The cause of homosexual behaviors has long been a controversial topic debated by scientists, psychologists, and many others among the general population. The Newsweek article Born or Bred discusses many possible causes of homosexuality.
According to the research done in 1991 by neuroscientist Simon LeVay, the area of the brain that controls sexual activity called the hypothalamus, was less than half the size in homosexual males compared to heterosexual males. This result tells us that homosexuals might not have gotten a chance to choose their sexuality because they were simply born into it. But there are loopholes in this research because Levay’s subjects were all cadavers, therefore he could not dispute nor verify Kenneth Klivington’s argument that, “the brain influences behavior, behavior shapes experience, experience affects the organization of the brain, and so forth.” Klivington seemed to think that there are environmental factors to be considered when dealing with the causes of homosexuality. He believes that sexual orientation has certain affects on brain structure as he points out, “the brain’s neural networks reconfigure themselves in responses to certain experiences.”
Psychologist Michael Bailey and psychiatrist Richard Pillard conducted a research involving the study of homosexuals among twins. The result of their research concludes that genetic factors take on a big part of a person’s sexual orientation. This can lift the burden of self-blame from homosexuals because they are no longer the blame for their own sexuality.
The three major theories that are used in an attempt to explain the causes of homosexuality are biological, psychoanalytical, and learning theories. Biological theories include factors such as genetic, prenatal, brain, and hormonal imbalance. Of the four, only research on genetic and brain factor seems to have real evidence to support the biological aspect of homosexuality, while the other two have inconsistent findings. The psychoanalytical theory is based on the works of Sigmund Freud, who believed that children go through different stages of development. And he concluded that, “the homosexual is fixated at an immature stage of development.” When evaluated, psychoanalytic theory is said to, “…operate under the assumption that homosexuality is deviant or abnormal.” And even though Freud came to accept that homosexuality is normal sexual behavior in his later writings, it did not have as much of an impact compared to his earlier writings. The third theory is the learning theory, which emphasizes the idea that sexual orientation is learned. “People are born sexual, not heterosexual or homosexual. Only through learning does one of these behaviors become more likely than the other.” One of the examples that they give includes a girl whose first heterosexual sex experience was through rape. She is then likely to try to avoid the unpleasantness of her first experience with heterosexual sex by becoming homosexual.
The Interactionist Theory is mainly based on the works of psychologist Daryl Bem. Although Bem supports the biological point of view, he does not agree that it is the only and direct factor that determines one’s sexual orientation. “He (Bem) believes that biological factors exert their influence on sexual orientation through their influence on temperament in childhood.” In the interactionist theory, gender conformity plays a big role in a person’s sexual preference. According to Bem, children who are gender conforming will become heterosexuals because they will begin to find the opposite sex appealing as they grow up. But children who are gender nonconforming will become homosexuals because they will come find their own gender appealing.
The empirical data that is provided by the research of sexual orientation done by Alan Bell, Martin Weinberg, and Sue Hammersmith showed some stunning results. The three researchers interviewed 979 gay men and lesbian women and 477 heterosexual men and women in the San Francisco area. Their results basically concluded that, “…all the environmental explanations are inadequate and are not supported by the data.” And also, “Sexual orientation seems to be determined before adolescence.” Their findings leans more towards the idea that sexual orientation is mainly determined by biological factors.
“Nature, not nurture, is the main factor involved in sexual orientation.” This statement is made to assist the idea that a person does not get to choose whether they will be homosexual or heterosexual because they’re born into it. It also means that it is not our surroundings and our environment that channels us into our sexual orientation. Rather, it is our biological make up that decides which route we will take.
There have been many researches conducted to support this statement. One of these researches is Simon LeVay’s study on the human brain. In his 1991 study, LeVay, a neuroscientist in La Jolla, California, found that the hypothalamus, the section of the brain that controls sexual activity, was less than half the size in gay men than in the heterosexuals. It also appears that the hypothalamic cells of the homosexual male were more similar to those of women compared to those of heterosexual males. Also in 1991, Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard did a research on sexual orientation, but their research was based on twins. They recruited heterosexuals and homosexuals that had twins, either identical or non-identical. They found that within 56 gay men who had an identical twin brother, 52% of them were both gay. But among 54 gay men with a non-identical twin brother, only 22% of them were both gay. Two years later, this study was done on lesbians. The findings correspond to those of the earlier research done on gay men. Within 71 lesbians who had an identical twin sister, 48% were both lesbians. And of the 37 lesbians that had a non-identical twin sister, only 16% were both lesbians. It is conclusive that, “…the rate of concordance is substantially higher for identical twins that for non-identical twins argues in favor of a genetic contribution to sexual orientation.”
In 1981, Alan Bell, Martin Weinberg, and Sue Hammersmith, of the Kinsey Institute, did another research on this subject. During this study, they recruited 979 homosexual males and females and also 477 heterosexual males and females. They then spent three to five hours in a detailed interview with each subject asking questions about the subject’s childhood and adolescence. The results they found denied any environmental involvement in one’s sexual orientation. They found Freud’s psychoanalytic theory to be “grossly exaggerated.” It seemed that bad relationships with one’s parents have little or no effect on the person’s sexuality. They also found that one’s sexual orientation seemed to be determined before adolescence. So based on their study, environmental factors are inadequate and biological factors are what determines one’s sexuality.
There are researches and theories that support nurture, instead of nature, as the cause of sexual orientation. Kenneth Klivington believes that instead of the brain structure having an affect on sexual orientation, it could very well be the other way around. As the Newsweek article states, “One fascinating NIH study found that in people reading Braille after becoming blind, the area of the brain controlling the reading finger grew larger.” Klivington thinks that the brain structures according to experience as he states, “…the brain influences behavior, behavior shapes experience, experience affects the organization of the brain, and so forth.”
The learning theory is also a supporter of environmental factors. According to the learning theory, we were born without a sexual identity. It is through later learning that we become either heterosexual or homosexual. For example, if a person has an unpleasant experience with heterosexual sex, there’s a chance that they might turn homosexual. This theory also derives on the assumption that we are channeled into our sexuality by rewards and punishments imposed on us by our society. “Punishing a young person for engaging in heterosexual sexual behavior may not eliminate the behavior but rather rechannel it in a homosexual direction.” But there are inconsistencies with this assumption because homosexuals are often punished by society, but they have not ceased to exist.
After reading the Newsweek article and the hand out, my position is the same as it was before I read them. I truly believe the statement “Nature, not nurture, is the main factor involved in sexual orientation.” I’ve always believed that a person’s sexual orientation is something way more complicated for the environment to be able to tamper with. In my opinion, environmental factors may be able to affect a person into making temporary judgments or to experiment new things. But the person’s true sexuality is defined within one’s self and is permanent. I also believe that many more studies can and will be done on the causes of sexual orientation, but it is unlikely that someone will be able to reach a definite answer. In the words of Evelyn Hooker, “Why do we want to know the cause? It’s a mistake to hope that we will be able to modify or change homosexuality…If we understand its nature and accept it as a given, then we come much closer to the kind of attitudes which will make it possible for homosexuals to lead a decent life in society.”