Ask this question, and you are likely to receive one of two responses: No. People choose to be gay. Or. Yes. Sexual preference is biologically determined.
This topic has gained recent prevalence within the media, political discussions and pop culture. There are groups who argue that homosexuality is unnatural and therefore a choice made by the individual. On the other hand, there have been numerous songs highlighting that homosexuality is not a choice, such as Lady Gaga’s; ‘Born This Way’ and Macklemore’s pro-gay marriage song; ‘Same Love’.
This subject has undergone a lot of research, especially in the last twenty-five years. This article will highlight some of the conclusions this research has produced;
Looking at the Animal Kingdom
This may seem crazy, but when it boils down to whether homosexuality is normal, studying other species for similar social patterns is important. Stanford biology professor Joan Roughgarden has done just that. In her book Evolution’s Rainbow, she notes that most homosexual activity in the animal kingdom serves an essential social purpose. She uses Japanese macaques as an example that live in female-only societies, arranged in rigid hierarchies. Power and unity are established through lesbian partnerships, which can last for up to four days and it is believed this takes place in order to prevent hostility and violence. Dr Roughgarden’s conclusion is that homosexual activities take place among many species, and seem to facilitate complex societies.
Many snub the argument provided above, stating that humans are far more intelligent and complex than other species. Subsequently, more research has focused on genetics and the implication that we are born with a gene which determines our sexual preference.
Studies have already shown that sexual orientation has a genetic component. For example, a gay man is more likely than a straight man to have a gay (biological) brother, and the same for lesbians. Furthermore, in 1993, a study published in the Journal of Science showed that families with two or more homosexual sons were likely to have certain genetic markers. This subsequently led to the media coining the term “gay gene” and discussing the ethics behind aborting a “gay” foetus.
However, Marcia Malory has noted that genes cannot control behaviour completely. In a nutshell, genes regulate the production of amino acids that combine to form proteins. The lack or existence of a protein can have an effect on certain features such as alcohol tolerance and potentially sexuality. It must be noted that affecting something is not the same as having control over it. Instead we must look at the social environment of individuals and the affect it can have on ones sexuality.
Just as important as genetics, our environment plays a central role in how our behaviour develops. Without even realising it, your environment affects your relationships. For example, some cultures value monogamy and so we marry just one person, despite being attracted to others. In the same way, your culture and upbringing have affected the way you view homosexuality.
What you have been told about homosexuality as you were growing up will affect whether you consider engaging in homosexual acts to be an attractive option or completely revolting. This is also likely to influence your opinion on whether you believe homosexuality to be normal or not.
The brain is a complex organ which we still know very little about. However, some scientists believe the brain may be responsible for a number of our characteristics, including our sexual preferences.
In 1991, a study was published in the Journal of Science which indicated that the hypothalamus, which controls the release of sex hormones, may differ in gay men from the hypothalamus in straight men. Similar studies have shown that the amygdale, which has many receptors for sex hormones and our emotional states, is also different. The amygdales of gay men tend to resemble those of straight women and vice versa for gay women.
Brain development does not stop at birth, and a large amount takes place during your childhood. This is when you learn the most, including what your family and community feel is accepted behaviour. This ties back in with environment and the belief that your surroundings have an impact on your views, and subsequently your relationships.
Despite the research conducted, there is still no consensus among scientists regarding the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, gay or lesbian orientation. A great deal of research has examined the possible genetic, developmental, hormonal, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation. Nevertheless, there have been no findings that allow scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by a single factor or, in fact, a multitude of factors. Many believe that an individual’s choice of sexual orientation is determined by both nature and nurture, and have concluded that most people experience no, or very little, choice when it comes to their sexuality.