may be discovered that both types of factors are the basis of homosexuality.
- Byrd, A. Dean (2010). Homosexuality: Innate and Immutable? What Science Can and Cannot Say. Liberty University Law Review,4(3), 479-501. Retrieved March 18, 2019, from: http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/lu_law_review/vol4/iss3/4
- Drescher, J. (2008). A History of Homosexuality and Organized Psychoanalysis. The Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 36(3), 443–460. https://doi.org/10.1521/jaap.2008.36.3.443
- Edogbanya, O., Shalom, E., Motee, C., Edor, S., Ugochukwu, O., & Mitchell, O. (2016). Homosexuality: Innate or Acquired. Journal of Biology and Medicine,1, 7-21. Retrieved March 18, 2019, from http://www.mayfeb.com/OJS/index.php/BIO/article/view/43
- Ngun, T. and Vilain, E. (2014). The Biological Basis of Human Sexual Orientation. Epigenetic Shaping of Sociosexual Interactions – From Plants to Humans, 86, pp.167-184.