The Genetics of Homosexuality
In recent years there has been a furious debate about whether homosexuality
has a genetic basis. Ultimately the issue will have a scientific resolution
although at present the data do not definitively support one side or the other.
Unfortunately there are substantial ideological overtones to the debate as
well. If the evidence shows that homosexuality is at least partially determined
genetically (and remember that most complex humans behaviors are joint products
of genetics and environment), this can be taken to suggest that homosexuality
is not freely chosen. Those who believe this to be the case usually use the
term sexual orientation. If, on the other hand, the evidence for genetic effects
is unconvincing, it may imply that homosexuality is more a preference or choice.
Religious conservatives and others find this position more congenial.
I have provided some book suggestions and Internet links for those of you
who want to find out more. However, in examining these materials it is important
to keep a few points in mind.
First, some of the research on this topic has
been done by people who have strong prior beliefs on this issue. Not surprisingly
gay and lesbian scientists tend to report evidence in favor of the genetic
hypothesis, and those who find homosexuality distasteful or immoral tend
to report evidence to the contrary. There is noting intrinsically wrong with
political, religious, or ideological agendas affecting choice of research
even the ways the research was conducted. But as with all science, the
should be clearly stated and the results presented fairly so that they
are subject to standard scientific debate. As part of
the criticisms must be based on scientific criteria whatever their underlying
evaluating the scientific evidence for any hypothesis the total weight
of the evidence should count most heavily. Especially in
the social sciences it is generally possible to criticize almost any study
methodological or statistical grounds. And if the same criticisms apply
to most of the studies in a given area, that is cause for concern. However,
more frequently each study has unique criticisms, and most believe
that the probability of all of the criticisms being valid for every study
relatively low. In such cases most scientists consider the hypothesis as
is a major difference between sexual behavior and sexual motivation.
simplest level, obviously most of us manage to control sexual urges and
find outlets that are consistent with cultural or personal moral beliefs.
the other hand, the targets of our sexual desires is an entirely different
matter. Sexual desire varies a good deal. Some people report they are exclusively
attracted to members of the opposite sex (and we generally call such people
heterosexual or straight), others are attracted exclusively to members
of their own sex (homosexual) and others are attracted to both sexes
to varying degrees. These are not, however, three distinct points along
some continuum. While some people may be exclusively attracted to one
others report having varying degrees of attraction to the other gender.
Such preferences map imperfectly onto actual behavior. Thus many gay
men and lesbians
or have been in heterosexual relationships, and sometimes men and women
who think of themselves as exclusively heterosexual can engage in homosexual
behavior (prisons are one, but not the only, example). It is also possible
to have one sort of relationship at one point in their lives and another
at a later or earlier point. It is therefore important to note that the
argument is largely about whether people are attracted to members of their
own sex, the other sex, or both and not about what kinds of behavior they
Fourth, the concept of change of homosexuality has to be approached
very carefully. It is surely possible that therapy or counseling might convince
a gay male (or for that matter a straight one) to refrain from any sexual
get some exclusively homosexual men and women to focus their sexual behavior
on members of the opposite sex. Sexual behavior, like most behavior,
can be inhibited or changed. The issue of chief
concern here is whether sexual preferences rather than behavior can be changed
Fifth, for many this debate is irrelevant to political and moral concerns.
It is quite possible for someone to reject homosexuals even if their orientation
turns out to be partially or largely genetic, and it is also possible for
others not to condemn homosexuality even if it turns out to be a completely
issue of choice is a vexed one at least with regard to genetics. Few,
of our preferences, choices, attitudes,
and the like are devoid
of genetic influences but almost none are totally controlled by genetics.
So even if there is a genetic influence on sexual orientation, there are
bound to be environmental interactions and influences as yet not understood.
You also might consider that environments impose constraints every bit
If it turns out that sexual orientation is something that is created entirely
by early experience, does the adult have any less choice than one whose
orientation might be created by genes? It's not clear that it's any easier
people who got an early environmental "fix" than those whose "fix" was
One site that is
dependable and tries to be unbiased on a range of issues dealing with religion
and beliefs related to religion is ReligiousTolerance.org.
In particular they have a number of good essays on the topic at hand. Below
I have provided only the most central links; there are many others worth perusing,
and generally transportation within the site is easy. You can also find links
to various conservative Christian perspectives in addition to the ones I
have listed below.
to homosexuality This is a particularly good site not only for citations
to the few references in the Bible to homosexuality, but also to contextual
and translation issues which are sizeable in this domain.
There are a great
many books on the causes of homosexuality. Many of the older books present
one or another version of psychoanalytic theories, an approach
that is rejected by nearly everyone these days. Other emphasize some of the
possible environmental causes. The majority of more recent books are sympathetic
to the idea of a biological basis for homosexuality. In that
vein you might want to read the recent (2003) and somewhat controversial, The
Man Who Would Be Queen by J. Michael Bailey. It is perhaps the best short
treatment of the topic, and he argues that signs of male homosexuality appear
quite early in the developmental process. He also discusses transgendered people
(primarily men who wish to become female). However, although it treats the
scientific evidence respectfully, some have argued that he over generalizes
from the available data and is vague when he needs to be precise. It has also
been criticized for placing too much emphasis on stereotyped gender traits
in building the argument.
you agree, it is a most interesting read.
religious perspective is certainly less nuanced and probably does not require
a book length treatment. However, those who wish to explore
all sides in greater depth than the Internet links provide can find books
representing alternative views by checking some of the ReligiousTolerance site