Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Small Minority Are Born With Homosexual Orientation

I have read the classic sociological and biological studies, and met enough gays and lesbians, to be convinced that there is some kind of physical basis for a homosexual orientation in some people.

Kinsey came up with the famous estimate that about 10% of the population is exclusively homosexual. More recent studies, especially that by Laumann and the Chicago team, give a more accurate picture: 3% of the population (2 – 4% of men, and 1 – 3% of women) are exclusively homosexual. 3% of the U.S. population is about 9 million people. That is a small percentage, but a sizable number of individuals. They are concentrated in cities, where Kinsey did his work, which is why he inadvertently over-estimated the homosexual percentage in the total population.

There have been tantalizing studies that have found biological correlates of homosexual orientation, but no one knows why some people have it. There also seem to be more biological correlations for gay men than for lesbians. For example, boys born at the end of a sequence of brothers are much more likely to be homosexual; the same is not true for girls in a sequence of sisters. I am not a biologist, I just read their studies. It seems to me that there is probably not a "gay gene." There may well be something important in the sequence of prenatal hormone washes that babies get in the womb which has a great deal to do with how our brains are oriented. In the vast majority of people, brain orientation matches the rest of our anatomy. In a small percentage of people, though, the correlation comes out differently.

I am also persuaded by the homosexual friends, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances that I have had over the years that some people are "born that way." From the coming-out narratives that I know, this seems to be more true of men than women. In general, men tend to be more polarized in all kinds of characteristics, whereas women are more likely to be distributed across a spectrum. Women are more likely to switch orientations than men; there does not seem to be a male equivalent of the "hasbian."

More mysteriously, there does seem to be a correlation between homosexual orientation and certain character traits and skills. Here we are way out on a scientific limb. In my experience, lesbians tend to be tougher-minded and more competitive than other women. Gay men, famously, tend to be more musically and aesthetically talented than the average man. The queer eye is different than the straight guy's eye. I have no idea why this would be so, and maybe I have been misled by stereotypes.

However, and this is a very big however, biological orientation does not settle the moral question. Just because you are born with an inclination to do something does not mean that you should. As a biologist once pointed out to me, if you are born with the breast cancer gene, that does not mean you should start smoking to make sure it expresses itself. We all have all kinds of orientations and inclinations. Some are good and some are not. Our individual morality, and our social ethics, are concerned with which of our inclinations we should develop habits to promote, and which we should develop habits to control. To take an important example, people as a whole, and nearly all individuals, have strong sexual desires. If we acted on every sexual desire we ever had, the result would be bad for us individually and bad for society. We create all kinds of social institutions to channel our strong sexual desires into socially useful practices, because they can so easily become destructive.

Most people have a natural heterosexual orientation. Some people have a natural homosexual orientation. Neither group should simply act on their orientation. How we should regulate our sexual orientation is one of the most important things that we have social institutions for.

10 comments:

Brett said...

Your analogue to the gene for breast cancer and smoking relies on your post from yesterday that claims that homosexuality is a sin.

If, as many of your commenters insist (and here I include myself), homosexuality is not a sin, and the Bible doesn't proscribe it, then your gene analogy doesn't hold. That analogy works only for pathologies. Again, until you can prove, not merely opine, that the Bible prohibits homosexuality, you are not going to be able to make your case.

Alan said...

The breast cancer analogy is also a poor analogy because breast cancer causes death. Homosexuality doesn't. In fact, I'm sure Gruntled is well aware that there are plenty of sociological and psychological studies demonstrating that gay people in loving committed relationships are just as happy and healthy as straight married people, their kids are just as well adjusted, etc.

There are all sorts of genetic analogies one could make, positive, negative, or innocuous. The fact that Gruntled happens to pick negative analogies is not due to a fundamental characteristic of homosexuality itself, but rather due to his previously stated opinion that homosexuality is bad, as brett states above. The real test is whether the same analogy makes any sense for the other biologically determined orientation, heterosexuality. He seems to ignore the fact that, biologically speaking, according to his reasoning, heterosexuality is also a genetic condition which can be said to cause all sorts of problems for it's carriers. ;)

Gruntled said...

I agree with the reasoning of my church that the Bible calls homosexual practice a sin. I have said repeatedly that neither the Bible nor my church (nor me, in case that were in doubt) thinks homosexuality is a sin.

The point of the breast cancer is analogy is to show that just because something is natural, genetic, inborn, etc., does not mean that we should seek to express it. The moral question of whether to engage in homosexual behavior is not determined by the biological facts, no matter what one thinks those facts to be.

Chairm said...

Is same-sex attraction inborn? Can it change spontaneously? Can it be changed at will?

These sorts of questions probably must remain open questions. Maybe forever.

That may be by His design and, as such, will remain a perpetual challenge to each and every one of us. If you think you possess certainty now, you will be shaken with doubt, eventually.

It may be that the same-sex attraction comes to our attention, as a community, and as individuals either feeling it or witnessing it in others, as the counterexample or as a point of reference that sheds contrasting light on the purpose of human sexuality. And, thus, helps to remind us of distinctions between moral behavior and sinful behavior.

What is the purpose of human sexuality?

I think the answer is directly reflected in the nature of the human being: a sexual being, a social being, and a moral agent.

Humankind is by nature two-sexed; and human generativity is both-sexed. This points to the purpose of human sexuality.

Scripture condones sexual behavior within the relationship of husband and wife. This is reaffirmed with each convenant from Adam to Jesus. For the Christian, that would suffice. Further consideration is facing the seemingly perpetual challenge, as I mentioned at the top.

Now, one might doubt the merits of that scriptural reaffirmation; and one might discard scripture as just another among many ancient texts that have survived human history. However, no such scriptural reaffirmation is provided for the same-sexed sexualized relationship.

That must come, if it is to come, from the human beings making their history today. Barring some kind of modern day revelation, we are left to the study of temporal evidence.

If the same-sex sexual act is moral, then, what is the purpose of human sexuality?

Can it go beyond the ancilliary aspects of the both-sexed sexual relationship as condoned within the union of husband and wife?

I don't have the answers as I do not think, nor do I feel, that nonmarital sexual relations are moral, no matter one's professed, or intuited, sexual inclination.

j-solano said...


To assume that a "small minority are born with homosexual orientation" does not contribute anything substantial to the issue. We can say that a small minority is born with just about anything. Kinsey mentioned how many men, particularly children living on farms, enjoyed sex with animals. So what? People may have an "orientation" to polygamy and adultery may be the failure to control this "orientation." We can say we have an "orientation" from earliest childhood to steal or to attack someone else.

We must stop looking for excuses for our sinful acts and simply remember that we all have a propensity (orientation) to sin, period. A wonderful old term referred to our innate concupiscence that we must struggle against. Justifying it in any way simply undermines our resolve to change.

It is nonsense to seek for a microscopic "gay gene" when our entire biological system points to our being either men or women. Why look in the microscope when you can look in the mirror. That will tell you what you are. If you have male and female organs then I would say you have a choice. This is an aberration due to the fallen state of humanity. But do not mutilate your body because of a psychological confusion.

You don't have to accept the biblical teaching of marriage to recognize sexual complementarity. That's why marriage has been properly understood as the relationship of man and woman in all times and in all cultures. And it is only through this complementarity that procreation is naturally possible. That's why all societies, until our very recent confusions, have celebrated marriages only through the consummation of the opposite sexes.

Homosexuality is not only a sinful activity by its use of one's objective biology perversely, that is, in complete violation of its complementary nature, but by the same measure it precludes any possibility of forming a marriage. Homosexuals and their supporters need to stop fooling themselves. We understand that homosexuals have a great sexual confusion but to help them remain in denial does them no good at all. The same is true for the adulterer and for any number of other sexual or moral problems. Prayer, in conjunction with complete repentance, is the most powerful force to obtain freedom from all bondage.

Peace.

Alan said...

"We can say we have an "orientation" from earliest childhood to steal or to attack someone else."

I think you're misunderstanding Gruntled's point. There is plenty of evidence pointing to a biological component to sexual orientation.

"Homosexuality is not only a sinful activity by its use of one's objective biology perversely, that is, in complete violation of its complementary nature..."

Arguments from nature fail when one sees the abundant homosexuality in the natural world.

Chairm said...

Arguments from nature fail when one sees the abundant homosexuality in the natural world.

And yet you appear to be making a pro-gay argument based on the naturalistic fallacy in your own response.

To wit: If it is inborn in the individual, it is inherently good and right.

Such an argument fails for reasons other than the one you mentioned. I suspect you would agree on that point. In that case, what is the distinction you would make in your answer to what Jose has said?

Alan said...

"If it is inborn in the individual, it is inherently good and right."

I believe if you re-read my comments throughout this series you'll see that I've never said that, nor have I implied it.

Chairm said...

That is reassuring, Alan, however, I referred to the implication inherent in the quote I provided from your comment.

Perhaps you would reconcile your welcomed reassurance with the your response to that quote.

Maybe it was just a spur of the moment indulgence in rhetorical tit-for-tat. In that case, no big deal.

José Solano said...

"Arguments from nature fail when one sees the abundant homosexuality in the natural world." (Alan)

In discussing the natural order of things you must differentiate between apples and peaches. It's in the nature of a black widow spider to paralyze her mate after mating so that her young may later devour him alive. This can never be a justification for any human activity. The nature of the human being is also different from the nature of bonobos chimps.

What is obvious about human biology, that a chimp may not understand, is that the penis is clearly not designed to enter the anus. There is nothing natural about that. But there are even natural activities that are biblically proscribed. Incest is probably the most obvious example. It is far more common among animals than homosexual relationships. In fact, its prohibition is a purely social construct totally unrelated to biology. Certain societies have even condoned incestuous marriages, something that has never happened with homosexual relationships anywhere other than within contemporary confusions. Yet today incest is universally condemned.

The Christian balances his carnal nature, his appetites and concupiscence, with the higher calling from God. He is not ruled by the flesh.