Posted on Saturday, September 10th, 2016
“While some people are under the impression that sexual orientation is an innate, fixed, and biological trait of human beings — that, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, we are “born that way” — there is insufficient scientific evidence to support that claim…the evidence suggests some measure of fluidity in patterns of sexual attraction and behavior — contrary to the “born that way” notion that oversimplifies the vast complexity of human sexuality.” —Lawrence S. Mayer, Paul R. McHugh, ‘Sexuality and Gender‘ Study
Christian media websites have already started decrying homosexuals by referencing this single bullet point in the study’s executive summary: “The understanding of sexual orientation as an innate…is not supported by scientific evidence.” Unfortunately those online religious sites fail to understand that this examination points to the natural existence of homosexuality. As they say, the devil is in the details. Let’s take a further look at the literature of this study to further comprehend Mayer’s and McHugh’s somewhat “controversial” study.
“Sexuality and Gender” first examines the studies and writers that claim to prove the biological basis of homosexuality. Mark Joseph Stern, for Slate, cites three studies which possibly supports genetic basis of homosexuality (http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1021652204405, http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2004.2872, http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.8332896). The study authors counter with a quote by Simon LeVay, who in 1991 showed brain differences between heterosexual and homosexual individuals, who said about his own study: “It’s important to stress what I didn’t find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay.” This is important because correlations between biology and sexual orientation aren’t proof of a genetic causation—at least according to the logic of Mayer and McHugh. They also examine the ambiguity of defining sexual desire for purposes of scientific examination. Should sexual attraction form the basis of defining orientation, or sexual activities with other people, or both? Since there’s not even an empirical definition for same-gender sexual desire, any studies relying on that as a variable aren’t 100% valid. They also question the influence of hormones and brain differences as major genetic factors, but after statistical analyses and questioning the design of the studies there’s no strong evidence to support such an assertion.
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The authors don’t deny that there might be a disposition towards homosexuality (or even bisexuality) due to genetic factors. Mayer and McHugh reference a study of twins, conducted by J. Michael Bailey (http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.524), which reports that “for males 45% of the differences between certain sexual orientations (homosexual versus heterosexuals as measured by the Kinsey scale) could be attributed to differences in genes.” However genes only play a modest role in a person’s orientation. Environmental factors also play an important role.
Mayer’s and McHugh’s study looks at the role of sex abuse as a major contributing factor. The authors looked at various studies that included non-heterosexual individuals and found frequent cases of child abuse and sexual victimization. However they admit limitations in the studies’ design, citing biases and lack of control groups. They also showcase factors leading up to the correlation, but none of those points are conclusive. In short, “the idea that sexual abuse may be a causal factor in sexual orientation remains speculative.”
There’s a positive benefit of this study. Most extreme Christian groups speculate that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and cite this study as proof. Ironically, this study entirely dismisses that notion. “Though sexual orientation is not a choice, neither is there scientific evidence for the view that sexual orientation is a fixed and innate biological property.” Non-heterosexuality is a natural occurrence, influenced by certain genes rather than caused by them. This scientific examination of previous research efforts rejects the religious hypothesis that homosexuality is abhorrent or unnatural.
The “Sexuality and Gender” study is an examination of popular beliefs about the biological nature of same-sex attraction and states that previous studies aren’t entirely conclusive about the subject. The authors of the study, Mayer and McHugh, themselves don’t appear to promote an agenda with this examination of the subject. It’s hilarious how the religious media uses this study as the defining proof that homosexuality is somehow unnatural and based on choice, which the study completely rejects—stating that certain genes and environmental factors do play a role. It’ll be interesting to see if future studies will agree with the findings and thorough analysis that this paper provides.
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