General Question

augustlan's avatar

Can you point me to scientific evidence concerning some aspects of homosexuality?

Asked by augustlan (47711points) May 2nd, 2012

I’d like studies or scholarly articles on both sides of two issues.

1) Is homosexuality a choice or not?

2) Is homosexuality harmful to individuals or society as a whole?

I’m having a debate with someone who claims that what I believe (it’s not a choice, it isn’t harmful) has no basis in scientific fact. I said I’m pretty sure there is more science on my side than his (it’s a choice, possibly harmful). I’m looking for scientific consensus, one way or another, for either of our viewpoints. I figure we both might learn something.

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32 Answers

Aethelflaed's avatar

How are you and he defining harmful? For example, if a homosexual rejects Christianity as part of their coming to terms with their sexuality, is that considered harmful?

Nimis's avatar

As something that naturally occurs in nature, I don’t think homosexuality is a choice.
Google: homosexuality, animals

From an evolutionary standpoint, homosexuality could be seen as an advantage.
Google: homosexuality, inclusive fitness, kin selection

Sorry, it’s a lazy answer.
It’s late and I’m zzzzzz…

augustlan's avatar

@Aethelflaed We are trying to keep religious aspects out of it, so I guess that wouldn’t matter.

Nimis's avatar

Article from NIH about chromosome linked to homosexuality.

Also, look into Simon Levay. He found post-mortem differences between homosexual and heterosexual men.

Also, Dean Hamer found a chromosome linked to sexual orientation.

Aethelflaed's avatar

This one talks about gay and lesbian parenting, saying that “Children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers did not systematically differ from other children on any of the outcomes [emotional functioning, sexual preference, stigmatization, gender role behavior, behavioral adjustment, gender identity, and cognitive functioning]”.

This study looks at couples who concieve via sperm bank, both lesbian and heterosexual. “Results showed that children were developing in normal fashion, and that their adjustment was unrelated to structural variables such as parental sexual orientation or the number of parents in the household…Parents who were experiencing higher levels of parenting stress, higher levels of interparental conflict, and lower levels of love for each other had children who exhibited more behavior problems.”

This study looks at “psychosocial adjustment, school outcomes, and romantic attractions and behaviors of adolescents” with both same-sex and opposite-sex parents. It found that the sex of the parents didn’t make a difference in the adolescents’ development.

Aethelflaed's avatar

It’s generally hard to say. Sexual orientation is itself a contested viewpoint within the… let’s call it the “not heterosexual” community. Many point to things like sexual fluidity (a book I highly encourage reading at least the free intro on Google Books) as proof that sexual orientation is a fundamentally flawed view, as well as the lack of historical idea of “gay” (up until the late 1800s, people could commit homosexual acts – like bumming another man – and those were bad, but anyone could commit them; there was no gay identity). And the phrasing of “no choice” alienates many within the not-het community – they might not have complete control over who they desire, but they can control their actions, and to a certain extent, pretty much everyone experiences at some point or another feeling like they can’t help falling in love with someone, and then somehow managing to take control of our desire and get over them when things turn south.

In terms of science, there’s not really conclusive evidence for where sexual orientation comes from (or any sexual desires of any kind, for that matter). What we do know is that it isn’t caused by abuse, molestation, or the smothering mother/distant father trope; this is what allows the APA to continually disavow homosexuality as a mental disorder, and condemn sexual orientation change efforts (conversion therapy) as harmful and not helpful. But, homosexuals within a society that stigmatizes it are prone to minority stress – it’s not being gay that causes depression and anxiety, it’s the stigma that causes the depression and anxiety.

marinelife's avatar

Here is an interesting article by a geneticist talking about the evidence, which references some scientific studies.

This article discusses new findings by US scientists for genetic causes and summarizes the evidence nicely.

ninjacolin's avatar

Get your opponent to run his own science experiment:
Ask them to alter their sexual preference “by choice” for a weekend.

If they can’t make themselves actually sexually prefer the opposite of their “natural” inclinations, then voila. Scientific evidence that sexual preference is not within humanity’s control.

Get some big cardboard boxes and make a full on science fair experiment out of it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Nimis I thought Levay’s work showed a physiological difference, but didn’t necessarily show a genetic difference? That what he discovered in the brain could have been from environmental causes? I don’t know the specifics of his study though.

@augustlan Everything I have read seems to indicate there is a genetic predisposition, but environment plays a part. But, environment counts. We lay pathways in our brains as we experience the environment, and even though the brain can be changed to some extent, I believe in that for some things, for the most part I think we get rather hard wired by adulthood. If a person is wired that way for whatever reason, it is awful to me that we try to make a person deny this part of themselves. I guess there would have to be studies of babies brains and hormone levels, and followed through adulthood, which I have never seen, to see if they can predict homosexuality. I also think the research for in utero fetal experience and exposure to hormones in various levels is a valid area of study for homosexuality, it makes sense to me. That would be environmental, not genetic maybe, but how can you really separate it from a biological standpoint if the baby is born with that sexual identity?

I also know many of my homosexual friends had what I would call inappropriate “gay” sexual experiences at a young age. I put gay in quotes because it really was pedophilia in my opinion, as the other person was much older, minimum older teenager to adult, while my friends were young children or very young teens. I have no idea the actual statistical incidence of this. Does that mean the older person clued into something about the young boy? Or, that the young boy became influenced sexually by this event?

Maybe the idea of sexual fluidity further suggests environmental factors. That as society is more accepting of bisexuality and homosexuality we see more of it. But, of course that is a tricky number to verify, since in years past homosexuality was hidden, and the numbers would not be accurate.

tedd's avatar

Science backs you up. Homosexuality in animals, supposed “over-expressions” of certain genes that produce hormones that people think may set people towards homosexuality, etc, etc.

I also fail to see how it’s harmful. There’s the lack of actual procreation, but it’s not like the species is going to stop multiplying from it.

Bill1939's avatar

I’m not sure homosexuality is always genetically determined. It seems to me to be unreasonable to assume that it is either only a choice or a genetic predilection. If it were only a predilection, how would one explain bisexuality?

syz's avatar

Biological Exuberance is (if I remember correctly, it’s been years since I read it) the result of a PhD project that looks at homosexuality in the animal world. It (exhaustively) documents research findings that most species of animals show a consistent percentage of their population exhibit homosexual behavior, and also discusses instances when that behavior can be shown to provide a benefit to a family group or society.

We are animals too, after all.

SpatzieLover's avatar

MRIs of homosexual brains resemble those of the opposite sex.

gambitking's avatar

Well, the most obvious one I would think is that two humans of the same sex cannot reproduce. (Meaning, it represents no benefit to the species).

Also I wrote an essay in psychology in college about how many individuals in homosexual relationships can take up either role (masculine or feminine) as it best suits the partnership and because of this, it is likely that it is more of a choice because if it were genetic, the individual would lack the ability to choose and adapt to those roles.

JLeslie's avatar

@gambitking Are you arguing that it can’t be genetic? Your answer makes no sense to me. Two same sex cannot reproduce, but in nature human beings have sex throughout a woman’s cycle during nonfertile times. We have sex for more reasons than reproduction.

And, you speak of roles? What society influenced roles? Even in heterosexual coupling the men and women switch or perform tasks that are considered to be from the opposite role. In favt I would argue most of the roles are an artficial expectation of society.

syz's avatar

@gambitking Wait, are you citing yourself as scientific evidence?

tedd's avatar

@gambitking Masculinity and femininity are not natural in any way. They are advents of human society. There are many cultures that actually support more than just those two “genders.” Hence their selection would really have no basis in homosexuality… as someone could be incredibly “masculine” by our societal standards, yet still be a female…. or vice versa.

And while the inability to procreate in a homosexual relationship would seem to point to it being “un-natural”.... It hasn’t stopped it from occurring in virtually every species on the planet.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I don’t think, as you know, that these are matters to be decided upon with science as if science is to trump what I want to be or feel. I don’t think there should be so-called scientific research into whether or not it’s in-born. Both are constructions (heterosexuality and homosexuality) that are historical and relation: that is, one does not exist without the other to define it. The science that we’re born gay is NOT convincing to me and evidence that it’s a choice doesn’t circulate on a ‘scientific’ level. It’s like trying to decide on abortion using religion.

ninjacolin's avatar

Not sure what you’re opposing, @Simone_De_Beauvoir. Science is simply peer reviewable evidence. Homo/Heterosexuality isn’t some myth that can’t be understood and examined by observers. Quite the opposite, the fact that there exists a population of people claiming to be homosexual and a population of people claiming to be heterosexual is already Scientific evidence of the phenomenon.

Science isn’t much else besides shared, communicable observances. I don’t think anyone should feel threatened by the notion of homo/heterosexuality being plainly observable or demonstrable.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ninjacolin Science is imbued with a kind of authority that has been damaging to people of non-dominant sexualities. I do not consider it to be an objective institution whatsoever. Its history and current contexts are ugly in many ways. It’s never ‘simply peer-reviewable evidence’ because, through its processes (that are socially constructed, historical, and political) it produces (as a form of power) that which it tries to innocently that I mean it produces (read early Foucault – History of Sexuality Vol.1) the subject of ‘the homosexual’ through trying to observe it.

Of course our sexualities aren’t a myth but they’re not something that’s essentially there. Notions of heterosexuality and homosexuality came into discourse around the 1870s (read Katz’ Invention of Heterosexuality) and marked these two areas as oppositional and binary. That we exist, given options of gender and sexuality around us, is not scientific unless you want to call everything that exists scientific a priori, which makes no sense. As a sociologist of science and epistemology, I am not at all threatened by it – I just apply a critical lens to it as an institution as much as I would to any other institution (like religion, for example) – I will not privilege its insights over my own as to what my sexuality is about.

augustlan's avatar

Thanks for all the info, everyone. Unfortunately, it is in vain. The person I was debating with basically dismissed any studies out of hand.

Aethelflaed's avatar

:( Well, then at least you know – ideology, not evidence…

Brian1946's avatar


“The person I was debating with basically dismissed any studies out of hand.”

Would you say then that he implicitly retreated from his position that what you believe ”...has no basis in scientific fact.”?

augustlan's avatar

@Brian1946 No. He says there are just as many studies on his side, but that no one here will be likely to post them. (I did suggest he ask a similar question on a more conservative site, just so we could compare. I don’t know if he will or not, though.) He also said that studies don’t really mean anything, anyway, because they aren’t conclusive. Ah, well.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@augustlan You should make him cite them. Because all the studies I’ve seen seem to say, either inconclusive both ways (re: where homosexuality comes from) or, no evidence supporting harm. Though, it is highly dependent upon how you define harm. A lot of people seem to be questioning the entire institution of marriage, and family structures, and are more likely to if they’re denied instant access to those things. Being gay often leads many to question larger societal rules and structures, from appearances to governmental structure. So, if things like having sex outside marriage, not getting married, being a fan of socialism, etc are considered “harm”, then he might have a point.

ETA: I know he totally won’t cite these things. But, interesting convo on Fluther, anyway.

JLeslie's avatar

@augustlan I just wonder why they need it to be genetic? I would think studies showing the impact of gay marriage on society is the most important study when it comes to laws protecting gay rights. We certainly as a society don’t think everything genetic is “normal.” Some mental illnesses seem to be passed down, but we still ask as a society for people to control, we could say do away with, their natural tendency with medication or therapy. If the discussion is purely scientific, are there differences in a gay persons brain, genes, and hormones, for science’s sake of understanding, that is one thing. But, if the reason the genetic question is asked is to decide how accepting to be of gay people as a society and how our laws should be written, I think it is something else.

Law should be about society, protecting those who have the least abiity to protect themselves. Ensuring a safe society. And, our laws give us our freedom.

I had a discussion with a man about gay marriage. He is a very smart lawyer this guy. He debated back and forth, and after a little bit I kind of won him over with logic, and he kind of looked at me and said, “yeah, but I am still against it.” His religious beliefs get in the way too much. He, of everyone I have had a conversation with who is against it, might change his mind, but it will be really difficult for him psychologically.

Bill1939's avatar

Here is a view that questions biblical teachings regarding homosexuality: “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality”

SpatzieLover's avatar

Ah, well in that case @augustlan I’d point him to this study which proves that when when people‚Äôs confidence in their beliefs is shaken, they become stronger advocates for those beliefs.

It’s a little something our family doctor & I were having a talk about during my last visit. Apparently, according to him this is quite an epidemic amongst patients when doctors give advice ;)

australian's avatar

Bill1939, your response isnt directly relevant to the question. The video is also one-sided and misleading, as critiqued here:

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@australian ha, bwahhhaha…i love that the person writing that article accuses the video makers of cherry-picking from the Bible as if that’s not EXACTLY what homophobes do and all those others people trying to regress our country ages.

Bill1939's avatar

The article I linked is one sided, it is the view of one individual. However, his perspective is not unique in its attempt to identify the all to common desire to justify one’s biases through the use of ancient scripture. My view on the teachings posited to guide societies tens of centuries ago is that what was appropriate then may not be relevant today. Two examples of inappropriateness in modern times would be the subjugation of women and the necessity for slavery to maintain an economy.

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