Jul 29

Born This Way Or Not? What Does Science Say About Sexual Orientation?

With a presidential race that includes MANY conservative voices, we’ve already been hearing from the anti-gay and gay-confused on one of their ongoing political quandaries: is it a choice? are you born this way or not?

So, why don’t they ever turn to accepted authorities on the subject?

As pointed out by Professor April M. Herndon, Psychology Today, “…(M)ost people shape their beliefs about the origin of sexuality not on what the science says, but on what they have already come to believe about gay rights. In other words, many people go looking for evidence to support their pre-existing conclusions...”

What follows are some position statements based on actual research—quotable opinions if you happen to find yourself in a debate.

Tia Ghose, Live Science, weighs in on a related topic du jour, gay conversion therapy:

If being gay is truly a choice, then people who attempt to change their orientation should be able to do so. But most people who are gay describe it as a deeply ingrained attraction that can’t simply be shut off or redirected.
On that, studies are clear. Gay conversion therapy is ineffective, several studies have found, and the American Psychological Association now says such treatment is harmful and can worsen feelings of self-hatred.
…Women show greater levels of ‘erotic plasticity,’ meaning their levels of attraction are more significantly shaped by culture, experience and love than is the case for men. However, even women who switch from gay to straight lifestyles don’t stop being attracted to women, according to a 2012 study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Those results suggest that while people can change their behavior, they aren’t really changing their basic sexual attraction.

Speaking of The American Psychological Association:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

And, the following excerpts are from Lisa Grossman‘s interview (New Scientist) with Professor Lisa Diamond, an expert on the matter of sexual fluidity and orientation (see previous post):

I think all the evidence suggests that we’re born with an underlying capacity, and then that capacity interacts with a whole bunch of other influences…

…(T)win studies show that there’s a genetic contribution to same-sex attraction – but that is not the only thing going on. There are so many interacting causes for sexual orientation that two different individuals can be gay for a different combinations of reasons…

It is time to just take the whole idea of sexuality as immutable, the born this way notion, and just come to a consensus as scientists and as legal scholars that we need to put it to rest. It’s unscientific, it’s unnecessary and it’s unjust. It doesn’t matter how we got to be this way. As a scientist, I think it’s one of the most fascinating questions out there and one that I will continue to investigate. As a lesbian and a progressive, I think it’s totally irrelevant and just politics.