Homosexuality: Genes or Choice

by Jonathan Broadus


Despite claims by homosexual activists to the contrary, scientific studies have failed to prove that homosexuality is genetically determined. There is no evidence that anyone is "born gay." In fact, psychology has proven quite successful in reversing homosexuality, and twin studies show strong evidence that it is individual choices and personalities that are the major contributing factors.

Homosexuality: Genes or Choice

Are homosexuals born that way, or do they choose their lifestyle? The implications of the question for public policy and private life are enormous. If homosexuality is genetic, then those who have a same-sex "orientation" are no more responsible for their situation than a person can be responsible for having blue eyes. This is the premise upon which most of the homosexual rights arguments are based. If, however, homosexuality is a choice that is within the individual's control, then it is subject to moral and legal controls and can be judged right or wrong.

Studies of the Brain

LeVay's Cell Cluster

In 1991, Simon LeVay conducted autopsies on a set of 35 men and 6 women in order to examine their brains for signs of differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals. His research was soon proclaimed to have discovered that the size of a cluster of cells (INAH-3) was smaller in both women and homosexuals than in heterosexual men, and cited as proof that differences in the brain might cause homosexuality. Several questions have been raised regarding both his methods and the conclusions drawn from his findings. Writing in MIT's Technology Review, geneticists Paul Billings and Jonathan Beckwith criticized the reliability of the study, stating that LeVay

"could not really be certain about his subjects' sexual preferences, since they were dead. Also the research design and subject sample did not allow others to determine whether it was sexual behavior, drug use, or disease history that was correlated with observed differences among the subject's brains." (Billings & Bechwith, 1993, para. 5)

Of the 41 autopsies performed, 19 were known homosexuals who had died of AIDS. The remaining 16 men (5 of whom had died of AIDS) and all 6 women (1 of whom had died of AIDS) were presumed to be heterosexual. Yet only two of the 16 men had specifically denied homosexuality on record, leaving the assumed heterosexuality of the rest in doubt.

LeVay's study found that the average size of the INAH-3 clusters in the assumed heterosexual males was twice that of the homosexual males and assumed heterosexual females. Yet this statement by itself is misleading. Most of the clusters of all three groups fell within the same range of sizes. A comparison of the individual sizes shows instances of homosexuals with large clusters and heterosexuals with small clusters.. One of the homosexual clusters was in fact the second largest cluster LeVay measured! The lack of a distinctly different size range between the homosexual clusters and the presumed heterosexual clusters does not fit the distribution pattern that would be expected of a brain difference that determined their behavior. Further studies, such as that of Dr. William Byne failed to confirm LeVay's findings, noting a difference between male and female INAH-3 cells, but no difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals.

Anterior Commissure Studies

Another prominent study used in the argument is one that claimed to have found that the anterior commissure was larger in homosexuals than in heterosexual men. The interpretation of these results is subject to a great deal of question. While the average size of the structure in the homosexuals was larger than the average size in that of the heterosexuals, the actual sizes of 27 of the 30 homosexuals fell within the range of sizes of the heterosexual men. In this case, the average is interpreted in a misleading fashion, as the majority of the structures in both homosexual and heterosexual brains were within the same range of sizes.

Cause or Effect?

Even if these studies were to show definite differences in the homosexual brain, which they clearly do not, that would still not prove that such differences in the brain caused homosexuality rather than being a result of it. The brain is not a static structure; it changes with use and disuse to suit the functions for which it is called upon. A simple example is a blind person who learns to read Braille. The region of the brain associated with the finger they typically use to read will expand and enlarge to reflect the importance that sensations from that finger have taken on in the person's life. And even in sexual activity, studies show that areas of the brain associated with activities change in response to those activities. In fact, studies of male songbirds have found that areas of the brain associated with mating even vary with the seasons.

Twin Studies

Studies of homosexuality among identical twins have provided another source for those who claim homosexuality is genetic. Homosexual activists are quick to point out that such studies show that if one brother is homosexual, an identical twin brother is more likely than a fraternal twin or non-twin brother to be homosexual. Does this prove a genetic basis for homosexuality? In one study at the University of Queensland, over 14,000 twins were surveyed. In cases where one identical twin was homosexual, 38% of the time his brother was homosexual also. For lesbians, the rate drops to 30%. If homosexuality were determined by genetics, we would expect both of these numbers to be 100%, because identical twins are genetically identical. Any "gay gene" present in one would be present in the other. Instead, we find in the studies that less than half of the twins match. Neil Whitehead asked and answered the question of biological determination of homosexuality this way:

"Will continuing research eventually find some overwhelming biological influences that produce homosexuality, or find that added together, all the biological influences are overwhelming? No. The twin studies prove that future research will never discover any overwhelming biological factors which compel homosexuality." (Whitehead, 2002, para. 16)

Is Homosexuality Unchangeable?

If homosexuals were born that way, compelled by their genes to be sexually attracted to members of their own sex, then it would be reasonable to suppose that there is no way for a homosexual to become heterosexual. Those who support this idea often point to the decision of the American Psychological Association to remove homosexuality from its diagnostic manual in 1973. Yet gay researcher Simon LeVay admitted

"Gay activism was clearly the force that propelled the APA to declassify homosexuality." (Byrd, Cox, & Robinson, 2002, para. 18)

This statement in itself doesn't provide any insight on the ability of homosexuals to change, but numerous psychologists have supported the idea that homosexuality is treatable with psychoanalysis. Dr. Richard A. Isay, who chaired the APA Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues wrote,

"There is, nevertheless, continuing conviction among most, although not all, dynamically oriented psychiatrists in general and psychoanalysts in particular that homosexuality can and should be changed to heterosexuality." (Cantu, para. 13)

Varying types of psychotherapy have reported success rates of 30% to 70%, not simply in suppressing homosexual behaviors, but in changing the internal desires of their patients to a normal heterosexuality.

"I do not believe that there is a basic genetic homosexual tendency in man. If this were true, the cured patient would still have his homosexual needs, which he does not." (Cantu, para. 11)

Even as early as 1950, Dr. Anna Freud (daughter of Sigmund Freud)

"lectured in New York on the recent advances in treatment of homosexuals, stating that many of her patients lost their inversion as a result of analysis. This occurred even in those who had proclaimed their wish to remain homosexual when entering treatment, having started only to obtain relief from their homosexual symptoms." (Cantu, para. 10)

If homosexuality can be treatable in many cases, not merely in removing the behavior but also in removing the desire itself, then we can hardly say that it is genetically determined. In the words of Dr. Edmund Bergler,

"The color of a person's eyes cannot be changed therapeutically, but homosexuality can be changed by psychotherapy." (Cantu, para. 8)

Do Genes Have an Influence?

If homosexuality isn't caused by genes, are they involved at all? Certainly. Genes are involved in all things human, because they are the building blocks of our bodies and minds. But it's important to understand the difference between influence and determination. If you're standing outside a shoe store looking at the window display, and a stranger walks by and tells you to buy the blue sneakers, this has an influence. Your decisions may take this stranger into account in some way simply because your mind will process his words, but you won't have much sympathy in convincing others you were unable to avoid buying them just because of this stranger's influence. Your budget, your own tastes, and the opinions of others around you may all be factors that will go into your decision to buy or not to buy those shoes. Another person standing in front of the same window and given the same words by the same stranger may well make a totally different decision than you, because of the difference in their personal motivations.

Studies of the human brain have not provided evidence proving a genetic basis for homosexuality, and psychology reports strong advances in reversing homosexuality in therapy patients. Twin studies in particular provide ample evidence that individual personality and choices are involved in the growth of sexual identity. Identical twins brought up in the same family are more likely to have only one homosexual than to have both. Thus neither genetics nor the home environment can be an inescapable force compelling the development of homosexuality.


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